CLASS OF 1985: DANICA BUCKLEY ✯ A Musical Awakening

Brahms’ Requiem is an exploration of death and loss. But for Danica Buckley ’85, it birthed a career. “It was an epiphany,” she says, recalling the moment she realized she wanted to become a conductor. “I was listening to Requiem on a record player in Catherine Orr’s living room, following along with the orchestral score, and I just knew.”

Danica Buckley ’85 majored in English at Norwich University with an aim at teaching, never dreaming that the music she so loved would become her life’s work. If you’d like to get in touch, email her at sopranocon@yahoo.com. (Photo courtesy of David Grabrowski.)

Danica Buckley ’85 majored in English at Norwich University with an aim at teaching, never dreaming that the music she so loved would become her life’s work. If you’d like to get in touch, email her at sopranocon@yahoo.com. (Photo courtesy of David Grabrowski.)

It was April 1986, a year after Danica graduated from Norwich with an English degree. At the time, Orr* was conducting the Barre (Vt.) Choraleers in a performance of Brahms’ legendary piece. The noted Vermont conductor had taken the young vocalist, who had earned a place in the ensemble, under her wing, opening Danica’s eyes to a path that had been there all along. “It’s funny in retrospect,” she continues. “I had literally begun singing at three years old, and had always sought music whenever I could. But it had never occurred to me that I could make it my profession.”

In fact, prior to enrolling at Norwich, Danica had already built an impressive musical résumé. At 13, she became the youngest member of the Nantucket (Mass.) Community Chorus. At Nantucket High School, she founded a women’s trio and assembled and directed a musical review for three consecutive years. She also acted in every high school play, and assisted the musical director by rehearsing the students.

She credits her music-teacher mother for incubating and nurturing her gift. “While I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was brave. And I was in love with it all, especially choral music,” she says.

At Norwich, Danica filled her electives with music classes. She fondly names late Norwich music professor, Brian Webb, as one of her most influential mentors. She accompanied, for a semester, the Norwich Grenadiers under Professor James Bennett’s direction. And Helen Caudill, who directs the Pegasus Players to this day, invited her to return to Norwich to conduct Brigadoon in 1988, an experience Danica still cherishes. “Each of them gave me opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have had,” she reflects. “Because of that, I began to flourish as a musician in college—even though I still had no idea it would ultimately become my career!”

But as fate would have it, inspiration struck in Orr’s living room that day 30 years ago—launching Danica on a professional path paved with musical notes of the great composers. She went on to earn a master’s degree in music from the Boston Conservatory. Today, she conducts the Cape Cod Chorale, the Simmons College Concert Choir, the Choral Art Society of the South Shore, and the First Parish Choir in Brewster. She has arranged, conducted, and accompanied performances of Bach and Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssohn, Vierne and Vivaldi, and scores of others. And, she performs as a soprano.

Buckley returns to the Brahms’ Requiem again and again as a catharsis and a form of homecoming. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, she worked with other area conductors to assemble 500 singers from 37 different choruses. On April 22, 2013—just a week after the bombings—she conducted the ensemble in a tribute performance at MIT, raising $15,000 for the ONE Fund. “Requiem is about healing and hope,” Danica says. “In all its glory, comfort and weepy gorgeousness, it transforms.” – Jane Dunbar

*Catherine Orr, who died in May 2015, had her own Norwich connection—as an intermittent director of musicals on the Hill. After their work together on Requiem, Danica and Catherine became lifelong friends.

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