2014 Swan Award Winner: Albert McNeil
Albert McNeil is a native Californian — born in Los Angeles. He earned Bachelor and Master degrees at the University of California, Los Angeles, and did his doctoral studies at the University of Southern California, the Westminster Choir College of Princeton, and the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. He is presently Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of California at Davis, where he was Director of Choral Activities for 21 years and headed the Music Education Program. Simultaneous with the Davis period, he taught Ethnomusicology at the University of Southern California for 12 years. Prior to his University teaching, McNeil taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 17 years beginning at the elementary level and including junior highs, and ended his tenure in the district at the Susan Miller Dorsey High School where he headed a multi-school program known as APEX, Area Project for Educational Exchange involving five High Schools in a unique federally funded experimental program with each high school specializing in unique course offerings.
The McNeil Jubilee Singers ensemble is his creation, and he has dedicated himself to upholding a choral tradition of excellence with the presentation of the concert spiritual and the ever-increasing contributions of African American Composers of Concert Music, Opera, and theatre music. Under his direction, the group, now in its 40th year, has performed in over 70 countries, including Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, and North and West Africa. During the summer of 1997 they completed their third tour of South America after numerous transcontinental tours of the U.S., Hawaii, and Canada.
In addition to his work at the University and conducting the Jubilee Singers, Professor McNeil has been an author and editor on a series of music education textbooks for Silver-Burdett-Ginn Publishing Company. He co-authored an educational packet for Bowman Publishing Company as well. His arrangements can be found in the Gentry and Lawson-Gould catalogues.
McNeil was been called out of retirement in Spring, 2007 as acting Director of Choral Activities at the University of California, Davis. He is in demand as an adjudicator and clinician and is often invited to conduct “honor choirs” throughout the United States and abroad. In January 1993, he was a Headliner at the Eleventh Annual Federation for Choral Music in Seoul, Korea, and in August, 1993, he presented the sessions on African American Spirituals and Art Songs at the World Symposium on Choral Music in Vancouver B.C. He repeated similar sessions with his Jubilee Singers in Rotterdam in July, 1999. In July 1994, he was Guest Conductor at the DeKalb International Choral Festival held at Stone Mountain, Georgia. In 1995, he conducted the World Youth Choir in their 1995 tour of Canada and North America and in November of 1995 he was appointed vocal director/conductor of the 40th Annual Christmas Candlelight Procession at Disneyland. In August of 1996, he and his Jubilee Singers were among the five choirs appearing at the International Choral Festival in Taipei, Taiwan. He returned with his Jubilee Singers in July, 2000, as Lecturer and Conductor. He is Guest Conductor on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s “An American Heritage of Spirituals”, a CD released in January 1997. January, 1998, the Singers made their first tour of the Hawaiian Islands, with special performances with the Honolulu Symphony of the concert version of “Porgy and Bess” and a command performance in the recently renovated Hawaii Theatre. He followed this engagement with sessions as Guest Director and Lecturer with the Canadian Choral Conductors in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A year later, January, 1999, McNeil made his debut in Carnegie Hall with the Jubilee Singers and choruses from Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. McNeil’s guest conducting assignments during 1999-2000 included the Holland Festival (Michigan), the Heartland Chamber Ensemble (Ft. Wayne, Indiana), as headliner before the Choral Conductor’s Guild Convention 2000 (Pasadena, CA), Association of Church Musicians and the Schola Cantorum (Palo Alto, CA). McNeil’s second performance in Carnegie Hall (June, 2001) featured the music of Jester Hairston and celebrated the late composer’s 100th birthday with a choir of 219 singers from throughout California. He was one of the conductors who appeared with the 300-voice Children’s Choir at the Des Moines International Children’s Choral Festival, known also, as “Song Burst!”, July 4 – 7, 2001. McNeil appeared as a presenter at America Cantat IV (a collaborative Choral experience involving hundreds of choirs from the Western Hemisphere) held in Mexico City April 5 – 14, 2004 and under the supervision of Fundacion Coral Mexico, A.C.
He appeared at Point Loma University, San Diego, as clinician and workshop leader at the University’s February, 2002, Annual Choral event. In May, 2002, McNeil conducted Pasadena Presbyterian Church’s Inaugural Multi-Cultural Festival after having organized and developed Founder’s Church’s International Choral Festival on Cinco de Mayo. This festival now in its ninth year has attracted over 1300 choristers and brought choirs to the Los Angeles area from as far off as San Diego and Santa Barbara. McNeil with selected members of the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers conducted daily educational presentations as a part of the Hollywood Bowl summer music offerings for children K through 5 during July, 2002.
Notable among his many awards are: Alumnus of the Year for Professional Excellence presented by his alma mater, UCLA, and the Michael Korn Award for distinguished conducting (Chorus America–Association of Professional Ensembles). He has the honor of being selected a Sterling Patron of Mu Phi Epsilon. The California State University Board of Trustees on May 28, 2003, conferred the honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree upon McNeil at the Summer, 2003, commencement exercises held on the campus of California State University, Northridge. He also delivered the commencement address at that time. The ACDA Western Division honored both the Jubilee Singers and Dr. McNeil in “command performances” at their Las Vegas Convention in February, 2004, where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to Choral Music. Professor McNeil’s 2005 schedule included another appearance before the National ACDA Convention in Los Angeles, and a headline performance at the Bilbao International Film Festival in November, and an Encore performance of Dr. McNeil at Davies Hall, San Francisco in December. McNeil lead his Singers at the L. A. Holiday Celebration on Christmas Eve, 2005 and again in 2006, 2007 & 2008. He received a lifetime achievement award in July, 2007 from the National Association of Church Musicians at their summer conference in Camarillo, California. 2008-09 included run-out concerts to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and a host of concerts prior to their 17th tour of Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Germany, with several dates in Spain during the holiday period.
Professor McNeil is on the boards of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Neighborhood Music School. He holds “Honorary membership” in the Society of Puerto Rican Choral Directors, and received an award from the Association of Choral Singers from the National Choir of the Dominican Republic after a series of concerts there in 1995. He is a life member of the American Choral Directors Association and the National Association of Negro Musicians. He was a Member of the Board of Directors of Chorus America, 1988-1997.