Patrick Scott and John M. Murphy | January 27, 2017
Stealing out of the past once more.
And the sound of the dear old music,
Soft and sweet — as in days of yore.
— From “The Kerry Dance,” words and music by J.L. Molloy
When he arrived in 1973 as the successor to Daniel H. Pedtke, the Notre Dame Glee Club’s director since the 1930s, the hip new professor, with his long sideburns, unruly hair and bell bottoms, signaled a break with the old music department.
David Isele, the new director of choral programs at the newly coed university, brought impressive music credentials, too, including two master’s degrees in organ from Southern Methodist University and a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music. At age 27, he also easily charmed audiences with his musical mastery and access to the perfect bon mot for every occasion.
He knew nothing of football, and little of college students’ current interests, but Isele’s musical erudition distinguished him. Gifted and iconoclastic, he was given to flights of compositional caprice, using discordant tone clusters, twists and inversions that, stylistically, made him a veritable e.e. cummings of music. Some wag in the Glee Club thought the erudite Isele should be given the unlikeliest of monikers — so, from week one, he was simply “Coach,” a name he reportedly delighted in.
He also delighted in a bit of play. He collaborated on an operetta called “Red Hot Riding Hood” — starring a lascivious wolf and a femme fatale — that he took on a Glee Club tour. He programmed Peter Schickele’s off-color roundelays, intemperate Latin drinking songs and other pieces that the occasional audience member — and, once, a University trustee — deemed too risque.