School of Music, Theatre and Dance

Remembering David Daniels

Former OU professor, conductor leaves legacy of compassion, inspiration

icon of a calendarMay 21, 2020

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Remembering David Daniels: Former OU professor, conductor leaves legacy of compassion, inspiration
David Daniels
Oakland University Professor Emeritus David Daniels passed away on April 24 at age 86. (Photos courtesy Abigail Daniels)

The Oakland University community is mourning the death of Professor Emeritus David Daniels, who passed away on Friday, April 24 at age 86. Daniels taught music for 28 years at OU — including three years as chair of the former Department of Music and three years as chair of the then newly-formed Department of Music, Theatre and Dance.

“The world has lost a truly kind soul,” said Michael A. Mitchell, a professor of music and director of choral activities at Oakland University.

David Daniels
David Daniels and his wife, Jimmie Sue

Daniels was born in 1933 in Penn Yan, New York and married his wife, Jimmie Sue Evans, in 1956. The couple had three children — Michael, Abigail, and Andrew — and six grandchildren: Ashley Daniels, Alexandra Daniels, Emma Rush, Daniel Smith, Sarah Smith, and Calvin Daniels.

“We have been collecting stories about Dad from families and friends so we can share them with our mother, who has dementia, once the pandemic restrictions are lifted,” Abigail Daniels said. “We’re asking folks to start their story by introducing themselves and explaining how they knew Dad. Having the storyteller's name and relationship to Dad right at the beginning will help Mom remember people and events. We have set up an email address, [email protected], where the stories can be sent.”

Family, friends, colleagues and former students have already begun sharing some of their favorite memories of Daniels via email and social media, with many noting how he positively impacted their lives and careers.

David Daniels
Daniels poses with the "dinosaur" 
from Gould's "The Jogger and the

“I met David during my interview (at Oakland) in May 1991,” said Karen Sheridan, a professor of theatre at OU. “I remember him leaning across the conference room table, smiling and looking at me like I could never say anything stupid.  That was David. He saw the potential in everyone. He was a sprite inspired by potential — potential classes, concerts, collaborations. A true conductor, he had an attention to detail that made us all better. When I arrived, he was a kind of teaching guru. If you needed guidance of any sort, he would step away from his desk and sit at the table with you, equaling the playing field and seeing what he could offer.”

Gregory Cunningham, music director of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra and professor of orchestral and wind conducting at OU, called Daniels a “friend and mentor” whose “legacy will not be forgotten.”

“From Dave's initial encouragement offered during my Oakland interview/audition, through to his friendly and very gracious backstage handshakes offered at nearly every concert I conducted with the Oakland Symphony, he was quite a steadying and supportive professional influence for me,” Cunningham said. “He was so extraordinarily important in the creation of Oakland's Department of Music as a rigorous, yet supportive place to study music.”

David Daniels

David Daniels, conductor

Laurie Eisenhower, professor emerita of dance and the founder and former artistic director of Eisenhower Dance, recalls how Daniels welcomed her “with open arms” when she arrived at OU.

“For me and many other young professors at OU, he was a wonderful mentor and role model,” she said. “From the day I arrived at OU, he was my biggest fan. When I decided to form my dance company, he was one of the first people I asked for advice. Throughout the years, he was always there for me and consistently in the audience of my performances. We kept in touch after I moved to Arizona and I was so grateful for our continued friendship. He would share, what I would consider hardships, with such grace and positivity.”

John-Paul White, distinguished professor of music at OU, compared Daniels to “a singer without a voice.”

“That is to say he didn’t have a great instrument in his throat, but he had it in his heart and soul and imagination,” White said. “As a conductor, when he would demonstrate something for me, I could hear what he wanted, and imagine what it would sound like if he had had the great voice, and it was truly ‘beautiful.’ He had great musical instincts in every way. He was also extremely generous with his time. Many was the time I would grab him as he passed my studio (or out of his office) to come into my studio and play something for me or a student. He was always willing and seemed genuinely happy to do it.”

David Daniels
Daniels in front of his garage, complete with treble
and bass clefs

Mark Stone, associate professor of world music and percussion, described Daniels as “one of the kindest, selfless, and most caring musicians I have ever known.”

“Although Dave retired from Oakland University the semester before I was hired, he remained active at OU as Professor Emeritus and was an incredible supporter of my work, as he had been for my predecessor, Marvin ‘Doc’ Holliday,” Stone said. “Dave faithfully attended nearly every concert I presented at OU and always wrote me thoughtful emails after each event. He was the rare artist who saw the ‘big picture’ and truly understood how wide-ranging forms of expression are interconnected.”

An accomplished and devoted musician throughout his life, Daniels holds degrees from Oberlin College, Boston University, and the University of Iowa, where he earned his Ph.D. in orchestral literature and conducting. 

During his 28 years at OU, Daniels taught a wide array of courses, including music history, music theory, music appreciation, orchestration and conducting. His six-year tenure as department chair saw the Department of Music successfully merge with the Department of Theatre and Dance.

“Dave’s gentle, wise leadership remained influential long after his chairmanship ended and helped us become what we are today,” said Jackie Wiggins, distinguished professor of music emerita and the former director of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

David Daniels
Daniels conducts the Warren Symphony Orchestra

The ​Oakland Symphony Orchestra’s annual David Daniels Young Artists Concert, ​which is held in February, is named in recognition of Daniels’ distinguished career at OU and his commitment to teaching aspiring student musicians.

In addition to teaching, Daniels was well known for his orchestral conducting. He conducted the Oakland University Orchestra from ​1969 to 1997, ​ and the Warren Symphony Orchestra from ​1973 to 2010. Daniels also conducted opera with the Boston Academy of Music for many years, where his performances were five times named “Best Opera of the Year” by the ​Boston Globe. Other guest conducting appearances included the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Michigan Opera Theatre, Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre, Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, Meadow Brook Festival Orchestra, and the Orquesta Sinfonia de Maracaibo, Venezuela.

Over his​ lifetime, Daniels wrote and edited five editions of the acclaimed reference book ​Daniels’ Orchestral Music,​ first published in 1972. The book is widely regarded as essential to any conductor’s reference collection.

“My brothers and I grew up knowing Dad touched many people's lives through his teaching and conducting, but it's been only as adults that we have begun to understand how far Dad's reach truly was in the classical music world,” Abigail Daniels said. “It is amazing to us — our Dad, our somewhat befuddled Dad who was always ‘conducting’ one piece or another in his head, our loving Dad, who was such an amazing Grandpa to our children — is known internationally for his books.”

A celebration of Daniels’ life is being planned for a later date. To view an online obituary, please visit the Daniels’ Orchestral Music Online website.

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