Nothing was ever good enough for Lyle W. Moore.
No matter how much they practiced, no matter how well they sang, not once during the three decades that he served as the conductor of Gonzaga University Men’s Glee Club did he ever tell students they sounded “perfect.”
“I told them, ‘You are not and you will never be perfect,’ ” Moore said in 2002. “If I say it’s perfect today, where will we go tomorrow? How can we improve?”
His stern discipline and constant pursuit of excellence – not just from students, but also from himself – earned the respect, allegiance and affection of dozens of young men who made him their role model.
Half a century after they graduated from Gonzaga, members of the men’s glee club continued to return to Spokane to sing together and pay tribute to Moore – a man who not only taught them about music, they said, but also about life.
Moore, a retired music professor and conductor who had been associated with Gonzaga for 75 years, died last week at the age of 100. Today, during his funeral, many of the old glee club members will gather once more to sing “Bless This House,” an old favorite of Moore’s.
“He was a man of great precision and discipline and it all came down to excellence in whatever you do,” said Paul McNabb, a glee club member, retired newspaperman and author of “Echoing Down the Halls,” a biography of Moore and the men’s singing group. “He was a teacher right to the end. He was truly one of the most extraordinary people in the history of our town.”
Although he was getting old and his body was failing him, Moore’s mind remained as sharp as ever – all the way until the end, McNabb said. During a recent visit with his friend and former student, Moore reminisced about the good old days: “It’s been so wonderful,” he told McNabb, “I wish I could do it all over again.”
Long before the men’s basketball team made headlines, it was the men’s glee club that brought national acclaim to Gonzaga University.
From the 1930s until the late ‘50s, the group won contests, sold records, went on concert tours, even performed with Bing Crosby live on national radio.
It all began in 1928, when Moore – an Illinois native who grew up on a farm and had never traveled west before – moved to Spokane. He was originally hired to teach music at Whitworth College, but the Jesuits convinced him to come to Gonzaga, an all-male university until 1948.
In those days, nearly every student on campus wanted to be in the club, but Moore wouldn’t take just anyone with a good voice. The conductor demanded talent, energy and a strong dedication to becoming a better musician. The club practiced every day and no one would dare skip, let alone be late for rehearsal.
Moore, who also served as a pilot and flight trainer during World War II, was known as the “benevolent dictator,” a man with a small, thin frame but whose steely blue eyes and powerful presence easily commanded respect and attention.
“Be exciting or don’t sing,” he told his club, according to McNabb’s biography. “You sing with your mind. You sing thoughts, not words. Often I hear words, but no thoughts. You’ve got to be smart. You have to pay attention. I have no use for anyone not paying attention.”
Long after the men graduated and moved on to careers in medicine, law and other fields, Moore continued to mentor them, calling them on a regular basis and sending them an annual Christmas card.
His standards remained high, even as he grew frail and relied on a walker to get around. During rehearsal before the glee club’s annual performance in 2001, Moore interrupted his men in midsong and chastised them for their lack of interpretation.
“Get in shape,” he barked on the phone to one of his glee clubbers before the group’s 2002 Davenport concert. “We’re going to get this number better than we’ve ever done before.”
Until his death, “Old Man Moore” could still remember the names of his students – many of whom are now retired and some who are in their 80s. He also knew the words to all the songs by heart.
Many of his students say Moore shaped their values and helped them become the men they are today.
“He taught me that there’s no such thing as perfection,” said Joseph Monaco, 68, who served as the glee club’s president in 1958. “We can’t rest, we must continue to do better no matter how good we were last time.”
In McNabb’s book, 1953 graduate Fred Own recalled Moore’s expressive hands. Whenever they were singing well in concert, Moore would clench his hands together and tell his men: “Don’t let go! Don’t let go!”
The last time Moore conducted the glee club was in September, during his 100th birthday celebration.
He is survived by Cherie, his wife of 63 years, and several nieces and nephews. Memorials may be made to the Lyle W. Moore Endowed Scholarship Fund, Gonzaga University Planned Giving Program, 502 E. Boone, Spokane, WA 99258-0098
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