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Maurice H. Skones (Choral Conductor)

Born: July 24, 1926 - Havre, Montana, USA
Died: May 2, 2002 - Tucson, Arizona, USA

The American choral conductor and music pedagogue, Maurice H. Skones, graduated from Turner High School. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota in 1948. He studied there choral conducting under Paul J. Christiansen He began his teaching career in Cut Bank, teaching band and classroom music. He soon built a choral program, and in 1952, his high school choir was selected to perform at the Music Educators National Conference in Philadelphia. Maurice Skones received his Master of Music degree in Choral Music from the University of Montana in Missoula in 1957. He completed his doctorate (A.Mus.D. degree) in Choral Conducting from the University of Arizona in 1976,

Maurice Skones taught at Adams State University in Colorado from 1957 until 1964, and toured annually with his choirs. He came in the fall of 1964 to Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in Tacoma, Washington as Chairman of the Music Department and Director of the PLU Choir of the West. When Skones took over the choir, he immediately put his own stamp on it. Although he was well within the historical tradition of Lutheran college choirs, he wanted to emphasize the choir as a concert ensemble. Skones developed there an international reputation as conductor of the PLU Choir of the West. The PLU Choir of the West's tours covered most of the lower 48 states, including performances in Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Town Hall, New York, Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, and many others. Two European tours in 1970 and 1977 were highlighted by a performance for the King of Norway in Oslo.

It was announced that the PLU Choir of the West would present the world premiere of Hungarian composer Miklós Rózsa’s major vocal piece, The Vanities of Life. Rózsa, a friend of Maurice Skones, was famous as a composer of music for Hollywood movies (Quo Vadis, Ben Hur, El Cid, King of Kings), for which he had won three Academy Awards. The premiere was part of October 23, 1965 Homecoming concert. It was a critical success. Afterward Rózsa commented: “I am overwhelmed at how they sang. I had not imagined the work to be performed by memory… Mr. Skones is a true choral genius… This is one of the greatest choirs in the nation, with precision second to none.” Miklos Rozsa sought out the PLU Choir of the West to sing the world premiere of To Everything There is a Season and the 23rd Psalm in a concert of his music. The cultural high point of the mid-1970's was undoubtedly the May 1974 West Coast premiere of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki’s Passion According to St. Luke. Penderecki is one of the best-known composers of the late 20th century, and Passion, which premiered in Europe in 1967, is considered his masterpiece. According to Mooring Mast reporter Judy Carlson, it blends Gregorian chant, folk music, nonverbal choir sounds, and modified serialism in an eclectic style. The stage in Eastvold Auditorium was filled to overflowing with performers, and the total effect of the music was extraordinary. He served at PLU until 1982/1983.

Maurice Skones joined the University of Arizona (UA) School of Music and Dance in 1981/1982 as Visiting Professor and was named Director of Choral Activities in 1983. He was admired as an eminent teacher and conductor and for his ability to build quality choral programs. He brought the School's choral programs to national and international prominence and acclaim. He was an inspiration to students, faculty, and administrators. He retired in 1992, and also served as Acting Director of the School that year. In 1997, he returned to the School for three more years to serve as Director of the Choral Activities.

Following his second retirement, Maurice Skones remained active as a guest conductor and as an adjudicator for choral festivals in the USA and Canada. Maurice Skones was admired as a leading choral director and for his ability to build quality choral programs. He brought the School's choral programs to national and international prominence and acclaim. He founded the popular UA Faculty and Staff Choirs. Recognized as an eminent conductor, teacher, scholar, performer and musician, he received high critical acclaim for his performances with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, national conventions of the American Choral Directors Association and the Music Educators National Conference. He was an inspiration to students, faculty and administrators at the University and served as guest conductor, adjudicator and clinician at more than 200 music festivals. During his 54 years in the profession, his choirs achieved international acclaim for many outstanding performances in America and abroad. He continued to use his talents to the glory of God as director of Our Savior's Lutheran Church Chancel Choir until one month prior to his death.

Professor emeritus Maurice Skones, passed away in Tucson, Arizona on May 2, 2002 from cancer. He is survived by his wife, Patricia; three children, Paul Skones, Karen Denmark and Janet Hitt; eight grandchildren, four great-grandchildren; and two sisters, Leona Larson of Shelby, Montana, and Alice Brownfield of Worden, Montana. Additional survivors include sons-in-law Edward Denmark of Renton and Mike Irons of Everett; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

Source: Salem Lutheran Church Blog; Pacific Lutheramn University Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2016)

Maurice H. Skones: Short Biography | PLU Choir of the West | Recordings of Vocal Works

Links to other Sites

Maurice H. Skones obituaries (Salem Lutheran Church)


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