Dr. David Dalton – violist, past president of the International Viola Society, past president of the American Viola Society, and curator of the Primrose International Viola Archive housed at Brigham Young University, where he was a professor of viola for 35 years.
It is difficult to truly measure the impact of one person. Plato is attributed saying, "The measure of a man is what he does with power." And J.K. Rowling: "If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."
Dr. David Dalton petrified me with his stern look as I walked the halls of Brigham Young University as a freshman, but over the years, that fear turned to admiration and an understanding that his devotion to this beautiful alto instrument was only equal to his devotion to his students. He is the most influential mentor in my life, having been his student from 1986 to 1992 and Teaching Assistant from 1990 to 1996.
He showed by doing, and he was at every International Viola Congress that I attended. It was just expected that you would attend (sometimes at a sacrifice, as I would scrape together what money I could and fly across the country - or to another country.) But there was always a Brigham Young University contingency at the congresses, thanks to Dr. Dalton. This exposure to the greater viola community and high-level viola performances was important. He left an indelible mark of excellence on all of us.
Dr. Dalton consulted on my dissertation on the Primrose transcriptions. I opened that epistle with, "At various times throughout history, there are those individuals who make a significant impact in their field. They are visionaries who, driven by passion, set new standards. William Primrose (1904-1982) was one such man." The same quote is not untrue of Dr. David Dalton; he was a passionate visionary.
On January 7 about 30 friends and former students gathered at the Primrose International Viola Archive at Brigham Young University to remember Dr. Dalton, who died on December 23. Perhaps these vignettes penned by former students and by his dear friend, Dr. Dwight Pounds, offer a brief glimpse into his totality.
Let’s start with Dwight, who so eloquently summarized David’s accomplishments in his eulogy, which I have condensed.
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As many of you know, David and I had a special relationship: we had numerous overlapping parallels and with no little frequency functioned as a team. We met at Indiana University during the sixties, where we each studied with William Primrose. I was an Executive Board Member during his American Viola Society Presidency and Executive Secretary during his international presidency. We even won awards together, being given International Viola Society Honorary Membership concurrently!
We were so closely associated with one another that one of David’s former students, Joel Belgique, said to me one day, "Why, it’s Dr. Pounds. I didn’t recognize you without David Dalton at your side." If David were the Lone Ranger, I seemed to be Tonto; if he were Don Quixote (however unlikely), that logically would make me Sancho Panza - but if so, I at least would have benefit of Richard Strauss’ viola cadenza! But would I do it again? Not only again, but again - and again… und noch wieder!
To describe David’s life in terms of family, academia, photography, his church callings and two mission terms would more than account for a complete life, but no, there was more - much more. Add to these two books on Primrose; third President of the American Viola Society; founder and first editor of American society’s Journal; host of the 7th International Viola Congress; organizer and host of the First Primrose International Viola Competition; President of the reorganized International Viola Society; Co-Founder of the Primrose International Viola Archive, lovingly known as the PIVA, and the Archive’s primary fundraising mover and shaker for the Primrose Room, the PIVA Room, the Davey Painting of Primrose.
He and our dear mutual friend, Franz Zeyringer, are the only two people to ever be awarded the International Society Gold Alto Clef. I strongly suspect that he actually lived 105 years and crammed them into 89.
David absolutely will not fade from memory. His steps echoed in the halls of the soon-to-be demolished Harris Fine Arts Center at Brigham Young University and trace vibrations of his presence yet abide in the PIVA. With a Bach suite or a favorite hymn, we might hear the echo of a familiar strain from his voice or his instrument, and cause us to sense a momentary presence, perhaps catching a fleeting glimpse of him in our minds’ eyes. Being near a viola sectional rehearsal or seeing young men and women preparing excitedly for upcoming recitals and concerts — and especially the opening ceremony of a newly convened International Viola Congress — it will be most difficult not to imagine David among them and working the crowd.
I leave you with one final charge: never forget how much we loved him - and never forget why. Likewise, please bear in mind how much he loved...each of us. "Leb’ wohl, leb wohl, lieber Freund, bis wir uns oben treffen." Farewell, farewell my dear friend, until we meet above.
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David's great achievement is that he created an ecosystem for violists, where he connected us to each other through societies, congresses and journals. He understood his friends in the viola community and their strengths; Zeyringer for collecting music, Riley for codifying history. He needed their collective gifts for creating PIVA. Through PIVA, he helped violists connect to our past and understand we have a rich history and repertoire. Violists will best honor David's legacy if we have the vision to continue to gather our repertoire, our history, understand it and share it with each other.
There is a photograph of Ysäye in PIVA with an inscription to Primrose, complete with a bow exercise, still clearly visible in the sepia ink. I remember David teaching me this exercise to help me with my string crossings, but the connection to where the exercise had come from wasn't pointed out at the time. When I saw the same exercise on the photo, it dawned on me how our oral tradition goes back generations. Sometimes we teach as we have been taught and don't realize how far that information has come; it is a legacy.
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Encouraging me but not letting me settle. After sight-reading poorly he said, "James, you don’t sight read up to the level of your ability." I remember this encouraging me to be better, without shaming me.
After nailing a difficult passage in a lesson, I proceeded to botch the next part. He said, "You can’t stop to congratulate yourself." Teaching moment.
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On Tuesday afternoons, I made my way to the basement of the Daltons’ Provo home, set my case on an antique LDS meetinghouse pew, and warmed up until the summons were issued from upstairs. I’d enter the viola studio, with its coral-colored walls, carefully-curated bookshelves, and treasure-trinkets collected from a lifetime of globe-trotting. It was a fitting shrine to a true giant of the viola world, and to a mentor who radically changed the course of my life.
Dr. Dalton’s standards were exacting, but never myopic or mean-spirited. You didn’t fear a thunderous wrath - you feared disappointing a man who knew so much and cared so much. In addition to one’s musical preparations, scholarly due-diligence was also expected as a matter of course. At one point or another, you would be quizzed, and it behooved you to know the full definitions for every musical term on the page, the historical context for the work at hand, and a few salient facts about its composer.
In a music world which too often favors rote repetition and fill-in-the-blanks over discovery and the road-less-traveled, my years of lessons with Dr. Dalton taught me to ask questions and seek out the "rabbit hole," and provided me with an incomparable model of a performer-scholar.
I will forever be grateful for his gifts, and will forever be a Dalton student.
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The greatest lesson I ever had in my seven years of lessons with Dr. Dalton took place after two weeks of no lessons, due to Dr. Dalton traveling. I drove one hour from the Salt Lake City area to Provo. I hadn’t practiced much, but I felt it was enough. After 10 minutes of playing, he stopped me and asked me if I practiced my required two hours a day for the last two weeks. When I said I hadn’t, he sternly, but kindly, sent me home. He told me I wasn’t to come to another lesson without proper practice.
I was so devastated that I had let him down that I cried all the way home. I came home and practiced all night and several hours every day for the next week. When I came to my lesson well-prepared the following week, he hugged me and congratulated me on my great improvement. I have never forgotten that lesson, which he taught me in such a firm, loving, and beautiful way.
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During my first year of lessons, I was terrified of Dr. Dalton. I got a stomachache before the lessons. He was very demanding, and I wanted to be prepared with what he assigned me. However, I never felt ready. I learned to understand and love the way that he motivated me to practice. He inspired me to do my very best.
He was my hero and helped me learn to love viola music and feel special because I play viola.
One time in my first year, I complained that I had been sick. He said, "I want to hear results not excuses." He is my hero and I love him deeply.
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About six years ago I played in a reunion concert for Dr. Dalton’s students at Viola Day at the University of Utah. This was October of 2016. I was nine months pregnant with our baby boy/girl twins and I was scheduled to play a solo at that concert. I remember it hurt to walk on the stage my feet were so swollen and dealing with shortness of breath also made it difficult to play. After the concert Dr. Dalton came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "You were relieved, we were all relieved that you got through that and didn’t go into labor. Good luck!"
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I remember when Dr. Dalton built his teaching studio and we all signed the wall before they put the final sheetrock up. I suppose it is still there today.
My mother tells me that when she met with Dr. Dalton to ask if he would teach me, she said, "But don’t make her play any of that weird 20th-century music." He replied, "Denise, the viola is a 20th-century instrument!"
My family couldn’t afford my lessons with Dr. Dalton, and my mother set up an agreement where I would arrive and hour before my lesson and clean, under Donna’s supervision. I dusted pictures, vacuumed, scrubbed bathrooms, etc. Then, once a month, on Saturdays, I would clean for four hours. What a wonderful couple, to allow me that opportunity.
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Before I began my formal studies on viola with Dr. Dalton, he invited me to attend a Viola Congress. At the time he was serving as President of the American Viola Society. At the closing banquet, the President of the International Viola Gesellschaft (later known as the International Viola Society), Günter Ojseteršek, was greeting us in German with David at his side as translator. I remember that Günter’s opening remarks were going on for some time before he gave David a chance to speak. When there was finally a moment, David leaned into the microphone and deadpanned, "Günter says ‘hi.’"
Another fond memory I have was in February of 1994, my junior year at BYU. Dr. Dalton presented a lecture demonstration, titled "The Seven Deadly Sins of the Stage" and I got to assist him. Essentially, he went through all the do’s and don’ts of stage decorum and took no prisoners doing so! One of my specific assignments was to commit the heinous crime of tuning my open strings loudly at the end of the third movement of the Debussy string quartet —breaking the spell of the otherworldly D flat major chord with my ill-timed intonational maintenance. I relished the task, but have since reflected on that lecture and all the lessons I’ve had with Herr Professor David Dalton. He certainly demonstrated the formality and decorum he expected from his students, but he also showed us how to let our hair down (pun intended).
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David Dalton opened up a brand new world for me when he agreed to take me on as a viola student. At 14, I was surprised to find that I liked the sound and feel of the viola, having spent 10 years with the violin. Beyond the tone, technique, and repertoire, Dr. Dalton showed me the amazing, tight knit culture of the viola world. I learned about Viola Congress. I listened to great masters. I spent time hearing tales of the great William Primrose from someone who knew him best.
In our lessons, I knew it was as important for me to research and study and think as it was for me to play beautifully. Many people have talked about Dr. Dalton’s great expectations. I am profoundly grateful to have experienced them. They have helped shape me as a violist, teacher, administrator, and human being. I felt at home in his studio, studying great music, and I loved being at his kitchen table, studying life with him and his dear wife, Donna. They were supportive guides through my formative years.
Whenever there’s been a major career decision, educational venture, or other change in my adult life, I’ve wanted Dr. Dalton’s input. He is someone I knew would always advise from a place of love and support, someone who truly wanted the best for me. That’s a rare and beautiful gift on top of the others that he freely bestowed. I am profoundly grateful he took a bright but unfocused teenager and helped her understand how fulfilling and wonderful a life in music could be. It is a service he gave to generations, and our world is better for it.
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It took some time to make the full transition and become an echt violist! After struggling for some months, and not feeling like I would ever measure up, I went to one particular viola lesson in tears. While these tears were flowing down my face, Dr. Dalton listened silently to my concerns and fears that I would never measure up, that I was behind, and that I could never catch up because I switched to viola "too late."
Without saying a word, he reached into his filing cabinet where he kept his tissue box, took one tissue, ripped it in half (which was his custom), and handed me half a tissue. He then asked me one question only, "Behind compared to whom?" Well! That ended my tears quickly as new ideas entered my head! I didn't need to play the victim, nor did I need to compare myself to others! I just needed to work hard, work steadily, and always strive for excellence no matter WHAT piece(s) I happened to be playing at the time! Thank you, Dr. Dalton!
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To end this reflection, I recall the last visit that I had with Dr. Dalton in his home, as he was ailing. That same weekend, I was playing Puccini's "La Boheme" at the Noorda. Later that evening as I looked around the viola section at the opera, I realized that each violist had been influenced by him, either being a direct student or having studied with his student, Claudine Bigelow.
The other profound thing about this visit is that previously, in 2018, I had lectured at Colburn at the American Viola Society Festival on the Primrose Transcriptions. Although Donna, his wife, was there, David was unable to attend. I knew if he had felt up to it, he would have wanted to see my PowerPoint lecture presentation.
During that last visit, I did show him that presentation. He was enthralled; asking questions, making comments, clarifying when and who made the Primrose audio recordings. He was at the end of his life and definitely had done enough for viola. There was no need for him to engage nor accolades to be given. It showed me that he truly, truly loves the viola and the interest of his students.
Until we meet again . . . farewell my beloved mentor and friend, Dr. David Dalton.
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Here, also, are links to other obituaries for Dr. David Dalton:
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