Written by Jennifer Bails
Last winter, a retired couple tuned their radio at home in Jackson Springs, N.C., to a program of holiday music. They were stunned to hear a Christmas concert by Pitt’s Heinz Chapel Choir. “We just sat there almost without breathing in our leather recliners, absolutely transfixed, wiping away tears,” recalls Beth Schettler, who was listening with her husband, Tony. The radio broadcast transported the couple back in time, to an era when their lives were metered by music and song.
Beth Klages sang alto. Tony Schettler sang bass. They were members of the University’s Heinz Chapel Choir when Franklin Roosevelt was president, a gallon of gas cost 11 cents, and World War II dominated the headlines.
She sat in front of him during afternoon choir rehearsals in a too-warm room in the Cathedral of Learning. When practices ended, everyone rode the elevator down 30 floors, still singing together the whole way. On Sundays, they all dressed in purple velvet robes for vesper services and made their processional to the altar of Heinz Memorial Chapel. Their uplifting voices brought the stone and wood and stained glass of the building to life.
The two student singers got better acquainted during a choir retreat led by Theodore “Pop” Finney, who founded the Heinz Chapel Choir in 1939. “Pop worked us really hard that week, so there was no great, stormy romance,” Beth recalls. “But I did think Tony was pretty wonderful, not to mention tall and handsome.”
Before long, Tony asked Beth to be his date for the annual Engineer’s Ball, and that cemented their courtship. Since then, the couple has spent more than five decades together. They were married shortly after Tony graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1943. In the years that followed, there was, of course, music—a grand piano in the living room, voice lessons for their girls, and season tickets to the symphony. Over time, the immediacy of their Heinz Chapel Choir experience receded, but never fully faded.
Then, the 2008 radio broadcast brought it all back. So, it’s not surprising that the couple returned to Pittsburgh this past April for the 70th anniversary reunion concert of the Heinz Chapel Choir. Alone, they drove more than 500 miles to attend the reunion, only two months after Tony underwent spine surgery. He is 88 years old; she is 85.
On campus, they gathered with several generations of choir members.
At the hallmark reunion concert, Tony made his way to the altar in Heinz Chapel with the help of a cane and Beth’s arm. They sang the hymn “Brother James’ Air” along with dozens of other singers who had joined the choir long after the couple had fallen in love on campus 67 years ago. Everyone sang joyously, their voices joining in harmony with life’s enduring rhythms.