I was born in the basement of an apartment house, during the hight of the Great Depression in 1932. My father had a 2nd grade education; my mother had an 8th grade education. Dad could sing and play the mandolin or guitar; Mom could read music and play the piano. My great-grandfather used to sit with me on our front porch swing, teaching me songs of his day. I was five-years-old, but I had a soprano voice similar to that of a mature woman. When Grandpa and I sang duets, people used to stop in front of the house to listen.
At six-years of age, I went to school. Students were only admitted to the building after they listened to a Christian recording of a fine singer. A Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag occurred before our first class began.
During the approach to Christmas, a young sixth-grader, Mary Ann Howe, sang Oh, Holy Night and thrilled my soul; she sounded like an angel! STILL, after 80 years, I remember her name (she started my desire to write music).
At the age of eight, I sang a solo in an Episcopal Church boy choir. Someone in the congregation recommended me to Herbert Huffman, the director of the Columbus Boy Choir School (now the American Boy Choir School). Mr. Huffman recruited me to join his choir school. Our singers toured all over America. My good fortune was to sing before entertainment stars during the 1940s, and members of Congress. We sang pieces from every historical era, from Organum to music of the day. While there, I learned to play the piano.
After reaching the age of 17, I went to the Ohio State University High School. Mary Tolbert, the choir director, taught me music harmony after school. While studying there, I won half of the Horace Height National Contest as a pianist. My first composition was performed during the graduation ceremony of my class of 1951. In the Fall, I was admitted to the Capital University Chapel Choir. The choir sang several of my compositions and was the first to record any of my works.
After I graduated from Ohio State University with a Master’s Degree in composition, I was admitted to Michigan State University where I earned a Ph.D. My mentor was H. Owen Reed, a great composer. From there, I was hired by Bowling Green State University, where I taught theory and composition for 35 years. I was the first composition teacher of Jennifer Higdon, the Pulitzer Prizewinner in 2010. She has music going through her head day and night.
When did I become a composer? It happened after I heard Mary Ann Howe. Her singing presented me with a blessing/curse—a gift of hearing music in my head day and night—a curse of never being able to be “normal” again. Candidly, music has pulled my life through the hard work that enabled me to help a great number of fine composers.
My four sons are fine composers and virtuoso violinists. We performed as “The De Pue Family Musicians” for 20 years. In 1989, we were honored by H. W. Bush, President of the United States, for being voted as America’s leading musical family. Presently, Wally Jr. holds a DMA in violin performance; Alex is a two time world champion fiddler; Jason is in the first violin section of the Philadelphia Orchestra; and Zachary was concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony for 11 years; now, he performs with the DePue Brothers’ Band and hear their amazing music.
My website, www.wallacedepue.com, shows photos of my four sons.
Wallace Earl De Pue Sr.