From 1950 to 1969 Wayne directed the combined Glee Clubs of the Cathedral’s upper schools.
Their significance in his creative and emotional life during those years cannot be overstated. The artistic interaction with these young people was truly inspirational, as evidenced by the composition and performance not only of the five operettas – three with his wife Joan as librettist – but several Christmas pageants, the oratorios Jonah and the Fiery Furnace, and the unusual setting of George Herbert’s The Temper which deployed five sections of chanting students in addition to the chorus and orchestra.
In her 1998 dissertation A Musical History of the Washington National Cathedral, 1893-1998 Kitty Yang makes the following observations:
The combined glee clubs not only became a prominent choral group, but they also strengthened various facets of the Cathedral musical programs. Dirksen taught these girls and boys major choral repertoire, such as Bach’s B Minor Mass, Mozart’s C Minor Mass, Verdi’s Requiem etc. and also contemporary scores composed by Ned Rorem, Leo Sowerby, and himself…. The addition of the combined Glee Clubs was significant because it involved the young students on the Cathedral Close directly in the Cathedral music program. The educational influence was also another way for the Cathedral to fulfill its mission as an institution of education, as mentioned in the 1893 Charter of Congress.
As to how Wayne felt about those young people, the following quote comes from an interview with Ellen Perkins, published in the Cathedral Age in the Fall of 1989:
RWD: “When I started leading the Glee Clubs here, what the heck, I was only twenty-six years old, so I still thought that I was as young as they were. We began to do some Mozart Masses and other classical music. We did a concert with symphony musicians, an operetta and a Christmas pageant each year. I wrote four Christmas pageants and five operettas, and conducted many concerts for them.
EP : How did you feel about giving up the glee clubs after eighteen years?
RWD: We had a great love affair, those glee clubs and myself. That was the hardest divorce.”
That love affair was readily apparent upon his retirement when some 40 Glee Club alumni returned to surprise him with a medley of songs from the operettas. Here’s the video of that event showing both Wayne and Jo having a completely wonderful time, and Wayne speaking from the heart about what his many years at both schools and the Cathedral meant.
In addition to his own operettas Dirksen produced semi-staged versions of Gilbert and Sullivan shows. These featured lighting and modest scenic effects plus appropriate movement for the chorus and soloists, thus putting the emphasis on the singing rather than the plot. Their 1955 production of Ruddigore produced some of the Glee Clubs’ best work.