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Robert Shaw (03:04)


Robert Shaw was one of America's greatest chorale and orchestra conductors. He believed in the power of music for all people and played a role in the American Civil Rights Movement. He was self-taught and had no formal music training.

Shaw in the Soviet Union (05:37)

In 1962, the Robert Shaw Chorale went on a diplomatic mission to perform in Leningrad. Despite the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Shaw insisted the concert still happened since it would be the first performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor since the banning of religious music.

Shaw's Upbringing (02:28)

Shaw's father was a preacher and his mother was a well-known religious singer. Shaw studied religion at Pomona College and planned to take over for his father as minister at their Evangelical church. Musician Fred Waring saw Shaw leading the glee club at Pomona and asked him to come to New York to start a men's chorus.

Shaw in New York (01:54)

Shaw arrived in New York in 1938 to conduct the men's chorus on Waring's nightly radio program. He got his own 15-minute daily program and was reaching a national audience at age 22. He met Maxine Farley, a fashion executive at Macy's; they married and moved to Scarsdale after a brief courtship.

Shaw's Collegiate Chorale (03:12)

With World War II raging in Europe, Shaw wanted to perform something more than popular music for the radio. He formed an amateur adult chorus to perform serious works and challenging new music. Shaw insisted on the best singers, regardless of race or ethnicity, which eventually lost them their spot at Collegiate Church, where they practiced.

Shaw During World War II (04:36)

Shaw received conscientious objector status and used music to support the war effort and sell war bonds. He began working for Broadway and his fame skyrocketed while he was still in his early twenties. After his brother, an Air Force Chaplin, was killed in the South Pacific, Shaw withdraw his objector status and returned home to California.

Shaw's New Focus (04:29)

Shaw began to take his music career more seriously after his brother's death. He moved away from the pop music he had been doing for Waring and turned to classical musicians. Shaw connection to popular music made his switch difficult for the public and his early shows faced harsh criticism.

The Robert Shaw Chorale (03:42)

Shaw had collected a group of singers, who had begun touring in the late 1940s. They performed in towns throughout the country and Shaw always included spirituals. He worked with composer Alice Parker to create new arrangements for hundreds of songs.

Shaw's Personal Life (01:26)

Shaw spent little time at home with his wife and three children, which filled him with guilt. He had a reputation for dating new women who joined the Robert Shaw Chorale, which Farley knew about.

Shaw in Cleveland (02:19)

In 1957, Shaw went to the Cleveland Orchestra to work with conductor George Szell. Shaw was named assistant conductor, though he had never led a major orchestra before. Szell was known as the most knowledgeable conductor in the world.

Shaw and Civil Rights (02:27)

Shaw made three trips to the Deep South with the integrated Robert Shaw Chorale. He refused to stay at hotels or perform in concert halls that were not integrated. He never changed the songs or singers to cater to a certain audience.

Shaw in Atlanta (04:59)

Shaw accepted the position as the director of Atlanta's newly created orchestra because of the city's positive Civil Rights record. He worked hard at fundraising so he could hire the best musicians and make the orchestra great. Shaw worked with principal players to increase his own knowledge about their instruments.

Shaw and the Christmas Concert (02:53)

After Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death in 1968, Shaw invited the glee club from Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta, to perform with the orchestra on Christmas. It was one of the first times white audiences saw black musicians onstage at the symphony; the concert has continued to the present. Shaw saw music as way to push larger change in society.

Shaw's Support (02:40)

Shaw insisted on playing new compositions in Atlanta, which hurt ticket sales. The orchestra attempted to force him out but a grassroots campaign to increase season ticket sales helped him keep his job.

Shaw's Temperament (03:07)

Farley left Shaw and moved to New England with the children during his early years in Atlanta. He began drinking heavily and would frequently have angry outbursts during rehearsals. He remarried Caroline Hitz, a symphony board member, and embraced his new family and home life.

Shaw and "War Requiem" (01:44)

Shaw began performing Benjamin Brittan's "War Requiem" after learning an estranged son from his first marriage was serving in the Vietnam War. It became a frequently performed piece for Shaw, who embraced its anti-war message.

Shaw's Teaching (02:25)

Shaw would carefully go through every sound with the chorus to ensure they communicated the music correctly. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus was all volunteers, who Shaw felt were more dedicated to the love of music.

Shaw's Recordings (01:16)

In 1973, Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra began making digital recordings for Telarc Records. Shaw would eventually win 16 Grammy Awards and the attention turned the ASO into a nationally respected organization.

Shaw's Farewell Tour (04:53)

In 1986, Shaw was asked to step down as musical director of the ASO. He took the orchestra and chorus on a European tour, including a stop in East Berlin to play Beethoven.

Shaw's Later Life (04:38)

After his retirement from Atlanta, Shaw became a guest conductor at Carnegie Hall. He ran workshops and classes. He died of a stroke while attending his son's play on January 25, 1999.

Shaw's Legacy (03:31)

Shaw changed the lives of thousands of musicians. Many feel a responsibility to carrying on his passion for music.

Credits: Robert Shaw: Man of Many Voices (03:38)

Credits: Robert Shaw: Man of Many Voices

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Robert Shaw: Man of Many Voices

3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



Trace the improbable journey of Robert Shaw's life and career, from his childhood as a preacher's son in rural California through his meteoric rise as a star of popular music during the Great Depression. An early champion of civil rights, his chorales were among the first to break the color barrier in the American South.

Length: 72 minutes

Item#: BVL191996

Copyright date: ©2019

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