Ethan Sperry’s Passion for Choral Music and Education Has Changed Portland

“Ethan truly lives and breathes the belief that choral music has the ability to have a profound effect on those who participate in and experience the art form.”

Age: 51

Occupation: Director of choral activities at Portland State University; artistic director and conductor of the Oregon Repertory Singers

Why He Matters: Anyone who thinks choral music isn’t cool hasn’t met Ethan Sperry. From the moment he had the Portland State Chamber Choir amp up a 2010 concert by performing an a capella version of the THX fanfare—the booming, beloved crescendo made famous by George Lucas’ sound effects company—it was clear that he wouldn’t rest until he made the city care about choirs as much as he does.

Ten years in, Sperry’s concerts are consistently exhilarating—he’s brought legendary composers like Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre to Portland—and his music education program is helping to pass on his passion and expertise to the next generation. Many of his former students have now had influential careers of their own, including Allison Cottrell, director of choirs at Cleveland High School and executive director of Nexus Vocal Ensemble.

“Ethan truly lives and breathes the belief that choral music has the ability to have a profound effect on those who participate in and experience the art form,” Cottrell says. “This belief shines through in each moment he works with a choir or when he speaks to an audience about the music at hand.”

Biggest Influence: “My dad is certainly the biggest one. And then Robert Shaw, who’s probably the greatest choir director our country has ever had.”

Greatest Personal Achievement: “Pulling off this piece called The Path of Miracles by Joby Talbot.”

Favorite Guilty Pleasure: Video games. “I did finish Witcher 3, completely by myself.”

Best Quote About Him: “Ethan cares about precision and in-tune chords, of course, but he also cares deeply about the people he is working with and how the music they sing impacts those who listen just as much.” —Allison Cottrell

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