Francisco J. de Araujo
Francisco de Araujo, noted choral conductor and pianist in the Seventh-day Adventist church, enjoyed a career that in six decades earned him praise from music critics and governments around the world. It was a remarkable musical journey, far beyond his wildest imaginings as a child.
Araujo was one of seven children born in the United States to immigrants from the Portuguese Azores. Although the family was poor, from his earliest years, Francisco was consumed with a passion for music and fascinated by the piano. His first access to a piano happened when the family became Seventh-day Adventists and joined the Taunton, Massachusetts, church.
The family would arrive early for church so that the young boy could enjoy a half-hour of playing by ear before members started arriving. He also spent time at the piano during recess and after school while attending church school.
In his high school years, winnings from temperance contests enabled Araujo to buy his first piano and a year of piano lessons. Following graduation from high school, he entered Atlantic Union College, where he studied piano under Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, who guided and inspired him in his musical development. It was a challenging and at times discouraging experience for Araujo because of his lack of previous training, but he was determined and succeeded. It was the beginning of a relationship for teacher and student that continued for over fifty years and resulted in numerous successful musical collaborations.
He graduated from AUC in 1955 with a B.A. in music, the only sibling in his family to complete college. His father, who had wanted Francisco to be a pastor, sold his house to pay for his son's education and then spent the rest of his life living in apartments. While at AUC, Francisco met a talented violinist and they married as he graduated. They then began work at Blue Mountain Academy, a school that had just opened in western Pennsylvania.
At the end of their first year at BMA, they were invited to teach at Washington Missionary College, later Columbia Union College and now Washington Adventist University. Although his assignment was just to teach piano students at the college, he began conducting a choir at the nearby SDA Theological Seminary.
Later that year, Araujo formed an oratorio society and began preparing Mendelssohn's Elijah for a performance to be given in the spring of 1957. Rittenhouse came to Washington as the time of the concert neared and formed an orchestra to accompany the chorus. It was the first of many choral-orchestra concerts they would prepare and present in the next half-century.
In the middle of that school year, the Araujos were approached about going to Japan to teach music at Japan Missionary College, a school that had not had a music program for the past six years. Although they had talked between themselves about serving as missionaries, they at first refused, citing several reasons why they could not accept that position. One reason was that he had already started work on a master's degree at Boston University and he feared those credits would expire while they were away. Additionally, his degree required a year of residency.
They were asked to reconsider their decision and were encouraged to find ways to overcome the reasons they had listed. Araujo approached BU with a request that they waive the residency requirement and allow him to accelerate his graduate work by completing the remaining classes, write three required major papers, give two recitals, and complete his program by the first part of 1958, less than a year away. In the end BU gave permission and the other obstacles were cleared. By the time the family set sail for Japan in April 1958, Araujo had completed requirements for an M.Mus., which he officially received in 1959.
The experience in Japan was a pivotal one in his career. From the first, Araujo's work with the choir, in spite of the students' limited prior experiences in music, inspired the students, thrilled audiences, and amazed music critics. As the program developed and the entrance requirements and demands for choir members became more rigorous, the acclaim for the choral program and the witness it provided for Christianity profoundly affected both the region and the nation.
It had only been thirteen years since the end of World War II and the defeat of Japan by America. There were strong undercurrents of resentment and a sensitivity about anything that appeared to promote American culture and Christianity. Araujo's emphasis on quality performance of the monumental sacred works in Western classical music, however, opened doors in the musical world and created opportunities for removing those barriers and creating goodwill in large segments of the population.
On the heels of the early successes with his first choir at JMC, Araujo, wanting to raise the performance level, had established the Japanese Choral Society, a more selective ensemble. Through his work with this group and its concerts, many in the leading concert halls in Tokyo and other cities, and a relationship and joint endeavors that developed with music ensembles at Nagoya University, Araujo gained national attention for both JMC and NU.
Following a return after a five-year furlough, Araujo reorganized the choral program to include not only a 45-member JCS but also a select sixteen-member motet choir, a large oratorio society, and a junior choir. A concert in 1965 by these ensembles in the largest concert hall in Tokyo, the Metropolitan Festival Hall, an ultimate aesthetic and acoustic venue seating 3,000, was a resounding success. The leading Japanese music critic hailed it as a "magnificent performance," as well as an unaffected spiritual experience.
The president of the Far Eastern Division of SDA's was also seated in the audience that night. What he saw and heard moved him to suggest to Araujo that the Japanese Choral Society perform at the 1966 General Conference Session in Detroit, Michigan. By year's end, the division had voted to send the choir to America, where it would not only perform in Detroit but tour in the U.S.
When the group left for America in April, they included a stop in Hawaii, where they sang a number of times and participated in a moving ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Arriving in Los Angeles on April 18, they began a three-month, 200-performance tour, singing to critical acclaim to thousands in major concert halls and numerous churches; at colleges, universities, and music conservatories; and before governors, mayors, and other dignitaries, as well as at the United Nations. It was a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who heard them sing and for the students.
From the beginning of the tour, the choir knew this would be their last experience with Araujo and that they would go their separate ways when the tour ended in Oregon in July. The last concert was an emotional farewell between conductor and students whose lives had been profoundly affected by participation in the choral program under his leadership. Several of his choir members would become leaders at the highest level in the SDA church in Japan.
Araujo settled in the Washington, D.C., area, where he founded the National Adventist Choral Society in the late 1960s and the Alexandria Choral Society in 1970. In 1973 he was appointed music director of the Washington Chamber Players and Singers, which debuted at the J.F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center.
During this time, Araujo became interested in religious musical theater. His first venture in this area was a critically acclaimed production of Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. Staged productions of the Elijah and Ottorino Respighi's Laud to the Nativity followed.
In December 2006, Araujo presented for the first time in the U.S. A Bethlehem Nativity Drama. Presented in the Washington area, it is a dramatic presentation of the nativity, also given by Araujo nearly 100 times in Beit Sahour, just outside of Bethlehem. The work includes nearly 75 actors, live animals, including camels, horses, and sheep, and a full scale authentically designed set.
Through the years, Araujo's presentations of major choral works have elicited rave reviews from critics in Washington and elsewhere. In 1980 Egypt's President, Anwar Sadat, invited him to guest conduct its National Orchestra and Chorus in a concert to celebrate the second anniversary of the peace initiative between Egypt and Israel. In 1981 he presented a Passion Play at the Mount of Olives which was a resounding success, and featured on the front page of the New York Times.
In 1994 Araujo led his Camerata Nuove Singers and Orchestra in a televised performance of Handel's Messiah at the Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem. When everyone stood for the playing of the Hallalujah Chorus, it was hailed as a wonderful ecumenical moment that briefly obliterated all religious barriers. This was followed by a concert two days later in Jordan to launch the king's birthday celebration. Two years later, Araujo was in Jordan again to conduct Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, in celebration of a newly signed peace treaty with Israel.
As a new century began, Araujo's work with choirs and orchestras continued unabated. His Pro Arts International, a 55-member touring choir based at AUC, where Araujo was listed as an assistant professor, was formed in 1999. It included choir members from 24 countries and sang numerous times, performing music drawn from all ethnic cultures as well as traditional classical literature. Highlights in travels for this group included a 2000 tour in Mexico at the invitation of then President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, an appearance that summer at the General Conference Session in Toronto, Canada, and another presentation of the Messiah in Bethlehem in February 2001.
In April 2003, the PAI joined forces with the Collegiate Chorale from Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University, an expanded orchestra, and soloists to present Rittenhouse's The Vision of the Apocalypse at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. The performance was given again in March 2004 at Carnegie Hall.
Araujo is now retired and living in Massachusetts.
Sources: Lincoln Steel, "Francisco de Araujo: Dialogue with an Adventist conductor, producer, and artistic director," dialogue.adventist.org, College and University Dialogue; "Francisco de Araujo, conductor, producer, director of theatre arts, unknown author and date, likely a public relations release; Atlantic Union Gleaner, March 2006, AUC alumni weekend advertisement, 10, other 2006 alumni weekend materials; Herb Ford, Crimson Coats and Kimonas, Pacific Press, 1968 (Some biographical information about Araujo, the full story of his experience in Japan, and the tour taken by the Japanese Choral Society in 1966 are presented in this book).