John Koopman, 1989 (Lawrence University Archives)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is mourning the death of John Koopman, the founder of Lawrence’s opera program and a longtime voice professor in the Conservatory of Music.

Koopman joined the faculty in 1960 and continued to teach until his retirement in 1994. He died Dec. 22 in Appleton at age 88.

“Professor John Koopman influenced generations of Lawrentians and created our wonderful opera program,” said Kenneth Bozeman, emeritus professor of music who worked with Koopman for more than a dozen years and maintained a friendship through the years. “We are so grateful for the immense impact he had on our Conservatory.”

Koopman served for many years as chair of the Voice Department.

He forged a second career following retirement, becoming a widely published opera journalist, with his writings appearing in publications around the world.

It was his deep love of opera that brought him to Lawrence more than 60 years ago and set him on his journey to create an opera program within the Conservatory, an endeavor that has since grown into the robust and renowned program it is today, led for the past seven years by Copeland Woodruff, the first director of opera studies in the program’s history.

“In the pioneering spirit of John Koopman and his legacy at Lawrence University, especially in founding an opera ensemble, we are dedicating this academic year’s productions to his memory,” Woodruff said. “Having to invent the wheel, again, because of the pandemic, by delving into film techniques, we can only imagine what it must have taken to forge a new theatrical ensemble when Mr. Koopman started the journey. Opera Studies at Lawrence stands on the shoulders of this passionate, kind, and talented maverick.”

Koopman was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Elizabeth Jane (Hayes) Koopman, who, after retiring from public education, ran Lawrence’s sight-singing program for many years as an adjunct faculty member. He also was preceded in death by his daughter, Ann Koopman. He is survived by two sons, William and James, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Nancy Marsh Stowe ’61, a beloved companion of recent years, said Koopman cherished his enduring relationship with Lawrence and the hundreds of students he taught and mentored through the years.

“Teaching was paramount for John, and he had a remarkable ability to connect with students, both personally and with regard to their voice development and potential,” she said. “He did not impose on them his vision for them, but encouraged them to find that for themselves and supported their choices.”

For those who worked with Koopman in the halls of the Conservatory, the memories are indelible. Bozeman called him “broadly educated, literate, erudite, and witty” and said sharing the stage with him was a joy.

“As a performer, John was a solid, stylish, serious singer, but also a hilarious comedic actor,” Bozeman said. “I both thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from performing with him in recital and concert. The prioritized attention he gave to expression, elegant diction, and compelling communication were exemplary for us all. His friendship, humanity, and wit will be fondly remembered and dearly missed.”

The family expects to hold a memorial celebration in Appleton later in 2021 and asks that if you wish to make a gift in John Koopman’s memory, please make it to the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu