Mayer was music teacher and mentor

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 28, 2007 - 8:58 PM

Francis Mayer made a lot of music in St. Paul, much of it as chairman of St. Thomas' music department.

For nearly 50 years, University of St. Thomas Prof. Francis Mayer taught his students self-discipline along with music.

Mayer, who conducted the St. Thomas Concert Band for 35 years, died Oct. 20 in St. Paul. He was 95.

"He was a very demanding teacher," said John Krebsbach, a St. Thomas administrator and former student of Mayer's. "He did not settle for mediocrity, but at the same time he cared for you as a person."

Krebsbach, who went on to become Mayer's colleague and music department chair, added: "We would have to be good teachers, but we also had to be fine musicians. ... I looked to him as a mentor. I looked to him for guidance."

Mayer, who grew up in Chicago, earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota and his master's from Northwestern University. In the 1930s he began teaching music at Cretin High School and the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul.

In 1948, Mayer joined the fledgling music department of the then-College of St. Thomas, teaching woodwinds and conducting the concert band.

In 1957, he received a doctorate in music from the University of Minnesota. In 1973, he became chairman of St. Thomas' music department and director of the Division of Fine Arts.

Over the decades, whether at Cretin or St. Thomas, Mayer directed a choral Christmas pageant in downtown St. Paul and led boys and adult choirs at Holy Spirit grade school and parish in St. Paul.

Retired Marine Lt. Col. George Sweeney, who sang in Mayer's choirs as a boy and an adult and took classes from him at St. Thomas, recalled that Mayer shared values that he cherishes today.

"He taught us self-discipline and personal responsibility, the things you are going to need in the world, whether you are singing or not," said Sweeney, who works for a contractor for NASA's space shuttle program in Florida.

Mayer expected his singers to memorize lyrics and music, but if students didn't meet his requirements, he guided them "in the most kind way," Sweeney said.

"He had the bearing of a consummate professional," Sweeney said. "He made you want to learn."

After Mayer retired from St. Thomas in 1982, he enjoyed winters in Florida. His wife, Louise, died in July, said his goddaughter, Mary Jackson, of Stillwater.

Mayer had no immediate survivors. Services were held Friday.

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