De Kler retires a 47 year USAF career
For 47 years, Gary De Kler has been a professional musician and has since retired from his position as Director of Music at the United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel.
De Kler and his wife Emma have now made their home in Beloit to be closer to their two daughters and eight grandchildren, all of whom attend St. John’s Catholic Schools.
De Kler volunteers his time as a pianist, organist and choir director at St. John's the Baptist Catholic Church and plays at weddings, funerals and whatever event he is needed for. He has also worked with Roberts Family Funeral Service on helping with ceremonies.
De Kler is passionate about music and loves Beloit.
"It was obvious to me early on, about the art and the passion of artistic energy in Beloit," said De Kler. "I generally picked up on this, just by meeting the people. I met David Nuebert and really wanted to be a part of the Beloit Arts Center's progression with the Beloit Arts Council."
With this ideal, came about De Kler's founding the Beloit Community Choir.
The choir is made up singers interested in choral music, with or without prior experience, ranging from middle school through adult. Rehersals have been taking place since September at the Performance Studio in the Arts Center, located at the corner of Main and Mill street on the west side.
With the support and advice of the Arts Center staff, De Kler is establishing a local community choir that will perform two concerts per year in the fall and spring. The first concert is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16 at the Arts Center Performance Studio.
"I want to present really fine chorale music," said De Kler. "The sound has to be right and that is what I am striving for. I have talked with Beloit High School Orchestra Director Michael Harbaugh and Beloit Chorus Director Madison Deal and others as possible endeavors as well."
De Kler has always been passionate about his music and says he has had two different careers.
Prior to his civilian position at the United States Air Force Academy, he served as a 20 year active duty Air Force musician with the USAF Academy Band.
De Kler graduated from William Penn High School in New Castle, Delaware, in 1973, where he participated in the band and the choir.
He attended the University of Delaware as a music major for one semester before entering the military band as a bass player with the string bass, electric bass and also played the tuba.
" I just wanted to play my music and when I had the opportunity to play in a professional band at the age of 18, I took it. It was then my job, my duty."
His first assignment was at the McGuire Air Force base in New Jersey, a band of the east. In 1976, he auditioned for the Air Force Academy band and remained there until 1994. He was also a singer and started an acappella group, which was innovation to the Air Force bands at that time.
After retirement from active duty, De Kler became the Director of the Catholic Cadet Choir as civil service. He completed a degree at University of Southern Colorado in 2001 at the age of 45 with an emphasis in voice. Upon graduation and receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree in Choral Conducting at the University of California in Irvine, he was offered a chance to return to his position at the Air Force Academy in 2003.
The Air Force Academy Chapel music was primarily church music. Other event performances could offer patriotic music, marching, patriotic jazz, or popular music.
During his active duty years in the AF band, De Kler played for five presidents including President Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H. Bush and Clinton. He also performed with the acappella singers in the Bush event.
De Kler also performed for Pope John Paul II.
"It was all very surreal," said De Kler. "It's like I was there in the moment. I was most taken with the Pope's event, as it was in his later years of life. They seem like normal people, but the magnification in their positions in life was so big. They were so significant in their leadership. I was honored to be in the situation and be a musical enhancement in something that was so much bigger than myself."
While with the choir, De Kler had the opportunity to travel to England, Germany, Hawaii and Korea. He sang in cathedrals in New York, St. Lois, San Francisco, Lafayette, Louisiana, and New Orleans.
He was also responsible for church music in the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel every Sunday. His last three years as Director of the Cadet Chorale, was like the equivalent of the official performing choir of the academy.
The Spiritual Music Ministry was for military families, active duty people and to the general public during performances.
"I think it is so common for musicians to underestimate the power of how their music enhances others lives," said De Kler. "Honest music reaches places to where a spoken word cannot reach. It reaches our humanity in profound ways, and that is why I am so passionate about it."
"Church music is not for itself, rather for the church" said De Kler. "It supports the liturgy, if you match up the profoundness with a specific function, to make it work."
De Kler says he wouldn't be what he is today without his wife, Emma.
Among his hobbies, he is an avid hunter and trap shooter and is a guide at Ringneck Ranch as well as a member of the local Pheasants Forever chapter.
On May 20 this year, De Kler returned to the Cadet Chapel Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, to speak during the Catholic graduation masses.