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  choral music exhibition poster
Choral Music in the United States:
Treasures from the Archives

November-December 2009
The Irving S. Gilmore Music Library in
Sterling Memorial Library
120 High Street Yale University


Consult the list of items on display

Yale University is hosting the annual conference of the National Collegiate Choral Organization from November 5 to 7, 2009. To coincide with this event, the Gilmore Music Library has organized a special exhibit on American choral music. The library devoted two exhibits to early American sacred music in 2007, so we have chosen to welcome the NCCO by focusing on archival materials from the 19th and 20th centuries. The present exhibit has three main themes: composers? manuscripts, Robert Shaw, and Yale itself.

The Gilmore Music Library holds the papers of many notable composers, so we can include only a small sample of their choral works. We have selected manuscripts by Horatio Parker, Charles Ives, Deems Taylor, Virgil Thomson, Paul Hindemith, and Fenno Heath. These pieces encompass a variety of styles and genres, and the manuscripts themselves have much to say about the composers and their approaches, ranging from Ives?s characteristically chaotic sketch to Hindemith?s impeccably neat fair copy.

Robert Shaw (1916?1999) was the foremost American choral conductor of the 20th century. Shaw began his professional career conducting popular choral music for Fred Waring. He first made his mark in the classical world with the Collegiate Chorale in New York in the 1940s. His smaller touring group, the Robert Shaw Chorale (which was active from 1948 to 1967), won him international esteem. Shaw was also a distinguished orchestral conductor, with the San Diego Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra (as George Szell?s assistant), and finally the Atlanta Symphony, where he served as music director from 1967 to 1988. After his retirement from the ASO, Shaw maintained a busy schedule of guest-conducting, and he led special choral institutes at Emory University, Carnegie Hall, and in France. Over the course of his sixty-year career, thousands of choral conductors and singers worked with Shaw, and many of them considered it a life-changing experience. A decade after his death, he still casts a long shadow in the world of American choral music.

Yale?s choral tradition goes back to 1863, with the founding of the Yale Glee Club. In its early days, the Glee Club was a fairly casual organization, but Marshall Bartholomew, the director from 1921 to 1953, developed this undergraduate group into a professional-quality ensemble with a national reputation. Bartholomew was also the founding president of the International Student Music Council, a significant precursor of the National Collegiate Choral Organization. Bartholomew?s 32-year tenure with the Glee Club was surpassed by his successor, Fenno Heath, who led the group for 39 years until retiring in 1992. Heath inherited an all-male chorus, but transformed it into a mixed one after Yale College began admitting women in 1969.

Today Yale is a renowned center of choral music. Marguerite Brooks, who heads the choral conducting program at the School of Music and the Institute of Sacred Music, founded the Yale Camerata in 1985 and still directs it today. Jeffrey Douma has conducted the Yale Glee Club since 2003. The Yale Schola Cantorum, established by Simon Carrington in 2003, is currently under the direction of visiting professor Masaaki Suzuki. Yale is also known for its popular a cappella singing groups; the oldest and most famous of these, the Whiffenpoofs, are celebrating their centenary in 2009.

The three themes outlined here overlap in many ways. Charles Ives was a Yale alumnus, Horatio Parker and Paul Hindemith were Yale professors, and Marshall Bartholomew and Fenno Heath were both. Robert Shaw commissioned Hindemith?s oratorio When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom?d, and in 1996, fifty years after its first performance, he conducted it at Yale. Shaw died in New Haven in 1999; he was visiting Yale because his son was a student here. Thanks to the generosity of the Shaw family and the efforts of Robert Blocker (Dean of the Yale School of Music) and Kendall Crilly (then head of the Gilmore Music Library), Shaw?s voluminous papers now reside at Yale. The Shaw Papers are a peerless resource for choral conductors and for scholars interested in the history of choral music.

?Richard Boursy, Archivist

Consult the list of items on display

Poster design by Niloufer Moochhala, Nymdesign.