Remembering Peter Hopkins
- Nov 4, 2016
“It is the special province of music to move the heart.”
–Johann Sebastian Bach
For over thirty years, Peter Hopkins was an institution at Oregon Bach Festival, serving as a singer, chorus master, keyboardist, vocal coach, and staff member. He was a brilliant and versatile musician, who moved effortlessly from the ensemble to the keyboard to the podium – a man of incredible talent, keen intellect, great humanity, quick wit, and generosity of spirit.
Peter’s wife Paula Romanaux shared that “OBF was at the center of Peter's life's education, friendships, and his inspiration” and that he offered “his complete appreciation and thanksgiving to Helmuth Rilling for imparting such depth of musical knowledge.”
Peter’s deep connection to the Festival experience and community was reflected in his own passion for scholarship, his profound understanding of Bach’s compositional language and theology, and his love for the musical score. I greatly admired his ability to recall the many details of any cantata and his skill in performing every concert program from memory. In the words of his wife Paula, “…each vocal part and text was thoroughly in his head and heart.”
In remembering Peter, it’s important to acknowledge his prolific work as a performer and staff member but also the significant role he played in supporting the development and activity of the Festival from its earliest years through the recent transition to a new era. I know that Peter carried the mission of OBF into his own work as an educator, church musician, and conductor – building musical bridges, creating moments of beauty and meaning, and emulating the dedication found at the end of Bach’s church compositions – “Soli Deo Gloria” meaning Glory to God alone.
It is with great sadness that we take our leave of Peter. However, we are grateful for the wonderful years of music making we shared with him and more importantly, for all that he shared with us. We also find comfort in the knowledge that he now rests with his God singing eternal hymns of praise and thanksgiving with the most heavenly choir of all.
–Kathy Saltzman Romey
From Bach’s St. John Passion, BWV 245 – Final Chorale
Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein
Ah Lord, let your dear angels
"I met Peter during his first year at OBF in 1985. I had started coming to the festival four years earlier. We hit it off right away. Peter was so open and welcoming, had a great sense of humor, in addition to being way bright and resourceful. It is no wonder that he eventually became such an invaluable part of OBF. Later, in 1991, after the Bach Festival that summer, we traveled to Stuttgart to participate in Helmuth's European Music Festival with the Bach Academie. He singing with the choir and me as concertmaster. I have fond memories of us shopping for a small electric fan using our minimal German language skills during a heat spell. At the time, few buildings had air conditioning. It was quite the adventure which ended successfully. Peter, you left us too soon! I am sure that you had so much more that you wanted to do in this life. You were a blessing to so many and touched the lives of more folks than you know. My hope now is that you are realizing your dreams in Heaven. May those you have left behind find comfort in the cherished memories of the years they had with you in their lives."
— Elizabeth Baker
"Singing with and for him was a joy. Smart, funny, sarcastic, reverent, irreverent - Peter was an eclectic mix, a most interesting man. Hearing him talk of Paula and Hannah was beautiful. He loved deeply and well."
— Beth Cram Porter
"I have the highest respect for Peter as a musician, singer, intellect, and human being, and I will always cherish memories of singing alongside of him at Oregon Bach Festival. He taught me so much, and he will be deeply missed."
— Matthew Hoch
"I am so very grateful for the fond memories and shared stories of all the many years ago. You will be missed and your memory and music always treasured."
— Clara Osowski
"I knew Peter from 2007 on, from my first year singing in the OBF Chorus. I'll never forget his great smile, his wicked sense of humor, or his ability to sing the B Minor Mass from memory!! He was a blessing to those around him and will be so missed."
— Leann Conley-Holcom
"Peter was one of the first friendly and welcoming faces I met at OBF in 2011. Coming from the East Coast to a big festival, a bit nervous about not knowing anyone, I remember Peter inviting me to sit at a table during dinner and having a conversation about Eugene, OBF, music, and Philly, where he resided at the time--he had a wonderful way of including and putting at ease people who were new and after that first dinner, I felt I had known Peter always. It was so clear then, and during subsequent summers that I got to know Peter a bit more, that music, the spirit and generosity of music-making, were at the center of his focus and life. He graciously offered guidance and insight to those of us who were closer to the beginning of our journeys with Bach. He set an example of openness and kindness that made an impression on anyone who had the good fortune to talk with or to work with him. Peter will be greatly missed by so many. My thoughts and prayers are with Hannah and Paula and the rest of their family."
— Kate Maroney
After hearing the sad news about Peter's passing, I am reminded of such wonderful times with him year after year at OBF. A consummate musician and wonderful human being, he brought smiles and laughter to those who knew him, many times when you least expected it. I am also reminded that he was part of a wonderful era of family feeling at OBF, as the same faces returned again and again to make music with Helmuth Rilling, but somehow more importantly with each other. My thoughts, prayers, and condolences go to his wife Paula and their daughter Hannah Grace. May God be with them and bring them peace.
— Richard Todd
I met peter in summer '07, at my first OBF. I was thrilled to be in this fine company of musicians, and daunted by the requirements of the coming three weeks, particularly the notion of putting together a Missa Solemnis in 3 days. Peter's first rehearsal of this monumental piece left a lasting impression on me. He got through all the material, and kept our voices from becoming exhausted yet touched on every point needed. It was model of efficiency, knowledge of the score's challenges, and vocal understanding. I had many discussions about repertoire and rehearsal since then with Peter, and always learned something from him. It is sometimes said that "When you do something really well, most people don't know you've done anything at all." I think this embodied Peter's work ethic: he performed his tasks with a thoroughness, and a diligence that came so naturally (as one might breathe), that it might seem he expended little effort. Those of us who know better knew how hard he worked, how much he loved his singers, and how deeply musical his soul really was. Peace be unto you, dear man. Your memory will be forever a blessing to all who knew you. Your colleague and friend,
— Jeffrey Jones-Ragona
All of Peter’s Bach Festival friends know that he was a kind man, a generous friend, and a superb musician. We know that Peter’s scores always had every Helmuth marking carefully notated by year. We know that Peter could come closer than any of us to understanding (and duplicating) Helmuth’s thought process, and we know that Peter had earned a special place in Helmuth’s heart.
We know that standing near Peter in the OBF Chorus was a treat because of his beautiful voice and the impeccable timing of his witticisms. We know that the rehearsals Peter ran were always productive, always fun and always efficient – he always knew which passages needed another run through (and which didn’t). In the dining hall we all knew that Peter’s table was the fun table, unless salmon was being served – on salmon night he was all business! We noticed that Peter didn’t eat many waffles, but when he did, he made it a work of art! And we all know that Peter never came to a Barnhart Hall party empty handed – he always brought beer, ice, limes, or some fancy treats.
But here are some things not everyone knew about Peter: With the possible exception of Kathy (and maybe David Stevens) no one was responsible for bringing more great singers to the OBF chorus than was Peter. He always encouraged the best singers he knew to come sing in Oregon, and because of Peter’s proselytizing, many singers from Michigan, Philly and Richmond found their way to Eugene – you all know who you are!
Peter grew up in Beulah, a village of 300 people in northern Michigan more famous for cherry orchards than for Bach scholars. I met Peter in a summer choir at Michigan State University in 1979. Peter had the solo in the Dawson "There is a Balm in Gilead," and I will always remember him singing “If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul . . .” He was a young undergrad at the time, but he was already an elegant and soulful singer. Peter earned his undergraduate and Masters degrees at Michigan State University, but I think it safe to say that his real studies were done with Helmuth Rilling.
I remember Peter telling about auditioning for the OBF Chorus at a national ACDA Conference. Back then the OBF Chorus was a volunteer choir, but the Festival was trying to raise the standard for chorus membership. Peter, who could sight sing anything, was one of the first in a new group of professional caliber singers to join the chorus. In a summer not long after, the chorus was successful in negotiating for professional standing and secured a paycheck of $50 per person per summer!
Peter taught public school music in Michigan for several years while spending his summers in Oregon. His OBF credentials helped him earn the job as choral director at Kalamazoo College and Music Director of the well-known (at least in Michigan) Kalamazoo Bach Festival. Peter’s leadership quickly raised the musical standards of the KBF to new heights, and he brought to Kalamazoo some of the exceptional singers he had befriended in Oregon. I remember Peter conducting the major Bach works in many wonderful KBF performances that featured Maria Jette, Tom Randle, Christopher Cock and Richard Zeller. Still, my favorite Kalamazoo memory was a St. John where the Evangelist had gotten sick, so Peter conducted from memory and turned around to sing the role of the Evangelist.
It was in Kalamazoo that Peter met his Paula. She was the organist at Kalamazoo College and soon his musical collaborator – and we all know what can come from sitting side-by-side on an organ bench! Peter told the story this way: their courtship had gone along fine and he was eager to get married, but Paula was keeping him waiting – until they did a recital together and Peter sang Richard Hundley’s Come Ready and See Me and turned to look directly at Paula as he sang the text “I can’t wait forever, for the years are running out!” He boasted that that did the trick and they were quickly married.
Their next big move was to Grand Rapids, Michigan where Peter was the Music Minister for Westminster Presbyterian Church. He also became the conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, and the Grand Rapids Choir of Men and Boys and he founded the Michigan Bach Collegium.
Peter and Paula, and now a young Hannah, moved to Philadelphia when Peter became the music minister at the historic St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Once again, Peter started a choir school for children and created a program known throughout the region for excellence, education, great music, and good humor. Peter hosted my Alma Choir several times at his Philly church, and each time he would march the whole choir down the street to have an authentic Philly cheesesteak before our rehearsal.
Just a year and half ago, Peter and Paula left Philadelphia for Richmond, Virginia and a new church. Peter seemed thrilled with his new home, his new garden, and his new choirs – including a choir that sang Compline every Sunday evening and challenged even Peter’s vast knowledge of Renaissance motets.
Peter’s untimely death has left a hole in our hearts that can only be filled with good memories. I, like so many of you, have lots of Peter memories. Next time we meet, remind me to tell you the story about Peter and the Euphoria truffles, or Peter and the Gaechinger tenors, or Peter and Beaumont Tower (for you MSU friends), or Peter and . . .
— Will Nichols
Peter's presence, for many of us, was inseparable from the daily goings-on at OBF. His witty commentary over meals or in rehearsals provided entertainment and laughs, but also demonstrated his deep understanding and keen analysis of the music-making process. I always admired Peter's ability to learn and memorize music; many audience members were struck by watching him sing the B minor mass or the St. Matthew Passion from memory, without a score in his hand. I also knew Peter from our days together in the early 80's at Michigan State University, where he was the leader in the tenor section of any ensemble he inhabited and was always one of the brightest musicians in the room. I remember his joy upon meeting and marrying Paula, and saw his pride reflected in daughter Hannah. I can't even count the number of post-concert gatherings I've enjoyed with Peter -- whether at Coral Gables (or "Choral Gables," as we dubbed it) in East Lansing, or in Tom Foreman's room in Barnhart Hall. We traded rehearsal anecdotes, Helmuth stories, and memories of Festivals of Bygone Years. We reminisced about people we love and dreamed for the future. Mostly, though, I will cherish the countless musical pinnacles we experienced together, singing the best music in the world with world-class colleagues and lifelong friends. Peter is gone far too soon. May we all hold each other a little closer in his honor and memory.
— Helen Van Wyck