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Dr. Gerald Custer is a multifaceted choral musician, active as conductor, composer, editor, teacher and author. He earned his B.Mus. in choral music education at Westminster Choir College, where he studied conducting with Robert Simpson, Dennis Shrock and Robert Carwithen, choral literature with Elaine Brown, and composition with Harold Zabrack and Malcolm Williamson. He served as assistant conductor of Westminster’s Collegium Musicum, directed student choral and operatic ensembles, and participated in conducting master classes with Wilhelm Ehmann and Robert Shaw. He earned the M.Mus. in orchestral conducting with additional work in historical musicology at George Washington University, where he founded and conducted the University Chamber Singers and served as assistant conductor of the Alexandria (Virginia) Symphony Orchestra. While at GWU, Dr. Custer was appointed adjunct instructor in the university’s Department of Music, teaching voice and music theory in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. He received the Doctor of Musical Arts in choral conducting from Michigan State University, where he studied with Dr. David Rayl and Dr. Jon Reed.
Dr. Custer directed choral activities at Schoolcraft College and Oakland Community College in Michigan, and served as visiting faculty at St. John’s Provincial Seminary and Madonna University as well as interim music director and conductor of the 100-voice Saginaw Choral Society, leading them in performances of the Haydn "Lord Nelson" Mass and Mozart Vespers with the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra. For ten years, he was conductor and music director of The Arbor Consort, a semi-professional chamber choir that was the featured ensemble-in-residence at the Michigan Renaissance Festival. He has also served as both an arranger and guest conductor of the Dodworth Saxhorn Band, the nation’s premier 19th century brass band, leading them in performances at The Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, and across southeast Michigan. Choirs prepared by Dr. Custer have sung for conductors Gustav Meier (Greater Lansing Symphony Orchestra), Leon Gregorian (Michigan State University Symphony), Dai-uk Lee (Michigan Chamber Symphony Orchestra) and Nan Washburn (Michigan Philharmonic)—the latter in the Midwest premiere of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s rarely heard "Oratorio on Biblical Themes." He is active in the musical theater as well, and has led acclaimed performances of Bernstein’s "West Side Story," Willson’s "Music Man," and other standard repertoire in both New Jersey and Michigan.
An award-winning, Grammy-nominated composer, Dr. Custer was a finalist for the Michael Hennagin Composition Award sponsored by the University of Oklahoma, and took first place in the composition competition that marked the 75th Anniversary of Westminster Choir College of Rider University. His music has been commissioned and/or performed by the Westminster Choir under Joseph Flummerfelt and Joe Miller, the Chapel Choir and Schola Cantorum of Westminster Choir College during the annual Festival of Readings and Carols, the State Singers and Wind Symphony of Michigan State University, the choirs of Concordia University-St. Paul, Case Western University, and Mt. Marty College, the Vocal Arts Ensemble of Ann Arbor, the Dodworth Saxhorn Band, the Interlochen Arts Academy Chorus, and the Westminster Williamson Voices. Dr. Custer’s setting of Yeats’ Innisfree was featured on the premiere recording by the Voices of Anam Cara, a professional chamber choir directed by James Jordan, and was the title track for the ensemble’s Grammy-nominated CD. A second recording by the same forces, Inscape, is devoted solely to choral works written or arranged by Custer. His cantata for chorus, brass, and organ, I Kiss My Hand to the Stars, was premiered at Princeton University in 2007 by the Summer Vocal Institute of Westminster Choir College, and a three-movement symphony for orchestra, multiple choirs, and soloists on texts by Walt Whitman, Everything Indicates, received its premiere in June 2010 at Carnegie Hall.
Dr. Custer’s original compositions, arrangements, and performing editions of Renaissance choral music appear in the Evoking Sound, Westminster Choir, and Calvin Institute for Christian Worship choral series from GIA Publications. His music can also be found in the Tony Thornton choral series published by Colla Voce Music, as well as in the catalogs of Augsburg/Fortress Press, Servant Music, and MorningStar Publications. Recognized for his innovative scholarship in the performance of Renaissance choral music, Dr. Custer has taught on the summer conducting faculty at Westminster Choir College and published articles in the Choral Journal of the American Choral Directors Association, the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Bella Voce, Pastoral Renewal, and other professional journals. He is the featured choral methods columnist for GIA Quarterly, a publication which reaches more than 20,000 musicians around the world, and serves as a music publications reviewer for Oxford University Press. He was a contributor to Raymond Robinson’s The Choral Experience, and has written chapters on Renaissance performance practice, choral rehearsal technique, and the philosophy of choral music for each book in James Jordan’s landmark three-volume work, The Choral Rehearsal.
Dr. Custer is presently Director of Music at the First Presbyterian Church of Farmington in Farmington Hills, Michigan, where he leads four choirs and directs an active performing arts series. He is a member of the music theory and composition faculty in the Department of Music at Wayne State University in Detroit, and serves as music director and conductor of the Seaway Chorale and Orchestra, the preeminent community-based choir in the Downriver Detroit area.