Metro West District ACE Award
Nominated by Sarah Gilbertson, Chanhassen High School
Presented by: Chris Larson, Metro West District Chair
Co-Presented by: Sarah Gilbertson and Bryan Fisher
It is my pleasure to co-present Maureen Armstrong with this year’s ACE Award from ACDA. I have had the pleasure of having her accompany my choirs for only two short years. My mother, Margaret Boehlke was my accompanist for 21 years. When she retired from accompanying, I was very much in a panic. The only person I could imagine having as my accompanist and working with was Maureen. I had heard such wonderful things about her and knew she was already incredibly busy, but I reached out to her and she gladly worked her very full schedule out to play for us at Chanhassen.
The very first concert without my mom at the piano was quite emotional for me. I never had to worry about an accompanist before, my mom read my mind. If I took something too fast or too slow, we just had to look at each other and we knew. Well, I quickly learned that is how Maureen operates as well. She is outstanding at her job. She is an incredible musician, she loves kids, she loves music, she is kind, she is loving, she is a choir “cheerleader”, she can play anything and she is the ultimate collaborator.
One of the last performances my women’s choir had before COVID was our Conference Treble Choir Festival. We had not rehearsed with Maureen until our warm-up before the performance. My singers started singing, sang through the piece, and ended on a beautiful full, in tune chord…Maureen just screamed! “Ah, sorry!” she said. “That was amazing.” I will never forget that moment. We all had tears in our eyes and my singers just lit up. It was all they needed before they walked into the theatre to confidently perform. Maureen is very passionate about choirs and helping in any way she possibly can. It has been an honor to have her as an accompanist and I know everyone who has worked with her considers it an honor to have her at the piano.
Before I pass it on to Bryan Fisher, another colleague, Matthew Culloton, director of the Singers wrote this about Maureen. “She is not only a musician of highest regard, she is simply one of the most gracious and enjoyable collaborators one could have the pleasure of teaming with! She is a gift to the entire music scene throughout the Cities and beyond.”
I have had the joy and privilege of having Maureen Armstrong as my accompanist for 17 years. In those years, Maureen and I have become a creative team – establishing rehearsal processes, work ethic and the core philosophy of the choir programs I have the honor of directing. Maureen has played for almost all of my choirs and concerts for all these years.
In addition to rehearsals and performances, Maureen has also run hundreds of sectionals, played for numerous musicals, made rehearsal recordings & practice tracks, all-state and honor choir recordings, college auditions, NATS auditions, variety shows, recitals… the list is endless. Maureen has an uncanny ability to make me think that my choirs are the only ones she plays for, which is far from accurate. Ask many conductors in the twin cities, and, chances are, they’ve worked with her in one way or another.
There’s never a frantic mood or rushed communication with Maureen. She is the consummate professional collaborative pianist. And she always goes above and beyond – because she believes in the choral art. Let me explain:
A year or so after meeting Maureen, I was in need of an accompanist for a once-a-week before school honor choir. Not only did she accompany our concerts, she came to EVERY rehearsal, requesting zero compensation. A year later I started another before school select choir – this one rehearsed at 6:30 AM, also once a week. Again,not only did Maureen jovially play every single rehearsal and performance without promise of payment, but she ran sectionals and contributed repertoire ideas and helped me establish the mission of these ensembles. Fortunately, I was able to come up with some compensation, but it wasn’t nearly commensurate.
During all of this, Maureen always had church jobs (sometimes full-time), served as board chair for The Singers – Minnesota Choral Artists, coordinated young people’s concerts at Orchestra Hall, organized talent competitions at the MN State Fair, played for literally hundreds of vocal and instrumental solo & ensemble participants from schools all around the twin cities… it’s impossible to list everything.
All of this to say, there are only a handful of really advanced, intuitive, collaborative accompanists out there. Maureen is at the top of that small list. I have never known a more beautiful human. This award serves as recognition of just a few of the facets of why I consider Maureen Armstrong to be one of the most important and valuable members of the Twin Cities choral community.