Downtown Singers co-founder Alan Crabb dies in Pa. hospital

Alan Crabb

By Barb Van Atta

Alan C. Crabb, Artistic Director and co-founder of the Binghamton Downtown Singers, died Saturday morning (Sept. 15) at University of Philadelphia Hospital, of multiple complications following heart surgery. He was 70. Funeral arrangements are pending at Barber Memorial Home in Johnson City.

A gifted singer, he was well-known in both local and national music circles. As a conductor, he was commended for his ability to inspire the musicians under his baton to the highest levels of musical excellence.

Crabb, a graduate of the Crane School of Music (SUNY-Potsdam), appeared with many of the major orchestras of North America, including those of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Louis, Denver, Seattle, San Antonio, New Jersey, and Vancouver, Canada, as well as in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In addition to his symphonic and oratoria work, he was, for many years, a well-regarded operatic tenor, performing locally with Tri-Cities Opera and also with the Syracuse, Pittsburgh and other companies. His affiliation with Tri-Cities Opera began in the late 1960s as chorus master, and, during the 1970s, he sang leading roles from lyric (Rodolfo in La Boheme) to heroic (Manrico in Il Trovatore).

He taught voice at Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University and Broome Community College, and was a guest lecturer with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. A vocal and choral teacher in Broome County for many years, he also served as a choir director at local churches.

In 2004, he received a bronze star on the City of Binghamton’s “Sidewalk of the Stars.”

For many people in the community, Crabb will be remembered for leading the Binghamton Downtown Singers since the group’s inception in 1983. More than 350 singers have participated with the group over the years, enjoying an opportunity to perform great choral masterworks with a full orchestra. Many of these singers began their association with Crabb as high school students when he was a music teacher at Johnson City High School.

Downtown Singers concerts have been made available to the community at minimum or no cost in order to broaden the audience for great music. The annual December performance of Handel’s Messiah has become a holiday tradition for listeners as well as performers and will continue this year.

Among Crabb’s survivors are his wife, Marisa Reynolds-Crabb, and three sons, Colin, Morgan and Alexander.

One of Crabb’s most enduring professional and personal relationships was with retired TCO Artistic Director Duane Skrabalak, who offered this remembrance:

“1965 was my senior year at Johnson City High School. It was also Alan Crabb’s first year as the music/vocal teacher. When he arrived, he spent the first weeks demonstrating such enthusiasm — borderline mania — about his subject. We found him engaging and, frankly, NUTS, but it was is was a fun nuts. He was a dynamo who often changed directions or focus in a split second, but always came around to some kind of order in his classes and choruses.

“Christmas concerts left the realm of Adeste Fideles in unison, to Messiah. His Select Choir, of which I was member, learned scores of 16th century madrigals in Olde English and Italian. His music appreciation course covered every from Gesualdo and Monteverdi to Beethoven and Stockhausen, and we all were ‘digging’ it and learning to love it.

“Suffice it to say that, had I never met Alan Crabb, I would not be doing what I am now, and what I have done for the past 40 some odd years. He opened ears AND eyes. He got me involved in the Tri-Cities Opera (he was studying and performing with TCO at that time),” said Skrabalak, who succeeded Crabb as chorus master.

“Once Alan put the bug in your ear, you were hooked. I was — I still am — and pray that I can continue planting those bugs. Alan, I owe you!”

If you have similar remembrances (or just wish to express your feelings and /or condolences), please do so here.

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18 Responses to "Downtown Singers co-founder Alan Crabb dies in Pa. hospital"

  1. Barb Van Atta

    I’m taking off my editor’s hat here, to speak as yet another of those Downtown Singers who started singing “Messiah” with Alan in high school. Like Duane Skrabalak, my musical sensibilities were formed by my years as one of Alan’s JCHS “sops.” (The altos were “women,” the basses were “water buffaloes” and his beloved fellow tenors were “gladiators.”) He asked more of us than any music teacher in his or her right mind should ever ask of teenagers, and, yet, we accomplished anything and everything he asked of us. We would have followed him through fire. The Downtown Singers have always been the same way, able to do anything because Alan believed we could. I am so grateful that my son joined Downtown Singers last year and shared in the wonderful experience of having Alan Crabb as your choral leader.

  2. Diane Sansone

    Beautifully written, Barb…he truly was an exceptional man. We will all miss our Maestro!

  3. Alan Crabb was a wonderful guy. The performances of the Downtown Singers were a real treasure for the community. He will be missed. George Basler

  4. Richard Shaw

    My senior year was 1969 at Johnson City High School. I loved to sing and still do because Mr. Crabb instilled that in me. He taught us not only to sing but also directed us in everyday things. I loved singing “Handels Messiah” for the Chorus and only wished that I would have continued with the Downtown Singers every year. If I were to define Mr. Crabb in one word, it would be “Class” The area has lost one of its shinning stars. God Bless his family.

  5. Barb, great writeup. Thank you so much! It is very true – there is a lot that this entire musical community owes to Alan and his enthusiasm and dedication. I wouldn’t be married to Erik today if it weren’t for his welcome interference and sometimes “dictatorial” style 🙂

  6. Patty LeFebvre

    I think everyone who knew and loved Alan Crabb, feels a deep sense of loss today. Everyone called him crazy, but he wasn’t crazy!!! it’s just that most people didn’t know how to handle his exuberance, passion and love of music and of people!!! Especially, those who loved to sing!!! That love, exuberance, craziness was what set his soul on fire and connected him to his singers, the music and made him who he was!!! He was a very infectious, loving person, who will be sorely missed in many of the circles in Binghamton, NY, where he made beautiful music and gave it back as a gift, to the community, music lovers and ordinary people alike.

  7. Beautifully written, Barb. Singing the “Messiah” under Alan’s direction — which I did from 1997 onward, missing (greatly!) 2005-2009 — was an unforgettable experience. Every year. Every time. The world is a far lesser place without his manic, passionate, enfolding musical presence, and without the man himself. He was so important to so many people.

  8. For more than 30 years I lived in Washington, DC, home to a half dozen of the world’s best choruses both professional and amateur. The Binghamton Downtown Singers could share a bill with any of them. Few, if any, conductors could inspire a non-auditioned chorus to such a level. Alan was in a class of his own and Binghamton was honored to have been his home and his stage.

  9. Robert L. wright (shihan)

    Alan, it was you who inspired us all to reach for perfection that you so wanted us to attain in the music that was a soul of your life. None of us would have reached the tremendious highs that fill our hearts through the music that you gave us all. From the day you dragged me from a baseball firld to sing Carousel to always calling me to sing, I will always rememeber that feeling. It was the best time anyone could have had and the best learning anyone could get. You were a kid at heart who always wanted to enjoy and have fun. From our tennis days playing at Ely Park with me and Dennis Williamson and Duane Skrabalak to throwing chairs at us guys because we were not paying attention at what you were teaching, to scaring us with solos, you always brought out the best in all of us. You will be missed but your memory with stay wth us always and so will the beautiful music you gave us all. Godspeed my friend, my teacher. The angels have received a true gift today for you are ringing the bells and lifting your voice to God.

  10. Cindy Jones

    Oh, my God; what an emptiness I feel. What am I going to do without being yelled at by Alan on Sunday nights. CYNTHIA – Pay attention!
    All of his stories, his passion, his philosophy but most of all the music he gave to all of us. Alan’s brilliant way of teaching music to some who could not read music; brought great music to those that would never be able to sing those pieces in choirs anywhere. He never turned anyone away who had a desire to sing.
    He made us laugh, he made us cry. But most of all he made us sing and sing from our souls. He gave us himself and he gave us each other, and together we performed works we never thought possible.
    Thank you, Alan Crabb, for all of those great years. Thank you for turning an oftentime black-and-white world into living COLOR. I will always be grateful to God for the gift of you. Marisa, God bless you. I’ll keep you in my prayers.

    Cindy Jones

  11. Beth Amorese

    Alan, I can remember you as my high school music teacher who had so much passion for music. I remember participating in the musical “Carousel,” and it is something that often comes to mind. The area has lost someone special, but someone who will always be remembered.

  12. Bruce Reed

    Something that stands out in my thoughts about Alan was his true love of the oratorio literature. His knowledge was vast, and as a vocalist, his execution flawless, especially of the works of Handel.
    Alan’s significant contribution must be celebrated, even as we now recognize the void created in Binghamton’s musical fabric, which must be mourned.

  13. Cynthia Clarey

    Alan, Alan, Alan! What can I say? You had enough enthusiasm for a hundred people. You loved and lived music, and spread your enthusiasm to anyone who would listen and sing along. You were crazy, like a fox. I was privileged to sing with you in one of our all-time favorite productions of “Il Trovatore,” where we all rose above what we thought we were able to do. I will miss you. In later years, we seemed to meet at Price Chopper, which was where I saw you back in August, before I left town. You told me you were going to Phila for surgery. Little did I know it would be our last encounter. Sing on, Old Friend; get those angels in order!

  14. Barbara Ann Powell

    Alan Crabb…you inspired me with your passion to make music through singing. You changed my life from that as a pianist/instrumentalist who played lots of notes and technically demanding music at a very young age to someone who connected voice to heart and went on to a career as a music educator, singer and choral conductor. When I was a member of the Select Choir at Johnson City High School, you charmed me as King Kasper in “Amahl and the Night Visitors” and introduced me to the world of opera at age 15. I learned about Haydn, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Vaughn Williams, Dello Joio, Handel, Stravinsky, Debussey, and Charles Ives by singing their music. It got me through the boring school days and gave me purpose. Music gave greater meaning to scripture as we sang “Messiah” for television — twice–in my high school years. Magic happened in Alan’s music room in the old Johnson City High School. Music put a greater appreciation of beauty and meaning in my life and the lives of “his” singers. Alan taught me more through choral singing than any English, math, science, foreign language or history class ever. Alan brought everything from those classes together in a meaningful way and insisted on the values of cooperation. trust, dependability and commitment. Alan could always work a classroom or rehearsal with his stories, wit and theatrics. His expectations were exceptionally high, and there was no nonsense in our choral classes. We students were expected to pay attention, listen, watch and work hard or duck when he threw erasers to get our attention! If the Welsh coal miners could sing exquisite choral music, so could we. This was no ordinary arts education we blue collar Johnson City students received in the later 1960s. This was an exceptional gift which changed us all forever, and we were fortunate to have received it on a daily basis. We’re still bonded together from our musical experiences and always will be. Many of us were charter members of the Binghamton Downtown Singers in 1983; some of us went on to become professional musicians and music educators; others of us became the anchors of church choirs; all of us hold and cherish music in our hearts and owe it to phenomenal teacher Alan Charles Crabb because he simply did what he knew best, shared his Welsh culture and heritage, and expected us to be the best musicians and people we could be.

  15. Kellie (Hooker) Harrell

    I remember Alan as someone who didn’t treat me like just a kid. I happened to be the youngest member of the Binghamton Downtown Singers when I was involved. Only 12/13 at the time. Alan fostered my love of music and desire to sing. He was a very special man and musical talent. He will be missed dearly.

  16. Joyce Besemer

    Sixteen years I joined the Downtown Singers after sitting in the audience for many years simply “listening” and thinking “I would never be able to do that. I can’t read music.” But some dear friends encouraged me to just come along, and so I did. It was not the “Messiah” – it was the Brahm’s “Requiem.” First rehearsal I could not take my eyes off Alan. I didn’t know many folks there, but he reminded me of Robin Williams, and I don’t know when I’ve ever spent a more fun-filled evening with a bunch of folks who just love to sing and a director who oozed enthusiasm. I just could not get over the fact that I was singing something like Brahms — isn’t that for professionals? To top it off, we did our performance at The Forum — talk about nervous. But before we went on stage, Alan stood in the hallway, gave each of us a hi-5 and a hug and said, “Go, get ’em.” I was hooked. It amazes me to this day the selections of music I’ve been involved with since then. Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, Mozart — just to name a few, and the astonishing thing to me is that I was singing these pieces, I was making amazing friends and I was thrilled to be part of this group. Each Sunday evening rehearsal was like visiting family, with Alan as our father. When I think of all the professional musicians in our area from the Philharmonic to the many small music groups, none of them dares tackle the stuff that Alan put in front of us, and somehow he got that music out of us — sometimes better than other times, but it always came out and there was such a sense of accomplishment because we always knew that we were all in it together and Alan kept it together. I am eternally grateful to him for giving me (and all of us) a gift so special it defies words. At the time of our 25th anniversary concert it was noted in a review that the singers all had their eyes riveted on the conductor (Alan). My response to that was, “Where else should they be?” He led the way, he gave us everything we needed to sing from the heart — most of us don’t even need to look at our scores because he has taught us so well: just keep your eyes on the conductor, and he will lead us through. Alan, we always sang to you — and we always will. Thank you so much.

  17. Joanne Ardune

    Alan had such a larger-than-life persona that it seems impossible that he has left us so soon, but his legend will live on. And Alan WAS legend. While we both attended the Crane School of Music, Alan graduated several years before I enrolled. However, his name was still legend in those walls, and I have, as proof, an absolutely exquisite performance of him singing “Sacred raptures cheer my breast” from Handel’s “Solomon” with Crane Chorus as an undergraduate under Brock McElheran. When I returned home to Syracuse and rejoined the choir at St. Paul’s Cathedral I found that Alan had been there before me as well, and there too he’d been legend. So it was with a fair degree of awe that I finally met Alan at Tri-Cities Opera in 1972, where he was still near the beginning of his operatic career and singing the role of Incredibile in “Andrea Chenier.” He was also the manic chorus master for that production, although I joined the company too late in the rehearsal period to fully appreciate his immense abilities in that capacity at that moment. But I soon learned that his love of music, his innate musicality, his energy, his enthusiasm, his ability to transmit that essence to those he led transcended all. … beyond that, words fail. God bless you, Alan; the heavenly choirs will ever hereafter be the better for your presence.

  18. I read this in shock … having happened upon it in the chaos of internet browsing . I have not lived in Binghamton since 1990. I worked closely with Alan in the late 1980s; booking several orchestras for Downtown Singers productions. My most favorite Handel “Messiah” memories (all three portions of “Messiah” in one evening!) are from these collaborations with Alan; other cherished memories are the Mendelssohn “Elijah” and Vaughan Williams “Serenade to Music” collaborations. I worked hard for next to no money but weight-in-gold experience — I was compelled by my commitment to Alan and the Downtown Singers to book orchestras and play the cello from my heart; these formative experiences I carried with me to the work I do in Georgia for the Augusta Choral Society and Augusta Opera. And … never since have I had the opportunity to perform the entire “Messiah” in one evening or the Vaughan Williams “Serenade to Music.”
    Duane is so right: ““Once Alan put the bug in your ear, you were hooked. I was — I still am — and pray that I can continue planting those bugs. Alan, I owe you!” Alan Crabb, and the Binghamton Downtown Singers: I honor you.

    —Ruth Berry
    http://www.inpraiseofmusic.org