Galen Marshall, Founder and Music Director Emeritus of Masterworks Chorale in San Mateo, CA, passed away peacefully on Dec. 4, 2014, after a rapid decline related to Alzheimer’s. We have lost a legendary man who shared his musical talents and artistic vision with countless singers and instrumentalists in the Bay Area for over 50 years. An incredibly multi-faceted person, Galen was equally comfortable whether on the conductor’s podium, rebuilding a deck, or rooting for the SF 49ers at Candlestick Park.
Born in Greensburg, Kansas, to Arthur and Helen Marshall, Galen’s family relocated when he was a child to the Central Valley in California where he attended Modesto High School, then completed his BA and MA in Music at San Francisco State University. He married his high school sweetheart, Loretta Bohn and began his career as a voice, choral and piano teacher at Balboa High School, and later Washington High School in San Francisco.
While teaching music at San Francisco City College in the early 1960’s, he attended Stanford University, intending to obtain his doctoral degree in choral conducting. Shortly thereafter, he accepted an offer at the newly relocated College of San Mateo, where in addition to his successful choirs, Galen decided in 1964 to offer an evening course for adult singers interested in performing the great choral masterpieces – thus the birth of Masterworks Chorale, his greatest artistic accomplishment. In the decades that followed, Masterworks Chorale would earn a reputation for musical excellence in the Bay Area. In addition to conducting his own concert season, Galen prepared his chorus for appearances with Bay Area orchestras and choral festivals, including performances under the batons of such notable conductors as Dennis Russell Davies, Calvin Simmons, George Cleve, Edo de Waart, John Nelson and Robert Shaw. During the 1960’s, Galen was a member of Yosemite’s famed Bracebridge Dinner singers, where he also became friends with Ansel Adams, and fell in love with Yosemite’s natural beauty – where he would later retire in nearby Groveland.
In 1973, Galen and his San Jose State University colleague Dr. Charlene Archibeque took their college choirs on a European tour, where they were awarded the grand prize at an International Choral Festival. Subsequently, Galen organized a series of tours with Masterworks Chorale, including professional Bay Area instrumentalists and soloists to Europe in 1975 and 1977; 1981 to Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece; China in 1985; 1991 to Spain with professional orchestra from Budapest; 1994 to Eastern Europe with a Czech orchestra and soloists including future Van Cliburn winner Jon Nakamatsu.
Highlights of Galen’s career include a Carnegie Hall performance of the Verdi Requiem in 1989 and coaching numerous young singers whom he hired as soloists, many of whom have since gone on to successful careers in opera - Patricia Racette, Sondra Radvanovsky, Deborah Voigt, John Relyea, Ruth Ann Swenson, Stuart Skelton and Luana DeVol, to name a few. His relationship with the legendary Robert Shaw, beginning in 1980, helped him push his chorus to even higher standards, and the two men became good friends.
Outside of music, Galen was an accomplished golfer, played bridge, enjoyed travel and fine wines. While married to second wife Ellen, he was coerced into a golf match with future Prime Minister of France Edouard Balladur, whom Galen soundly defeated! An avid sports fan, Galen and his wife, Linelle, held season tickets to the 49ers for 20 years, and he followed professional golf, basketball and baseball. He was a fierce pool shark, teaching many friends how to lose graciously! After retiring to Groveland, Galen bought a boat and was still water skiing into his 70’s, teaching many friends and their children how to ski. The Marshalls purchased a motorhome in 2004, enjoying many extended RV trips with their beloved sheltie and two cats. There were countless dinner parties and celebrations over the years, featuring Linelle’s culinary skills and Galen’s penchant for regaling guests with many stories.
Galen’s uncanny ability to see into people’s hearts made him a father figure, mentor and counselor to friends, family and students. His charming and witty demeanor, fundamental optimism about life and desire to help others be all they could be made him a charismatic figure to everyone who met him.
He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Linelle, brother Craig, sister Diane Ballard, sons Brian and Dennis, grand-daughter Megan, nephews Eric and Aaron Marshall, Ian and Troy Ballard, nieces Heather Dursley and Tiffany Ballard.
A celebration of Galen Marshall’s life will take place on Sunday, January 25, 2015, 2:00 PM, at the Bay View Dining Room, College of San Mateo. Contributions in memoriam can be made to Masterworks Chorale of San Mateo, the Humane Society or any charity of your choice.