One of the most remarkable ambassadors for the greater Central Coast region of California over the last half-century was the indefatigable late maestro of a cappella choral music, Mr. Glenn A. Montague, who journeyed to the spirit world the day before the first day of spring this winter. Mr. Montague, whose local debut in 1963 at the new campus of Ernest Righetti High School in Santa Maria, California, matched my own as a freshman new to the area, was one of those rare human beings for whom “humanity” meant truly everyone. His passion may have been a cappella choral music, but his practice was with people, and he lived his faith through being an example and in nurturing a respect of self as you defined it for yourself with hard work, humor, grace, and humility.
He was dean of students then, a job he disliked because in loco parentis discipline, still popular at the time, was not his style. Secular public school, even in those waning days of baccalaureates and prayer in school, was community to Glenn Montague, and especially one drawn together through music, and expressly so with choral music — sacred choral music.
Ah! But a choral music that was modern and contemporary, with discordance and eight-part harmonies. Even Mr. Montague later acknowledged its difficulty, after we had mastered it. His time teaching at Springville High in Utah gave him the confidence, but Righetti gave him the freedom to be himself in his chosen craft — and the folks at nearby Allan Hancock College had the vision to see who Mr. Montague was and hire him away, offering more freedom.
Later, he directed the Santa Maria Symphony, formed the Glenn A. Montague Carolers, and helped found the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, appearing all over the world with those groups.
Within the winter I was to graduate and move back home to college, before I went East, I stopped by a couple of times — once to visit, once to catch a performance. Still, I will always be haunted by that sound. No one else anywhere ever replicated such flawless choral sound performed with such intense spiritual impact as Glenn Montague choirs. They were all unique.
Speaking to us as vocalists, Mr. Montague himself once described the experience in this way: “(Through) your spiritual efforts in combining truth and beauty, and serving as a conduit through which audiences felt the spirit of our music, thousands of hearts have been touched … I am sincerely grateful to have shared such precious experiences with you.”
So are we, Mr. Montague. Thank you to all residing in the greater Santa Maria area over the last half century for supporting the work of this extraordinary man. What a phenomenal gift he gave us all.
Richard Chilton, an artist living on the Omaha Indian Reservation in Rosalie, Nebraska, was a member of the Ernest Righetti High School A Cappella Choir from 1963-67.