Dr. Daniel Moe's joy in making music was wonderfully contagious, and his long tenure as professor of choral conducting at Oberlin allowed throngs of singers and listeners to savor that particular delight. As the son of a Lutheran minister, his upbringing and heritage profoundly shaped his understanding of the power of choral singing and also rooted his sense of vocation in ideals of peace, human harmony, and the affirmation of life, an affirmation that he understood as an act of praise. These ideals lie beyond the notes of the score, but as he understood so well, they are ideals that those selfsame notes could movingly inspire and express.
Undergraduate study at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., brought him under the influence of Paul J. Christiansen, scion of the Norwegian choral patriarch, F. Melius Christiansen. In that milieu, Daniel discovered his passion. He recalled, "I had wanted to do something for humanity, to do something useful, and the obvious choice was the ministry. But I thought, if I could have my own chorus, if I could work with young people and make beautiful music, I'd be in heaven." The path to that particular corner of heaven unfolded with graduate study at the University of Washington (MA, 1952) and the University of Iowa (PhD, 1961) and faculty appointments at Iowa and the University of Southern California. He came to Oberlin in 1972, and in doing so, undoubtedly smiled at the fact that the Oberlin Choir had been founded and led by yet another Norwegian musical compatriot, another Christiansen — F. Melius's son, Olaf. For the next 20 years, Daniel directed the Oberlin choral ensembles with ambitious programming, high standards, and memorably impressive achievement. He invariably worked with an animated twinkle in his eye, a twinkle that seemed decidedly more real than metaphorical, and this proved a congenial reminder that perhaps the best music-making begins with the inner spark.
Although Oberlin knew him best as a conductor, his prolificity as a composer made him a household name in church music circles. As his numerous compositions reveal, he brought a highly polished sense of craft to his pieces and a well-honed, practical understanding of the choirs that would sing them. Unsurprisingly, his works also show an affinity for social themes that he held dear, as in his Vietnam-era "Cantata for Peace," later sung at the 1993 opening mass for World Youth Day and papal visitation in Denver, Colorado.
Daniel left Oberlin in 1992 for an active retirement in Sarasota, Fla., with many years ahead as the conductor of the Key Chorale. He also held an adjunct faculty post at New College of Florida, as well as an appointment as composer-in-residence at Sarasota's Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, where he collaborated with his wife, the organist Ann Stephenson-Moe.
Numerous honors came Daniel's way, including honorary doctorates from Gustavus Adolphus College and Concordia College and the Canticum Novum Award from Wittenberg University. His many compositions and two books on choral conducting have already secured for him an enduring place in the lives of choirs and conductors for many years to come, but it was his personal vibrancy and generosity that secured for him an enduring place in our hearts.
Daniel said farewell to Oberlin with a stunning performance of Benjamin Britten's imposing War Requiem, a work whose social theme and musical heft powerfully reflected the arc of his career. Impressive and moving, the work proved to be both valediction and benediction in equal parts. The last words of the War Requiem — Daniel's parting words to us — are the familiar prayer for the peaceful repose of the dead: requiescant in pace. They are words that we now return to him, our colleague and friend.
Daniel Moe died on May 24, 2012, at the age of 85.