CAE History

In 1969, 16 singers gathered in a rehearsal room at the Civic Auditorium (now the Keller) to form a new choral group. They had no music, conductor, or funds. Nevertheless, they persisted. They chose a temporary conductor and accompanist from their own number; they bought their own music and donated it to the group. Within months, they had drawn up bylaws and named themselves the Civic Choraliers.

Dr. Roger O. Doyle, professor of music at the University of Portland, became the Choraliers’ conductor and musical director in 1977, and so he remained, full of passion, energy, and boundless good cheer, for more than 30 years. At his suggestion, the members decided in 1978 to change the group’s name to the Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland (CAE), to reflect their identity more accurately and emphasize their commitment to explore “the choral arts.”

Roger had a rare knack for timing and collaboration. We did a German Christmas concert right after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem in 2003 mere weeks after the war in Iraq started. His sabbatical in Ireland gave us the opportunity to present new pieces by contemporary Irish composers, and a chance meeting with Moses Hogan on a trans-Pacific flight brought the renowned arranger of spirituals to Portland to conduct us in concert, which also included the world premiere of a piece Hogan wrote specifically for the occasion.

Over the years, varied repertoire came to define CAE. Our exploration of the choral arts kept ranging widely, in terms of geography, period, and styles. From music from East Asia, a Celtic ceilidh, a semi-staged version of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, and a Ken Burns-style presentation of “heart songs” from the Civil War, to one of our most ambitious project ever—Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Beethoven’s own contemporaries considered the work almost impossible, but the challenge inspired all of us. We are so grateful we had the opportunity to share that experience, for about a year later, Roger was diagnosed with ALS. That terrible disease forced him to retire from the university and gradually withdraw from conducting CAE.

After a year-long search process, Dr. David De Lyser, professor of music at the University of Portland, officially began as our musical director in the fall of 2012. While continuing CAE’s unique focus on varied repertoire, David has brought new energy, new direction, and new collaborations. While still performing many classic works – like the Brahms, Mozart, and Faure Requiems and Bach motets – we have also begun collaborating with the Cascadia Composers organization to present brand-new works from Northwest composers, and performing with some of the most innovative young choral composers from around the country, like Ola Gjeilo, Jake Runestad, Tim Takach, and Sydney Guillaume. We continue to strive to build community through music, reaching out to the wider community as we participate in Arts for All and perform, formally and informally, in venues beyond downtown Portland.

Though singers have come and gone, we have grown together like a big family. We have sung at each other’s weddings and for each other’s memorial services. Many choir babies are all grown up and even have babies of their own. But after more than 50 years, this family still nourishes each of us, providing a welcoming space where our individual voices can combine to create something finer than any of us can achieve alone. Making music together helps us face the world as better people. That’s why we are grateful for the Choral Arts Ensemble, and for our audience, as members of our musical family.