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Norman Scribner, Founder of the Choral Arts Society, Has Died at 79

He was considered one of the most respected musical figures in Washington.
Photo courtesy of the Choral Arts Society.

Norman Scribner would not give up on music. Even at age 79, the famed composer and conductor continued to visit the Choral Arts Society of Washington office in Northwest. He was active, robust, and nearly halfway through composing a new piece based on the parable of the Prodigal Son. But in his version, there was a twist: Scribner created a fresh character–a wife.

“That’s the most telling thing about Norman. He so honored the idea of a woman that he took something of great magnitude and decided to give it a little more depth and texture as to his own beliefs,” says Debra Kraft, executive director of the Choral Arts Society.

Scribner, who died Sunday at 79, founded the Choral Arts Society of Washington in 1965 and soon earned a reputation for his lively spirit and fervent devotion to music. Along with his wife, Shirley, he transformed the society from a homespun family business into an internationally recognized music source. “He was so clear that his family came first, absolutely came first,” Kraft says. “But he was also very clear that music was his mistress.”

In 2012, when he retired from his long-held post and was succeeded by artistic director Scott Tucker, Scribner continued to demonstrate great energy and dedication to his life-long passion. Brahms’ Requiem was the final piece he conducted, and according to Kraft, the last line was a fitting farewell for the man considered one of the most respected musical figures in Washington: “Saith the spirit, that they rest from their labors, and that their works follow after them.”

“Norman felt that music was bigger than he,” she says.

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