William Appling

November 3, 1932 - August 29 2008

Renowned conductor, pianist, arranger and educator, William Appling was a fixture in American classical music and music education for over fifty years. A graduate of Western Reserve University, BA and MA, he received numerous honors during his lifetime, including First Prize in Piano in the National Association of Negro Musicians and the first Kulas Foundation Fellowship Award for Choral Conducting given by the Cleveland Orchestra. 

During his years as educator in the Cleveland area, Appling was Choral Director for Glenville High School, and under his leadership the choir became well-known throughout Ohio and beyond, accepting invitations to sing at the Hollywood Bowl, New York World’s Fair and at educators’ meetings in Ohio and Indianapolis. In 1965 the Cleveland Board of Education presented the Glenville High School Choral Club in a sold-out concert at Severance Hall.  Appling also served as the Choral Director of the Case Men’s Glee Club, the West Shore Chorale, the Cleveland Philharmonic Chorus, and Director of Choral Activities at Vassar College.

Appling was head of the music department at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio, for twenty-five years. While there he founded and directed Summer Music Experience, an international six-week program offering intensive music training and performance experience to gifted students of high school age. The music camp/festival involved members of the Cleveland Orchestra and included visiting artists and master classes with Robert Shaw, Andre Watts, Yoel Levi, Janos Starker, Lynn Harrell and Lorin Maazel. Many former SME students enjoy successful careers as performers and composers and as teachers at major music institutions worldwide.

In 1979 Appling founded the William Appling Singers & Orchestra (WASO), a professional ensemble performing chamber works of all periods and styles. WASO released a number of critically acclaimed recordings including “Wake Ev’ry Breath,” a CD on New World Records of music by William Billings, “Stresses in the Peaceable Kingdom,” the choral music of Richard Wilson, “Shall We Gather,” a recording of American hymns and spirituals, and “The Revenge of Hamish,” choral music by William McClelland, all on Albany Records.  In 1996, WASO was the only professional musical organization in the United States to present concerts celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Billings, America’s first great composer.  

William Appling Singers & Orchestra premiered the works of many contemporary American composers, including those by Hale Smith, Richard Hundley, Donald Erb, Richard Wilson, William McClelland, and Rich Smith. The group also presented music by Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Elliot Carter, Roger Reynolds, Richard Feliciano, Randall Thompson, Irving Fine, Janice Hamer, John McDonald, and many others. A composers’ forum, where works by Hale Smith and Anthony Davis were performed, was held at Vassar College in 1996 with both composers in attendance. 

William Appling also enjoyed an active career as a pianist, appearing in solo recital at Town Hall, New York City, concerto performances with the Cleveland Orchestra under the batons of Robert Shaw and Louis Lane, at the Aspen Festival under Darius Milhaud, and in duo recital with tenor Seth McCoy. He was most recently working on a project of recording the complete works of Scott Joplin. His recording of works by J.S. Bach (the ‘Italian’ Concerto and the First Partita) and Joplin (seven compositions) was released in 2010.

The William Appling - Scott Joplin Project, Appling's recording of all 46 of Joplin's piano works, was released on April 1, 2017, the centenary of Scott Joplin's death.  These landmark recordings, the first ever "complete Joplin" recorded by an African American pianist, were the capstone to the brilliant career of this great musician.