Singing with a Purpose: Alumni Celebrate the Legacy of Ellen and Philip Frohnmayer

Beloved faculty members Philip and Ellen Frohnmayer.
Beloved faculty members Philip and Ellen Frohnmayer.

By Ray Willhoft ’00

Great things come in pairs, and Loyola College of Music and Fine Arts faculty members Ellen and Philip Frohnmayer are no exception. Since arriving on campus in 1982, the husband and wife duo have created an impressive legacy of former students who have gone on to achieve great success both on and off the stage. Never forgetting the instruction and guidance they received from the Frohnmayers, several of these alumni returned to campus in June to honor the two people they most attribute to their success in life.

An Idea is Formed

The idea to honor Phil and Ellen Frohnmayer first came from Suzanne DuPlantis ’84, one of Phil’s first students.

"A few years ago, a group of us alumni had the idea to make a reunion of all Loyola Chorale members who sang under Larry Wyatt," explains DuPlantis. "It was a wonderful and fun event that covered Larry’s 14-year tenure at Loyola. Phil, who was still recuperating from his first bout with cancer, made it to the concert. As I looked out at him, I thought, 'This is what we need to do for Phil and Ellen!' Many ideas took immediate shape in my head about how the event could unfold and what the spirit of it would be."

Planning, Planning, and More Planning

Before any planning could take place, the stage needed to be set. DuPlantis jumped right in.

"First, there was a lot of dreaming about what it could and should be," she says. "There was the desire to combine our gratitude to the Frohnmayers with the joy of being together. There was the desire to show the Frohnmayers all the love and support we could in the trying times of Phil’s illness. Of course, we wanted to combine incredible music with incredible singing! And finally, we hoped to create an event significant not only to the College of Music and Fine Arts at Loyola, but for the greater community—to reach out, as the Frohnmayers have done, to the city of New Orleans."

DuPlantis began contacting people who had helped with the Chorale reunion—people that she knew to be great workers and organizers. Number one on the list was Berta Whelchel Sabrio ’88, whom DuPlantis describes as “a total can-do type.” Together, they recruited a committee which included Robert Bullington ’87, Lise Vachon ’86, Jeannine Grego Ambeau ’92, and Anne Marie Frohnmayer, M.M. ’07, Phil and Ellen’s daughter, who proved to be an invaluable resource.

“Anne Marie was in the unique position of knowing almost all of the students of her parents,” notes DuPlantis. “It was she who reached out to so many singers personally in trying to gather participants for the reunion. She was also one of the main organizers of the various events.”

The committee painstakingly gathered contact information for all the students who had studied with the Frohnmayers. They sent out a save-the-date postcard and created a facebook page for the events, working closely with Loyola staff to set up and publicize the events, which would span across an entire weekend.

Bringing Up the Curtain

The Frohnmayer Reunion and Tribute kicked off on June 3, 2011 with a Gala Reception at the New Orleans Opera Guild House, where attendees were treated to an evening of song by several artists.

Next came a Master "Chat" on June 4 on campus with Phil Frohnmayer in Nunemaker Auditorium. Several of Frohnmayer’s former students, ranging from among the very first to among the most recent, were on hand to demonstrate vocal techniques.

The crown jewel of the reunion, "The Touches of Sweet Harmony: A Gala Tribute to Ellen and Philip Frohnmayer," was held on June 4, 2011 in Roussel Hall. Artists, consisting of former students and colleagues, from near and far came to town to perform well-loved arias, ensemble pieces, and original compositions by pianist Logan Skelton ’83 and William Horne, Ph.D., Loyola professor of music, all in tribute to the Frohnmayers.

The performers included: Suzanne Banister, M.M. ’83, Kate Fleming ’05, Anne Marie Frohnmayer, M.M. ’07, Berta Sabrio ’88, Suzanne DuPlantis ’84, Brandy Hawkins ’04, Lise Vachon ’86, Dr. Jason Oby, Dr. Tyler Smith, Dana Wilson ’98, Robert Bullington ’87, David Castillo ’10, Dr. Wayne Pope, M.M. ’86, Alfred Walker ’96, Patrick Jacobs ’98, Rachel Elizabeth De Trejo ’99, Amy Pfrimmer, M.M. ’06, Kenneth Weber, Betsy Uschkrat, Matthew Curran ’97, Dr. Anthony Decuir ’70, M.M.T. ’75, and Melody Moore ’96. Musicians included: Carol Rausch, Amy Thiaville, Carmen Leerstang, Logan Skelton ’83, Janna Ernst, Jesse Reeks ’10, and Garold Whisler.

The weekend concluded on June 5 with the Frohnmayer Reunion Alumni Brunch, hosted by Shannie and Rabbi David Goldstein, who graciously opened their home for the event.

The Master “Chat” and Gala Tribute can be viewed online at www.cfmae.org

The Sweet Sound of Success

The Frohnmayer Reunion and Tribute served as a time to pay tribute to the Frohnmayers’ legacy as voice professors, to celebrate the incredible achievements of their former students, and of course, to make great music. Through the hard work and dedication of the reunion committee, the events were a major success, which was never in doubt by the organizers thanks to their love of the Frohnmayers.

“I truly believe this was an event that was meant to happen,” says Sabrio. “We were just the people that put the pieces into place.”

For Sabrio, helping to organize the events was a way to give back to the two people who had such an important impact on her life.

“Ellen and Phil really believed in me when no one else did,” she notes. “They helped form me as a person and as a professional.”

Sabrio also has a message for other alumni out there. “If there is someone that has inspired you, then get together and honor him or her.”

For DuPlantis, honoring the Frohnmayers came easy because of the lessons they taught her.

“The Frohnmayers are models for me of how to live well, love well, sing well, and give well. Their musicianship and wisdom, and their deep humanity, have set them apart from all the other teachers and musicians I have known. Quite simply, I am who I am because of them.”

Creating the Frohnmayer Legacy

Though the purpose of the Frohnmayer Reunion and Tribute was to celebrate the legacy of the Frohnmayers, a new legacy at Loyola will be created in their honor. Proceeds from the Gala Tribute will be used to create the Frohnmayer Legacy Fund, which will support the voice program at Loyola, including the Loyola Opera Theatre’s annual productions.

“Many of our successful alumni, especially former students of Ellen and Phil, got their start on the stage at Loyola, so the Frohnmayer Legacy Fund will ensure that future students receive that same chance to shine in the spotlight,” says Anna Justice, development officer for the College of Music and Fine Arts, who worked closely with the reunion committee in planning the events.

The initial goal was to raise $25,000, and thanks to the committee’s hard work, to date, $28,000 has been contributed towards the fund. However, the bigger the fund, the more Loyola will be able to do, so Justice invites those who are still interested in contributing to do so.

“The Loyola Opera Theatre plays an important role in the New Orleans arts scene, so contributing to the fund is great way to both support the arts and honor two very special people.”

If you would like to contribute to the Frohnmayer Legacy Fund, call (504) 861-5989, e-mail ajustice@loyno.edu, or visit giving.loyno.edu

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