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More Than Music

Posted By: Eric Nielsen


I first met Doc Hale as a 3rd grade student for elementary music. I remember the very first song we sang was "Ragtime Cowboy Joe." And I can still sing it from memory. I remember the glint in his eye when, upon asking each of us who are favorite singers were, and having heard names like the Jackson 5 and untold numbers of other popular groups of the day, I mentioned listening to my mother's Mario Lanza records at home. He was impressed, I believe. But thus would begin a relationship that would last until the day of his death.


I sang every year with Les from 3rd grade through 12th. I worked with him on Variety Shows, Madrigal Dinners, and the highlight - South Pacific. He coached me on my senior recital, along with Kate Smalley. I started studying voice with him privately after the conclusion of the basketball season of my 10th grade year. We sent to state music contests and NATA competitions, and he would always make sure I was 100% prepared.


One of the great things about Doc is that he did not view the school as "music" vs. "jocks." He encouraged my participation in athletics, and just about any other option the Lab School offered. And he sought to work with other staff to make the schedules work for students to be involved in as many things as possible. I appreciated the fact that he believed every student could sing. They may not be a Sherrill Milnes or Leontyne Price; but he believed every voice could be developed and contribute to the choir, the show, or the dinner.


Of course, he taught us so much more than music. He became a second father figure to me. He taught me about responsibility and honor, keeping obligations, working hard and doing your best, sportsmanship, and encouragement of fellow students. He pushed us, always. He held us to account. If you were late to rehearsal, you may not sing in the concert that night. If you skipped rehearsal, you were out of the group. Good lessons that served us all later in life. I remember a quote he would state over and and over again - "Success has an uncanny way of rewarding those who have paid the price of preparation."


After the Lab School I had the privilege of singing in the Les Hale Chorale for a total of 9 years. What an incredible experience. I learned so much about music and choral singing. I also had the honor of sharing a co-recital my senior year of college with Doc. He helped prep me for Opera roles at UNI opera, even though he was not involved in the productions. Later, when I would gain roles in community oratorio or symphonic concert presentations, he continued to work with me to prepare me the best as he could.


Long after he retired from teaching and the Chorale, we continued to keep in regular contact. I truly respected him, and I know he had deep respect for me. Therefore, the news of his death struck me hard. I knew his health had been failing; still, to get the news made it a very sad day.


Thanks, Les, for all you did for me, and for the thousands of students you instructed over the years and the fellow teachers whom you worked with so closely. Your legacy will not soon be forgotten.

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