Seán Deibler, 1947–2009

My college teacher, mentor and great friend ever since then, Seán Deibler passed away on August 19th. Most of what is important enough to me to write about on this blog can, in one way or another, be traced back to my 24-year association with him. He was a conductor, a singer, a clarinetist, a composer, a teacher, a motivational speaker, a clown, a therapist… The list goes on, and what’s really exceptional is that he was phenomenal at all of the above.

Conductor and Teacher Seán Deibler

Seán conducted the choruses and taught musicianship at the University of the Arts when I was an undergraduate there in the 1980’s. He also founded and conducted both the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia and the Music Group of Philadelphia. He allowed me to sing in the former, which meant I got to perform and record with the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as the likes of Riccardo Muti, Charles Dutoit, Erich Leinsdorf, Jessye Norman. I did not sing with Music Group, but in 1996 Seán gave me the honor of using hard-won grant money to commission my chorus/orchestra piece Cycle of Friends which was given a stunning premiere by The Music Group.

Seán spent most of the 1970’s studying conducting, chamber music and pedagogy at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. When he returned he became a prominent pioneer in bringing what’s known as the Kodály Method to the United States and was a sought-after clinician for many years. He made frequent guest conducting appearances in Hungary and around Europe throughout his career, and was a great ambassador for American music there. Likewise, he generously performed the work of living Hungarian composers with his groups in Philadelphia, and in 1998, he received the Medal Pro Artibus, Artist of Outstanding Merit for promotion of Hungarian music abroad by the Hungarian Ministry of Cultural Arts.

Like many of my fellow students, I became friends with Seán during those four years of the Late 80’s. He was very generous with his free time and spent many hours with us individually and in groups of various sizes. Just hanging out, listening to music, talking about music and everything else. I dare say I learned more about music (and everything else) sitting across the table from Seán at Day’s Delicatessen or Little Pete’s than in any classroom. When it was time to figure out what to do after college, Seán had many suggestions, composers he knew at this or that graduate school, but ultimately I ended up doing exactly what he had done: studying in Budapest, Hungary at the Franz Liszt Academy.

Also, in 1989, Seán made a rare appearance as a baritone soloist and performed a work of mine on my senior recital, which was recorded on video. Here he is in his prime.

Seán Deibler in 1987

Originally published on my web site at