Leo (Leonhard) Virkhaus

b. November 15, 1920 Väägvere village, Sootaga parish – d. February 2, 1984 Bryan, Texas, USA
Buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York

Organist, conductor and composer Leo Virkhaus was a central figure in musical life of Estonians living in the East Coast of the USA.

Leo Virkhaus studied in Tartu Teachers’ Seminar (1925–1931), he studied organ in Tartu Higher Music School in the class of Jaak Karis (1929–1938) and composition with Heino Eller (until 1939). In 1938, he graduated from the Tallinn Conservatoire with the diploma in organ and composition. In 1939 he obtained professional certificate of the high school and vocational school music teacher from the Estonian Ministry of Education of the Republic of Estonia.

Virkhaus worked in Tartu as a music teacher (1931–1944) and assistant conductor of Theatre Vanemuine orchestra (1939–1944). He was organist and choir conductor of Tartu St. Peter’s congregation and organist of St. Paul’s church, conductor of Tartu School for the Blind Wind Orchestra and Tartu Self-Defence Force Orchestra. In 1944, Virkhaus fled to Germany where he lived in Hiddesen and Augustdorf refugee camps. He improved himself in composition with Prof. Wilhelm Mahler in Detmold Conservatoire and directed the musical activity of the camp.

Leo Virkaus moved to USA in 1949. He worked in Boston organ company Æolian-Skinner and in the firm Camp, Dresser & McKee (1969–1976). He was active as an organist and choir conductor as well. He conducted Massachusetts Augustana Lutheran Choir in Cambridge, Boston Estonia Society Mixed Choir and Connecticut E.E.L.C. Mixed Choir. He was a general director of the Estonian song celebrations in Lakewood (1963) and White Plains, New York (1968), also at the Estonian World Festival in Toronto (1972) and Baltimore (1976).

Leo Virkhaus has written mainly choral music, but also orchestral works, pieces for wind orchestra, solo songs and instrumental chamber music. Several of his songs have become generally known and found a place in choirs’ permanent repertoire. The most famous of these is "Tiliseb, tiliseb aisakell" ("Sleigh Bell Jingles", Julius Oro, 1934). In 1971, Leo Virkhaus was given the honorary title of the Laureate-Composer from the Canadian Estonian Music Centre.

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