A Brief Personal History of The National Collegiate Choral Organization

by William Dehning, Past President, Founding Member


Just about the only times Bill Bausano and I ever saw each other was at national ACDA conventions. We had been doing this for over thirty years. Yes, the occasional correspondence had taken place during the time since I left Northern Michigan University in 1972, where he was a student, and the one time our families had gone camping together at Big Sur in California, but that was about it.

Then in March of 2004, when I was still at USC and he at Miami (Ohio), I got an extensive email from him outlining his ideas regarding an organization that would serve only those of us who taught at colleges and universities—no others allowed, as it were (don't you just love meaningless phrases like that?). All other spheres of choral music—church, middle school, high school, community, children's choruses—would still be served by ACDA, as indeed they continue to be. The idea was not to separate from ACDA, but to found an organization to hear ensembles, discuss topics, explore areas and literature that ACDA simply did not have room for, and that spoke to us in the collegiate sphere most directly.


That mail was a brilliant bolt from the blue. Scary, too. Who were we to try to establish a national organization? Did we really need it? Would anybody besides us show up? But Bill had the basic outline of the perceived need for the organization, the proposed structure, membership qualifications, conference ideas, and a plan and timetable for building the organization and designing the first conference. He didn't yet have a name but that would come later. I gulped, took a deep breath and said, 'yeah, I'm in,' and suggested two more members: Buddy James, then working in Pennsylvania; and Lisa Graham, then (and still) working at Wellesley in Massachusetts. All of us were USC grads, I from the late '60s, Bill from the '70s, Buddy and Lisa from the '90s. Something about those Trojans, I guess. What's that saying about the fine line between bravery and stupidity?


Throughout the rest of 2004 and all of 2005 we worked together via email, conference phone calls, and only one(!) eyeball-to-eyeball meeting during the ACDA National in Los Angeles. During that time we:

  • made changes in and additions to Bill's original design;
  • wrote a constitution;
  • facilitated a logo design and a web site (after choosing the same—see below);
  • chose a conference site and date (calling the meetings 'conferences' rather than 'conventions' was also Bill's idea, a practice which ACDA has since adopted);
  • I personally invited four fine choirs and two well-known (for different reasons) clinicians for the first conference. (The invited choirs were a source of some contention among us, because we all disagreed with the ACDA practice of invited university choirs appearing at national conventions without audition. But we held our noses and did it anyway, because if the first conference was not a success, there wouldn't be a second. Inviting proven choirs for this first conference was our way of hedging the bet and trying to beat the house. We eventually walked away from the tables with a bunch of chips).
  • assembled a national board representing almost all of the states by dividing up the country into four and making personal phone calls to conductors we knew or knew of. Many of these were what is known in the sales trade as 'cold calls.' These were no fun at all, lemme tell ya.

What's in a Name?

Choosing the name was a bit of fun, though not without contention. I wanted the word 'conductor' in there somewhere so we tried to make that work, but it didn't. (I've long felt that ACDA should be ACCA: American Choral Conductors...). Eventually we arrived at professionally acceptable name, the acronym of which tripped nicely off the tongue.


In February, 2005, we announced the new organization via ChoralNet and through a postal mailing to all US colleges and universities. Our state board members also began contacting conductors in their states to assist in the announcement and to encourage others to join.

Subsequently a call was made for conductors to apply for performances, for literature sessions, and for panel discussions that we Four Founders designed. What we were doing here was designing the first conference. Our primary goal was to try to encourage the performance of far more music from the past—or from the choral canon—than we had been hearing at other regional and national conventions. We set up categories for literature to be performed: Middle Ages/Renaissance; Baroque, Classical; Romantic; 20th/21st Century, and then asked that proposed programs be submitted to us for approval. Naturally, the majority of mixed chamber choirs chose the latter category (sigh...) but we managed to select a fairly balanced menu nevertheless. The work involved in this paragraph consumed most of the rest of 2005 and ran well into 2006: selecting the choirs, panels; literature sessions; choosing and securing the site; designing application forms; enlisting exhibitors; planning social events; designing programs; making sure we had scores available for clinician/panel/literature sessions; securing hotels; continuing to hustle members as applications and dues came in; making sure we could afford all we were committed to. Whew. And all not simply in the hope that this was going to work; we were going to make it work (as my Viking ancestors maintained, 'pray to God in a storm but keep on rowing').

Game Time

As military commanders (and especially soldiers themselves) will tell you, few battle plans survive first contact with the enemy. A lot of things had gone wrong or didn't materialize as of 2 November 2006 the way we had planned. That morning Lisa was constantly on her cell phone to the venue bosses, Bill and Buddy were throwing packets together at the last minute, keeping the volunteers informed and supplied at the registration desk was a problem and something I tried to help with, but I was more referee than player. Buddy was an offensive lineman in high school and he felt the same way that morning as he had prior to many football games: he wanted to throw up and didn't mind telling us so. But we started on time and turned the players loose, which was all we could do.

Game Film

Well, if you were there, you know the rest. Two-hundred-fifty of our four hundred members were there; Dale and Joan were delights; the choruses were superb; lit sessions and panel discussions were informative, practical and helpful. If you weren't there, you can look up the basics elsewhere on this website; We Four were more than relieved, we were also proud, justifiable or not. Bill's Brainchild had been given life by one midwife, one midhusband, and one aging witchdoctor who mainly just stood around and shook his rattles. That child in the interim since has learned to walk and talk and even run at times, though not without stumbling, especially in regard to the literature performed at subsequent conferences.

But we are all constantly evolving and growing, right? It's all about the journey, right? Rome was not in a day built, 'tis said. And as the English say,

Carry on.

William Dehning
Huntsville, Alabama
September 2010

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