The Lasting Legacy of OCC Founder, Dr. Randall Moore
Dana Abel, Chris Dobson, and Jennifer Searl on Moore’s Impact on Their Lives
The ripple effect of decades of music education is apparent in the legacy of University of Oregon professor emeritus Dr. Randall Moore, who founded the Oregon Children's Choir in 1982. The choir counts over three thousand alumni in its ranks during its 38 years in operation, but the effect of Randall Moore on three local musicians—Dana Abel, Chris Dobson, and Jennifer Searl--goes much deeper.
Dana Abel, who joined the choir in its first year at the age of ten, went on to become a founding member of the popular acoustic Americana band Misty River, touring and performing with that band for 20 years. In 2018 she became the executive director of OCC.
Chris Dobson, a 2nd grader when he first entered the choir in 1990, is a beloved and well-respected choir teacher at South Eugene High School and the director of OCC's Oregon Young Men's Ensemble. Last year he accepted the position of artistic director of OCC.
Jennifer Searl, who began as a piano accompanist for the choir while studying music education at UO, is a composer, pianist, and music educator. She has been a choir director with OCC for over 30 years and currently directs the Oregon Girlchoir.
One thing each of these people have in common is the powerful impact Dr. Moore had on their lives.
As a professor of music education at the University of Oregon, Dr. Moore specialized in teaching music at the elementary school level. He decided to start a children’s choir in Eugene as a contribution to the community from the UO School of Music, and as a way for him to maintain a connection to young children. In 1981 he mailed out invitations to a few families and announced a call for auditions in The Register-Guard. Word spread, and 70 students showed up to the first rehearsal at the First Congregational Church. “The kids sounded great, and we decided to keep it going,” Dr. Moore says, “I just fell in love with the project.”
The choir, then known as the University of Oregon Children’s Choir, also served as a lab for Dr. Moore’s university students, who through a practicum could gain experience in choral conducting.
One feature of the Oregon Children’s Choir is yearly trips to places throughout the country and the world. “I wanted to give the kids exposure to different parts of the world, different cultures,” Dr. Moore explains. He always chose a variety of world music for the choirs to sing, music that they might not know about through school or home; OCC’s current directors do the same.
“I loved working with the kids, seeing how they grew and learned so quickly,” Dr. Moore says. “I knew that if they started to love the music, then it would be an important part of their life.” Dr. Moore retired from OCC in 2008.
Dana Abel attended the first choir rehearsal in 1982, and she was struck even then by Dr. Moore’s passion for music and the choir itself. “He just took on all these kids as his own,” she explains. One of her favorite memories is of performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with the Oregon Bach Festival at the Hollywood Bowl in 1985. It wasn’t music she was familiar with or originally liked, but, she says, “singing it was so powerful, and you learn that once you know something, then you love it. Randy understood that—people can appreciate different kinds of music once they’re exposed to it.”
Dr. Moore showed Dana that making music is a collective, team effort, and OCC, she says, “gives kids the opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds they wouldn’t necessarily have contact with otherwise—you all have this experience in common.” Her participation in the choir foreshadowed her professional music career. At 16, she got a group of high school students in the choir to form a small ensemble. There was no adult director, so Dana took on the role of finding songs and directing the different voice parts. That was great preparation for her 20 years in the Americana band Misty River. The band, known for its harmony-driven music, performed throughout the US and in China, released five well-received albums and won a number of awards. “I’m a good harmony singer because I sang alto in choir,” Dana says.
In addition to serving as OCC’s executive director, Abel teaches ukulele, guitar, voice and piano, and is a preschool music teacher. She still loves to sing and is active in the local music scene—you can often find her at jam sessions with her accordion by her side. She says, “I thank Randy for enabling me to find joy and fulfillment in making music with other people, and I think there are a lot of OCC alumni in our area who feel that same gratitude. I want to give them a chance to connect with Randy and honor him at these upcoming concerts and receptions.”
OCC artistic director Chris Dobson credits Dr. Moore with changing his life and inspiring him to become a music teacher. “When I think of Randy, I think of someone who is just brimming with kindness and joy in the craft of getting kids excited about music,” Chris says. Chris was a student president of OCC’s Boychoir as a teenager and remembers thinking, “I want to direct the Boychoir when I grow up.” He was the first in his family to go to college. “Randy encouraged me to go to UO, and even got me a scholarship—I wouldn’t have been able to go without that.”
While in college, Chris interned with OCC, soon moving into the role of Boychoir director. After graduation, Dr. Moore helped him get a job in Eugene’s 4J school district. Over the past 15 years, Chris has taught at Meadowlark and Buena Vista elementary schools and at Spencer Butte Middle School. He is now at South Eugene High School, where he teaches choir and serves as music director for the school’s musical productions. At OCC, he leads the Oregon Young Men’s Ensemble and the Cantabile Collective as well as serving as artistic director. He estimates he’s worked with roughly 1,000 students over the years, some of whom have gone on to the Boston Conservatory at the Berklee College of Music and the St. Olaf College music program.
Jennifer Searl was a student in the UO music education program when Dr. Moore convinced her to take a practicum as an accompanist with OCC in 1983, and she’s been with the choir ever since, including roles as executive director and choir director. “Randy is probably the most instrumental person in my life for what I chose to do,” Jennifer says. “When I first took classes with him, his love for children was really inspiring.” She has used what she’s learned from Dr. Moore to work with hundreds of students at schools across the Eugene area, including Ridgeline Montessori, Kennedy Middle School, and Churchill and South Eugene high schools.
Jennifer and her husband Bruce began to compose music together, and Dr. Moore often used their pieces with the choir. “Randy believed in us and told us we had to publish our work,” she explains. Bruce agrees: “I think he’s guilty of believing in people—that’s true for everyone who comes into contact with him.” The Searls now run Aardvark Hill publishing, and their work has been sold around the world. Jennifer continues, “I will be eternally grateful for what Randy has done for me and my family.”
Dr. Moore will be honored at two receptions at the December 15, 2019, Winter Concerts.