(To read the document in full, page down within the text ather than using the scroll bar)
(To read entire document without format distortion, Page Down within document rather than using the scroll bar.) The Application
and Adaptation of the Robert Shaw
A Personal and
Practical Strategy (c)
Nancy E. Harris.
Conclusions, Observations, and Musical Discussion Based upon
The Robert Shaw Choral Institute at Furman University,
Greenville, SC, June 14-28, 1998
B. The Institute
I. Timbre & Balance.............................................................................................5
IV. Musical Interpretation...................................................................................9
B. Dynamics & Expression
& Miscellaneous Thoughts.......................................................10
VI. Specific Musical References......................................................................11
Although my undergraduate degree was
K-12 Music Education, I am not directing a choir at this time. However, I do sing in a semi-professional
choir in Denver, the Cherry Creek Chorale, under Brian Leatherman, who has sung
with Mr. Shaw several times. My main
focus is that of a soloist in choral, operatic, art-song, or musical-comedy
I attended this workshop based on an
experience 35 years ago. When I first
saw Mr. Shaw and his chorale on tour in Tampa as a sophomore at the University
of South Florida, I went into a kind of shock that such amazing things could be
done with a vocal group. They were
standing three or four feet apart in totally mixed formation, were obviously
all solo voices, and yet they blended with such accuracy and purity that I was
astounded! Ever since then, Mr. Shaw has
been a idol of mine, an epitome that no one else could touch. Hence, the
opportunity to study under such a great man was incredibly exciting to me.
After a long career as a professional
church soloist and choral member, singing in a chorus under Sir Malcolm
Sargeant with the Royal Philharmonic in Royal Albert Hall, doing a stint with
the Schola Cantorum in California, and doing masters work under Dr. Barbara
Doscher at the University of Colorado, my focus turned away from choral music
to teaching private voice. Many of the
techniques that Mr. Shaw espouses, I recognize as important and similar to
those one uses in training young voices and coaching older singers for
performance. (As an example, the advance
use of the consonant is particularly important in German and English art
I've never completely left choral
music, and have always attended the summer choral reading sessions put on by a
prominent music conservatory in Denver under Dr. John Kuzma, based at the
Montview Presbyterian Church. Dr. Kuzma
brings in regional directors for each of the sessions, and when I worked under
Brian Leatherman for one evening, I knew I could learn a lot from him, a
feeling I'd not had for many years. So I
joined his chorale in 1997, and have learned what I'd hoped to learn, the Shaw
Choral singing has both advantages and
disadvantages for the solo voice. The
advantages are covering new literature, recapturing lost speedy sight-reading skills (not really required of the soloist),
and the joy of the immersion in beautiful "surround sound". The primary disadvantage is potential warping
of the voice when there are less-than-the-best voices in the group (especially
if you have an excellent "blending" ear that forces you to sound like
others around you). Many teachers of the
solo voice frown upon their students' involvement with choirs for this
reason. (My personal solution is to sit
in the back row, where I can attempt to influence others positively without
them influencing me negatively.) How
nice for its members to have the opportunity to be free of that worry in Mr.
As Mr. Leatherman uses as many of Mr.
Shaw's techniques as possible with our choir, I feel quite at home with
count-singing, dropping dots, placing consonants on the next rest, etc. My pleasure and learning in this workshop
have come more from listening to Mr. Shaw's comments and metaphors as he
explains musical energy and such concepts. I believe these to be applicable to both choral and solo singing, which
is how I will use them.
When chosen to sing for this Institute,
participants were told to learn their parts before arriving. After arriving, they were required to
transfer Mr. Shaw's editing marks from prepared music to their own music, so
that he would not have to take rehearsal time doing it. So this group was already far beyond the stage
a normal choir would be in, to start with, to say nothing of their knowledge
and skills as musicians.
Before rehearsals began, Mr. Shaw had
the choir members vocalize for his assistants individually. They then assigned each a number, based on
the weight of the voices. His assistants
placed those numbers and names on the chairs each day in different orders, according to the type of work Mr. Shaw wished to do.
I feel that Mr. Shaw's comment, "I find it easier not to do everything
at once," to be the primary focus of his rehearsals. After seating the group in two large
concentric circles, he began with:
Timbre & Balance
Sing within the "sleeve" of
the group, i.e. no individual voices should stick out. (I overheard two singers
saying, "Singing out of the 'sleeve' is cause for a 'phone call,'"
apparently something to be highly dreaded!)
"Sing very softly, as if you were on a
bus and didn't want the person next to you to hear your singing. Choral sound
begins from a piano sound and can then increase from there."
"Have the feeling that you are
beginning with falsetto. Even basses in
all registers use a quasi-falsetto."
"Try for the sound of boys' voices."
Mr. Shaw is looking for the overtone
series, when the sound is at its best: "That's a lovely sound. I can hear the 12th above the octave."
"I don't like the word 'blend'. If you sing at the right pitch, right vowel,
and right dynamics, one should be able to pick out what is wrong."
"Don't break over into another
"Gentlemen, don't try to high jump
with your feet encased in cement blocks!You're carrying too much weight."
Not all of the following exercises are done at every
rehearsal.This is a compilation.
Sing "oo" going down 5, moving up the
Do an 8-beat crescendo on "ee" from p<f.
Sing "nee-aw, nee-aw" alternating.
Sing "noo-aw, noo-aw, noo" (beats 12,
34, 1234);same thing in 3/4 (1, 23, 1,
23, 123); pitch goes 1-m3rd,1-m3rd,1; 1-M3,1-M3rd,1, etc., chromatically up,
usually to the 7th; and coming down in whole steps.
Split into octaves; sing "nee-aw" on
minor 3rd, 4th, etc., starting on b flat.
On "ee" in a minor 3rd,
crescendo and brighten from pp<ff to a brassy sound without vibrato; then confuse the pitch with too much
vibrato; then color with vibrato, but don't confuse the pitch.
On one note: "ee ih ah eh".
On one note: "noo eh awe".
On one note: "oh-ah".
On one note: "me oh awe".
On one note: "noo oh ah" but change
from one to the other imperceptibly;
Do the same as the prior exercise with
the choir split into 2nds, then 3rds, 4ths, etc.
Take 16 beats to get to the crescendo
on "noo ee ah" (increase to an ugly bright "ee").
Take 16 pulsed beats to move from f to
f#; then reverse the process; men go down 1/2 step, women up; reverse the
After the second rehearsal, Mr. Shaw
had the singers facing each other, turning around, circling the room, and doing
other movements while singing and maintaining an even, blended tone with the
rest of the group.(As mentioned before,
he despises the word "blend". It is my
Each time he changed formation, even if
during the same rehearsal period, he vocalized them on "noo ay aw" to
orient them to the new positions.
At the fifth rehearsal, the group was
in one giant circle, based on the numbering system. He then went through pieces very slowly,
explaining his markings of 10 S, +1A, etc. He moved voices between parts based on the goal of perfect balance in
the overtones, sometimes for only one note. Mr. Shaw is concerned that he not destroy the original voice leading of
the composer, but moves the voices in such a way that it isn't known by the
audience. The purpose is to keep the
voices in the "sleeve" and easy, while strengthening specific chord structures.
While working on double-choir pieces, Mr.
Shaw had each of the sections form a circle out of their large single circle,
so that they could hear each other better. I noticed that, within each of the eight circles, the singers began to
sway with the movement of their parts, something they'd not done when facing front.
Rhythm & Tempo
Before worrying about words or
dynamics, Mr. Shaw is concerned that the group be exactly on count and understand the importance of time.I feel it is safe to say that, at least with
this special group, it was his main
"Music is the only true time
"There is no transference of discipline
without accurate tempo."
"Saying 'How would he have written
it to sound like I'm saying it?' is great for soloists, but to sing together,
we have to get the rhythm first and
add the nuances later."
"Count-sing everything first, because
you can't tune if you are off even 1/100th of a second apart (1+2+T+4+).Use 'T' rather than 'three' because the 'thr'
takes too long."
"Commas are always borrowed from the
value you are leaving, not the one
you're starting. You have to take the breath before the beat and come in on tempo."
"All quarter notes are not equal. Ending notes are shorter. You'll kill your
entrances by holding the long note in the prior measure because the tones still
float in the air. It always depends on
the resonance of the performance hall."
"Sing poco staccato for accuracy."
"We have to be careful (on running
8ths) not to do like instrumentalists do and lean so hard into the first 8th,
which delays the second."
"Even little notes get to vote! Meter energy is nondivisible; it is only
multipliable, so put the energy of missing notes into the remaining ones (in
this case, 16th notes)."
"Don't sing the dots...get off them."
"Forget line and focus only on the
rhythm, as if you were a percussion instrument."
"Every time you breathe, you don't have
the right to stop the tempo; our most elemental communication is rhythmic."
"Don't get behind the beat! You sound as if you're in a voice studio and
expecting the accompanist to set the tempo, as if you have no responsibility
"I sense you're listening too much for
someone to set the tempo. Make the tempo; don't wait for someone
else to do it."
"I don't want to tell you to follow me,
I want you to follow one another. Those
are the little things that can't be conducted."
"If a piece is too complicated (such as
the A.M.D.G. by Britten), there is no point in count singing. Do it on 'dah dah'."
"Use 'dah dah' on the 16ths (runs) to
cut through the orchestra. 'Lah lah'
takes too long; 'tah tah' cuts through
too much; the soft 'dah dah' works."
"In a diminuendo, use a bit more
staccato to maintain tempo."
"If you get momentum, it's hard to
ritard, so select a place to begin a slower tempo and maintain it."
On legato passages in rehearsal, Mr.
Shaw has his accompanist play quarter notes as four 16ths to help maintain
tempo to the end, to continue the feeling of finality and forward motion.
"The tempo, or at least the final ten
percent of it, depends upon the sonority of the room."
"Allargando comes out of the
melodic significance," (so don't do it during choral speech).
"It's not only where the silence
begins, but how you let the sound finish
before that silence. Allow it to
To check the rhythm of the singers
against the piano, Mr. Shaw once had them sing only the vowels of the piece ("ee-eh-eh-oh-ee" instead of "misere
Sing on vowels such as
"doc". Invent language that
uses lots of vowel sounds ('dee-ah, doo-ah") to avoid becoming tense.
Odd-numbered singers sing the text;
even, sing the numbers; reverse.
Odd numbers sing "tee tee";
even, sing text; reverse.
Do the piece on "chick
chick"; then "tee tee'; then double-time "tee tee"; then
"teedle eedle eedle eee".
On difficult rhythms, sing "doo doo"
staccato first, then legato.
Split into a chord (e g# d f#) and do
the correct rhythm with the words; occasionally move the chord up or down a
step for variety; then use the proper pitches and move a little faster.
"Stand up when you have the subject,
sit down when you don't (on Bach). This
time, when you have the fugue subject, bring it up to mp; if you don't, sing p."
Before dealing with expression and long
phrases, Mr. Shaw wants the individual syllables to have character and
"We're responsible for the sound and
sense of each word. Accumulatively, we
probably have a thousand years of bad habits to overcome!"
However: "We must allow the music
to have its commentary on the text. Don't let the text slow us down."
"The problem is to get every sound of
every word but not lose the metric flow."
"Each note is important. The consonants must be slightly ahead, so
that the vowel is on the beat. Give the
consonant an identity of its own. Each consonant sound has a beginning of its
own; it isn't just stopping a sound. Think of each syllable as nonsense and
separate to get this accurately."
"Each syllable has to have a beginning,
a middle, and an ending."
"We have to compensate for
reverberation by making even better definition of consonants and off-beat
"In phrase endings, shorten the vowel
and put the consonant (s, t, etc.) on the second beat (if a rest)."
"If it's so beautiful on 'doo', why do
we need the text? It gives the composer
an incredible kaleidoscope of color. You
will lose a little line in the changes of the vowels."
"Put a 'd' in front of each note you
"Make this an exercise in teaching a
2-year-old how to pronounce things."
"Final consonants have a schwa (International Phonetic Alphabet =
uh) after them. Pronounce "concord" as
"conuhcorduh". That clarifies it and
allows it to cut through the orchestra."
"'Where' was originally spelled with
the 'h' and 'w' reversed, which is how we pronounce it (hoowear)."
"Sing it slightly detached now; it
won't be for performance."
"Don't seek for line now; seek for
articulation. We'll get line, tomorrow."
"You need to feel the diphthong, as if
we had time (which we won't), so practice 'time' as 'taheemuh'."
"Pronounce 'life' as 'lah i eef' with long 'I'."
"On the 'm' of 'pacem', close to the
hum one row at a time. Watch my
fingers--first finger, first row; second finger, second row; third finger,
third row; and fourth finger, fourth row."
"Consonants are only about 1/10 as loud
As the singers show comfort and
accuracy with the rhythm and syllables, Mr. Shaw begins to add interpretation
of the music, not necessarily in this order, but as needed.
"When two notes are of the same pitch
and duration, emphasize the first--the first note long, the second note short.'
"When in a run, groups of two are
emphasized the same way (as the prior example)."
"In longer runs, do as groups of 3 + 3." (Depends on meter.)
"Everyone sing staccato at the
rallentando, not for performance, but to identify
"In the Bach, do not fear overphrasing
because other parts are continuing, or fear interrupting a word."
"16th notes at a beginning are
emphasized, but afterward are leading to subsequent notes."
"There are only two or three
possibilities for purposes of note groupings; for example:
Departing-->Arriving; or Departing-->Passing Through-->Arriving. This has to do with articulation versus
slurring. The longer notes (dots, ties)
are Arrival or resting. Shorter notes
tend to lead to them, and the notes that follow are beginnings (such as
anacrusis). Sequence implies Arrival or a comma, as do interruption of
adjacency and change of pitch direction."
DYNAMICS & EXPRESSION
"Almost never does the loudest part of
a sound start at the beginning of the syllable, unless it is marked sf. It must grow for expressiveness, even if only an 1/8 note. Don't leave
any tone 'unstirred'. Always, in every
note and every phrase, either crescendo or decrescendo. The middle of a held
note is the loudest (<>)."(called
"In the first instant of a
diminuendo, you can have 1/16 to 1/8 note worth of 'bloom' before the
"Save vibrato for expressive
reasons. Casals always thought that
vibration should be used for expression, using wide or narrow, fast or slow."
"Draw the sound; don't jump on it and
"No two milliseconds should have the same
dynamics; the sound should crescendo or decrescendo through time and is
constantly in motion in vibrato. It is
never a given (static position)."
"Don't break over into a brilliant
sound on a crescendo. See how far you
can take this falsetto or head-tone quality. Crescendo within the "sleeve" of
"They write it pp but you never get to sing it when with an orchestra. Get very dark, but sing mp instead of pp, as if
scaring a bunch of cub scouts with a ghost story."
"Precision starts from piano; add
On an a cappella piece: "Go after the
forte sound that doesn't sound fractured. Don't push into the 20th-century sound that has to carry over
lots of instruments. Maintain the same
tone color you had on the piano section."
"If you only use dynamics instead
of numbering (the members of the choir according to voice type), you never get
the same sound twice. This method saves
the voices; no one is pushed. It also
doesn't disturb the intonation as much and you can maintain that sweetness of
Mr. Shaw is incredibly meticulous about
each note and its emphasis and importance in every voice part: "More
expressive there." "Increase
the dynamic." "Be late on the
emphasis, as if you had a 16th rest." He does all of the expression and intonation
work at first on "doo" so that he can hear the balance and the
"There's enough cresc. when the pitch
goes up. You don't have to increase and
break over. Did you hear the basses
crack over into legitimate voice as we went up there for a moment?"
"Almost never does the loudest part of a note start at the beginning. Don't pounce
unless a sf is written by the composer."
Metaphors & Miscellaneous Thoughts
To foster understanding of the music,
Mr. Shaw not only leads the group through exercises, but also uses metaphors,
not necessarily last, but mixed in with the prior activities. And, finally,
some of his thoughts that weren't easily categorized have been included.
"Those parts of meaning that are
'unspeakable' respond to musicality, not a simple definition of the text."
"Music rests upon a false supposition, which is that time is
divisible. That is reinforced by the cyclical nature of the world, such as the
growing seasons, the rising and setting of the sun, etc. When you are sitting
holding the hand of someone who is dying, you don't know when they pass on, nor does science, nor does law. One instant is not equal to another."
In a split choir piece, start with
everyone singing the first choir part, then everyone singing the second choir
part. If time, everyone should sing
everyone else's parts.
"If we have a little less singing and
more listening, then we'll have Bach."
"Your responsibilities as a singer are
first technical and then emotional. Singers must learn to play, and instrumentalists must learn to sing."
"You'll notice from the exercise
(16-beat sharping, 16-beat flatting) that it's much easier to go sharp than it
is to go flat."
"Don't make it (Amazing Grace) sound
like an arrangement!"
"The good, no, even the great chorus is a mucilaginous
entity.You have to work hard to defeat
the mucilagineity of it." Another time he said, "It sounds stickier, a
little gummier than a week ago."
"Unlike drama, music requires the
audience to have imagination, to become involved."
"One can change the way an
audience breathes. You should care more
about communication with the composer, and screw
the back row. A ticket to a concert
doesn't entitle one to understand it."
"Good, good, good! If you were Hindemith, you could begin to
take it in dictation."
To the basses: "Your singing is more
pleasing to your ear than it may be to others'."
A soloist from Mr. Shaw's Atlanta
Symphony chorus said that he changes things continually. He is always open to re-interpretation based
on continuing study. Even if they've
already recorded a piece, it will be different the next time, so it stays
interesting to work with him.
Another long-time singer with him says
that he sleeps little, that he gets so excited about the music that he stays
up, poring over it for new thoughts about it. His markings, therefore, are often changed in rehearsal.
"To do this tempi, we have to have the
horses. We have that. Next we need size. This group (72 people) is a good size for a
chamber chorus with orchestra."
'Bipedalism is terribly important to
"The orchestra parts are marked pp to mp; it'll never happen!"
"Because the chords begin to weaken as
you hold a note (muscle exhaustion), they will tend to flat. If you have a note
that holds that long, you can continually sharp it ever so slightly to maintain
If you get the two outer voices in
tune, you've got it made. It would be
better to sit alto, soprano, bass, tenor."
Specific Musical References
In addition to the editing of the
scores, Mr. Shaw provides additional notes that may not be on the music, of
which these are a sample.He also may
change his mind when he hears the singers do what he'd originally marked.
"Make the syncopation a little bit
sinful. The way you do it is to bear
down on 'a gnus' and use poco
staccato on 'de i'."
"Take the pitch from the oboes when the
orchestra tunes up."
R.V. Williams' Mass in G Minor:
"Use a Gregorian sound, mysterious, not
bright like the Haydn or Mozart."
"I haven't been able to find any
recordings of this made in his lifetime. Today the Sanctus is recorded so slowly."
"This is surprisingly slow (Osanna)."
"On 'miserere', put a stop before the
second 're'. It's too much in here, but
not in the chapel."
"On 'patrem', to eliminate too much
plosive on the 'p', use a 'b' or even an 'm'."
"I shocked myself when I looked up
largamente in a dictionary. It means
'broadly sustain without a change in tempo.' Elgar used it for slowing down, so Ralph Vaughan Williams probably did,
Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass
"It is very emotional."
"On 'eleison', make 'son' into
"On 'kyrie', say 'eh' on the end,
not the 'aaee' diphthong."
"We have to remember that Mozart and
Haydn were writing symphonies, and the voices are but a part. If we expect to hear the same thing here (in
the concert hall with full orchestra) as we heard in rehearsal, we'd be emasculating
Mozart's Coronation Mass:
"The Haydn reminds me of the Vietnam
War. Then, when I open the Mozart, there
is no other mind."
"On Ky ri e, the emotional and
psychological point is Ky. It is establishing the Almighty in contrast to the
pathetic nature of man (kids shooting other kids in school), so use f on Ky and p on the remaining syllables."
"Add a 'd' in front of the ri on both
Ky dri e and Glo dri a."
"On 'misere', use something between an
's' and a 'z'."
"On 'amen', make sure the 'ah' ends so
'm' can come before the beat."
"We need more 'v' on 'voluntatis', so
add a little 'f' with more lip. I've never used it before (foluntatis) but it
almost works! "
"Get off the 'mus' in 'agimus'."
"Mozart was not like Beethoven. He wasn't fulfilling the
text, but almost hoping the text will fulfill the music."
"Sweet piece, isn't it? So that you don't have more fun listening
than singing, get the sonorities out."
"It may not be a great piece, but
it's a departure, extraordinarily creative. It's as if he's making up a new music."
"I want a drumming quality from
the men. Be percussion instruments, but
more sostenuto when you take the verse in the middle."
Britten's Sacred & Profane:
There are some very tricky and
dissonant chord movements for which Mr. Shaw had to split out parts and add
them back one at a time or work as duets. It was the only time in the entire two weeks he was required to do so.
"Basses, think bass
The title of this paper demands a
personal strategy in the use of Robert Shaw's methods of working with
music. As I stated in the Introduction,
I will not be using these techniques to instruct a choir. Rather, I will use them myself when singing
in a choir, when preparing and performing solo works (as appropriate), and for
teaching my vocal students how to analyze and practice a work before
performance. I already teach light
lyricism (per Dr. Doscher), but will add some of his exercises to warmup periods
for both myself and my students. I will
also, if Mr. Leatherman wishes, give a report to our choir on my experiences
here and provide copies of this paper to its members.
A summarizing note I wrote to myself
states, "Standard practice procedure: light warmups, "dah, dah" or
count-sing music, do words evenly but heavily pronounced, check dynamics and
emphasis, and finally put it all together to perform."It is incomplete. To this group, Mr. Shaw
said, "I don't worry about interpretation with you." However, in a less professional environment,
obviously, more work must be done on interpretation. The ideas he has given us on ways to approach
music are very logical and are broken down into enough small steps to enable
anyone serious about a work to truly study it for the best way to present it,
whether it be for a choir, or for a soloist.
PERSONAL NOTES ABOUT MR. SHAW:
Mr. Shaw always wears navy blue pants and shirts, and black
fringed loafers. He has silver hair and
glasses to read music with. The first
week, he sweated a lot, more in the afternoon, when his hair became soaked...he
had a towel handy, so I presume this is normal for him. He once offered a free kidney to anyone who
needed it: "never been used!"
Sometimes he conducts with his elbows high as UPbeats,
rather like he was trying to lift the sound. In fact, he uses the word "lift" occasionally. He quietly and
breathlessly sings for rhythm keeping along (not necessarily on pitch), occasionally
checking his electronic metronome on the podium for tempo accuracy. He talks over the warm-ups and the
music. When first directing for
expressiveness (after all of the scut work), Mr. Shaw bent over, almost
squatting, and began swinging his body into the wave of sound.
When he tires, his normally large and resonant voice begins
to sound like Garrison Keillor at the end of "Lake Wobegon".
One of his regular singers said that his second wife died
about two years after they renovated an old inn in Southern France. She was quite a bit younger than he. He'd complained about how much money she
spent on the renovation. I imagine he
was sorry later that he had.
He has a son at Yale (Harvard?) who is apparently a
brilliant actor, landing a lead in his freshman year, and who will probably
become a playwright.
Stories, most of which were for laughter's sake:
RE Symphony of Psalms by Stravinsky: "'I cannot write
a note until I've decided on the tempo,' was Stravinsky's claim. Hindemith made fun of him by saying, 'He sat
down at the piano and fooled around until he found an idea that he'd like to
write on... One day he found the minor 3rd and wrote the entire
"The poetry came from the goliards. Even when the poems are in German, their
schools existed only in Italy, so use Italian Latin, not German Latin, in
"After a B Minor Mass concert in Rocamadur (sp?), I was
walking out with a priest, who said, 'You know, Mr. Shaw, when the angels want
to do something for God, they do only Bach. When they want to do something for themselves, they only do Mozart...and
God kneels at the keyhole and eavesdrops!'"
"Give me a popular song and I cannot make a mistake with
"It's always a problem on Sunday afternoons to get the church out of the voice and the religion back in." (re Sunday
"Interrupt me, but do it very subtly, so I don't
realize it's an interruption."
While fumbling to change glasses once, he said, "I have
glasses for this and glasses for that...and none
for the other thing. Some things you can
memorize!" Apparently this is an
old saying of his, for the story goes that, after the birth of his son when he
was over 60, someone congratulated him by saying "Hell of a memory,
"The basses can stick with "doo" because they make more than everybody else."
"I only have two musical jokes, and this is one of
them: Two summers ago we were on tour in
Israel with Jesse Norman and Zubin Meta, conducting. We traveled by bus, even got bullet holes
through the windows. Anyway, we were the
first group to sing German in Israel,
Bach's 'Christ tod in…' and Brahms' 'Liebeslieder Valses.'Worse than that, we performed in the only
auditorium left standing…the YMCA! The
audience wouldn't leave, and stubbornly stayed in their seats after each
encore. So, finally Meta pushed Jesse
out on stage and said, 'Sing anything!' So she did. The first thing that
came to her mind was 'Were you there when they crucified my Lord?'"
"The fourth year of my tours, using mostly Julliard students
who'd rather make a buck that way than working retail, I asked Columbia, our
major supporter, to allow us to do Bach's B Minor Mass. They said, 'No, the crowds won't buy
it.' I told them just to announce
it. They did, and the tour was sold out
by phone in four days! We traveled
200-500 miles a day, doing 40 concerts in 42 days. When we got back, the singers were so much
better that their professors were wondering where they took lessons during the
summer. Bach had been 'teaching' them
voice for six weeks! They had to learn
intellectually, emotionally, and vocally how to handle that kind of pressure
well, without hurting themselves."
"On tour, the sections would rehearse four hours each,
separately, so I had to conduct 16-20 hours a day."
He asked his mom, who was quite elderly and in her 90s:
"Mom, what's the greatest change you've seen in this century?" Her answer? "My skin."
"When Truman was President, I spent three nights at the
White House…and it didn't cost a cent! Truman was a wonderful sweet man."
"After an outdoor 'Messiah' I did for Humphrey once, I ran
over and climbed on a chair to shake his hand across a fence around the dais,
and suddenly the Secret Service were swarming around me. I could've just pulled him off, over the
"I saw Roosevelt once, using his crutches. He moved very slowly, was so tall you could
see his head above everyone else's. And
then there was Teddy Roosevelt…It was a rough ride that night..thought we'd
never get out of Nevada!"
"At a religious gathering, I said, 'If there is a God, he
is, by definition, good. The question is
whether we're down here doing our best for that sick child.' My mistake there was using the 'F' word...IF! That's not allowed!"
"Smile...and get it over with!" (said at the start of a
"I always accept what he says (Norman, his accompanist)
because it's easier than making up my own mind. I have to go searching for it before I can do that!"
"George Szell had trouble with beats...I don't think he
ever tried the Rites of Spring, while for Lenny, it was falling off a log. Anyway, Szell was angry at the orchestra (No
need--they were already afraid of him!) over a piece which went against the
natural emphasis (5/4). He lost the beat and was so angry, he
dismissed the chorus and orchestra for a break. As they filed out, I overheard a cellist saying, 'I've seen 2+3, 3+2,
4+1,and 1+4, but it's the first time in
my #!* life I ever saw 6 take away 1!'"
During a spiritual: "It's right to be late on that p attack. I asked the concertmaster for the Boston
Symphony when it was under Serge Koussevitsky (sp?) how he brought the violins
in on very soft passages. The
concertmaster said, 'I bring them in
when he presses the button in the middle of his vest!'"
"I'm from a fourth generation of chaplains...my brother
was a chaplain in W.W. I and left his body in the Pacific. Anyway, one day I was asked at church to pray
for a sick woman, and I'd never prayed for anything specific except a bicycle. So I was very nervous, and didn't know what
to say, so I got up there and started talking about the quality of care she
deserved and so on, and people started bowing their heads because it said
'Pastoral prayer' in the program. They
figured I was praying, and after a while, someone said 'Amen', so I
stopped! Right after we left the church,
her son drove up, hopped out of his car, and said, 'She got better right at
11:37!" which was about the time we'd been praying. So I left the church and never went back! I didn't want that kind of
responsibility...the next week they had the whole list of everyone in the
congregation who was sick!"
"I keep retranslating (music). Pulled out the one (Creation) I did 30 years
ago, and it's so much better than the one I did yesterday!"