by Bruce Tomaso
In the 50 years since it was named for philanthropist Algur H. Meadows, SMU Meadows School of the Arts has nurtured generations of talented artists.
While many Meadows graduates have gone on to stellar careers on Broadway, in Hollywood, in the cultural capitals of the world, many others chose to stay close to Dallas, to plant deep roots in the local arts communities.
Few have touched more young lives in our region than Rosemary Heffley, a proud member of Meadows’ inaugural, 1969 graduating class.
Heffley, who died in January 2019 at age 75, was a lifelong teacher and musician, a passionate ambassador for children’s choral music, and a valued friend to choral groups throughout Texas.
“She was a titan in Texas choral music, a choral director who was greatly respected and loved,” said Julie Scott, professor of practice and co-director of music education for Meadows.
In the mid-1990s, Heffley was instrumental in starting the Children’s Chorus of Greater Dallas, which has grown into one of the largest, most prestigious youth choral programs in the nation. Its eight ensembles draw on the talents of more than 500 singers, fourth graders to high school seniors.
“Throughout her life, Rosemary made an immeasurable impact on the lives of countless students,” said a posthumous tribute on the chorus’s website.
One measure of the esteem in which the Children’s Chorus of Greater Dallas is held is that it’s the official children’s chorus of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Jaap van Zweden, the DSO’s acclaimed former music director (now musical director of the New York Philharmonic), called the Dallas chorus “one of the best I’ve ever heard.”
The Texas Choral Directors Association eulogized Heffley as “a beautiful person of bountiful wisdom and kindness” who “believed that each of us, from adults to children, are students of music, and no matter the level of understanding.” She served as president of the association from 1979 to 1981.
Heffley, a native of Stephenville, taught choral music at Mesquite High School for 17 years. She also founded the Mesquite Civic Chorus, believing equally in the importance of inspiring children and adults to appreciate the gift of music.
After retiring from Mesquite High, she taught choral singing and music education at Texas Christian University, the University of North Texas and SMU Meadows.
The Children’s Chorus of Greater Dallas has established a scholarship in Heffley’s memory. Beginning in 2020, it will be awarded to a CCGD senior who plans to pursue a music degree in college.
In part through Heffley’s influence, CCGD over the years has become both a welcoming home and a prominent stage for members of the Meadows music family. Cynthia Nott (M.M. ’80) has been artistic director since the chorus’s debut performance in 1997. Megan Heber (M.A./M.B.A. ’18) is executive director. Lesley Warren (M.A./M.B.A. ’18) is development director. And Nora Henson, youth chorus conductor, teaches as an adjunct at Meadows.
Nott was a graduate student at Meadows when she first heard Heffley lecture.
“I was completely taken with her focus and her commitment to choral art – and to art for art’s sake,” Nott said. “She set a very high standard for her students, but at the same time, she was so encouraging to them. She wanted them to succeed. She wanted everyone to achieve their best.
“Thanks to Rosemary, there’s a long, long list of talented young musicians who blossomed, as adults, into accomplished artists – in the Dallas area and well beyond. She was a terrific mentor to me, and to many, many others.”
Heber and Warren both said their Meadows roots helped them find a welcoming home with the Children’s Chorus and are a big reason why they’ve settled in the Dallas area.
Heber said a mentor of hers during her time at SMU was Patricia A. Porter, a former director of community relations for Meadows, and, for five years, director of the University’s Tate Lecture Series.
‘When Pat called and told me about an opening at the Children’s Chorus, I knew what an amazing opportunity it was,” she said.
“It’s just a wonderful organization to be a part of. The Children’s Chorus has had a huge impact not only on the young singers in our programs, but also on the community as a whole.”
Warren says she in turn was recruited to CCGD by Heber. The two became friends while enrolled together in Meadows’ overseas study program at the Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy, as part of their M.A./M.B.A. degree.
“The job I have today is a direct result of my Meadows connections,” she said. “It’s worked out wonderfully. I’m really grateful to Meadows for putting its students in a position where they have so many opportunities to serve their communities while doing something they’re passionate about.”
Great artists don’t always make great teachers – and vice versa. Heffley, Nott said, was a master of both classroom and stage.
“She was a brilliant teacher. She was a beautiful conductor, and an incredible musician.”
In fall 1981, Heffley’s last year as president of the Texas Choral Directors Association, she wrote about her hopes for the organization’s future.
As it turned out, she was describing a future that she would help shape:
“That future,” she said, “will be one dedicated to a constant thrust toward the perpetuation of the choral arts, and devoted to the absolute quality of thought and intention to all of the arts.
“Choral music is our specialty, yet let us hope our vision and commitment will be towards the contribution to an artistic quality of life for our students and audiences.”