Fresno’s choral community will honor the passing of John R. Donaldson, for whom song was a treasure

It’s time to celebrate John R. Donaldson.

Pictured above: Pictured above: John R. Donaldson with his daughters, Dorothy and Nancy, top; his friend Armando Rodriques, who served with him on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, bottom; and his great-grandson Miles, right.

He died in May at the age of 95, but the pandemic meant that the family of the beloved choir enthusiast couldn’t mark his passing with a service that would do him justice. Now, says his daughter Dorothy Chaffee, is the moment to gather together to honor a man whose love for music ran so deep that many can’t imagine the Fresno Master Chorale performing without him.

A Celebration of Life service for Dr. Donaldson will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, at Hope Lutheran Church in Fresno.

With a doctorate in physics, the longtime Fresno State professor obviously loved science. As a former member of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, civic engagement was dear to him, too. But, his daughter says, choral and instrumental music truly had a special place in his heart.

Related story: John R. Donaldson, 1925-2021: A scientist who sings, or a singer who does science? He hit the sweet spot.

“The service will be loaded with the music that Dad loved,” Chaffee says.


Organizing that music will be none other than Anna Hamre, music director of the Master Chorale and an admirer of Dr. Donaldson for many years.

“John was incredibly important to the growth of our choral society in many ways,” Hamre says. “More than that, he was a good friend. It was a great privilege to build this program in his honor.”

She invited members of the Master Chorale to volunteer at their personal comfort level to participate, and 37 singers signed up.

“Others, frankly, would have loved to participate, but their particular health situations will keep them away. For example, some of our singers have children too young to be vaccinated, and they dare not run the risk.”

All Master Chorale singers are fully vaccinated, and they will perform masked and socially distanced after filling out a health screening.

The Fresno Philharmonic is underwriting a string quintet, Hamre says. Soloists will include Sherah Moore Burdick, Aaron Burdick, Sarah Sherwood and Anne McGrath. Cactus Harris will play the organ.

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The choral ensemble will perform (among other selections) the first movement from the Vivaldi “Gloria” and Mozart’s “Ave verum corpus.”

“The one special musical request the family had was the traditional round “Dona nobis pacem”— because John concluded a yearly Christmas concert with that piece,” Hamre says. “It is very close to the hearts of the family, so we will conclude with that piece.”

A lunch and reception will follow.

Vaccinations and masks are required.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (1)

  • Jackie Ryle

    So glad to see this! Wonderful way to celebrate a fine man and his life well lived – and to say thank you! Rest In Peace, John


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