Robert Shaw


Honorary Degree (1993)
Doctor of Music
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: Thomas Ehrlich


Robert Shaw is one of America's most distinguished musicians. He is a world-renowned conductor; he earned great acclaim as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; as a performing artist, he continues to win the highest awards.

Born in Red Bluff, California, Robert Shaw came from a clerical family; his father and his grandfather were clergymen, and his mother sang in church choirs. He studied at Pomona College in Claremont, California. There he directed the Glee Club, catching the attention of Fred Waring, the popular radio and television conductor. Waring asked the young Shaw to organize the Fred Waring Glee Club - and Shaw's career had begun.

In 1941 Robert Shaw founded the New York-based Collegiate Chorale, a diverse group that he described as "a melting pot that sings." He conducted this group until 1954, earning the praise of Arturo Toscanini. Dr. Shaw was choral director at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood (1942-^45) and a faculty member of the Juilliard School of Music (1946-49). He founded the Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra in 1949, and conducted it with outstanding success for 17 years. A highlight of this period was the Chorale's 1956 State Department-sponsored tour of 15 countries - including the former Soviet Union. The Chorale's Soviet concerts were a triumph. By the third concert - Bach's B Minor Mass - all seats and standing room had been sold. According to biographer Joseph A. Mussulman, militia were stationed behind iron barricades a full day before the concert in an attempt to keep enthusiastic Muscovites from bursting into the hall.

Many of Robert Shaw's innovations in choral conducting, such as seating by quartets rather than by sections for the sake of a richer vocal blend, have been widely adopted. Shaw also commissioned choral works from contemporary composers, including Bela Bartok, Darious Milhaud, Benjamin Britten, Samuel Barber, and Aaron Copland.

Robert Shaw was the first professional choral conductor to become a full-time conductor and music director of a major symphony orchestra. He served as associate conductor with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra from 1956 to 1967. Shaw became music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1967; he took this orchestra to the Kennedy Center in 1974, to Carnegie Hall in 1976, and to the 1977 presidential inauguration concert for Jimmy Carter in Washington, D.C. He and the orchestra toured Europe in 1988.

Charles H. Webb, dean of the IU School of Music, notes that Robert Shaw has "made enormous contributions to the education of young musicians in Bloomington." Dr. Shaw has visited, conducted, and taught on the IU campus many times. He was a Fellow of the Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study in 1983. "Robert Shaw has always been a leader," says Professor Jan Harrington, who teaches choral conducting at the IU School of Music. "His work has become the model and the standard by which choral music making in America is gauged." Shaw's discography encompasses 50 years of every imaginable type of fine choral music, show music, spirituals, seasonal music, and nearly the entire repertoire of great masterworks for orchestra and chorus.

The first of Robert Shaw's many honors came in 1943 from the National Association of Composers and Conductors, which named him "America's greatest choral conductor." Shaw was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1944. He became a member of the National Council of the Arts in 1979. He has won 13 Grammy awards and several top recording prizes from other countries, including the Gramophone Magazine Award in England. He was awarded a Gold Record for the first RCA classical recording to sell more than a million copies. He was given the Gold Baton Award of the American Symphony Orchestra League for "distinguished service to music and the arts." He has also received a number of honorary doctorates.

Dr. Shaw was a 1991 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, the nation's highest tribute to performing artists "who, through a lifetime of accomplishment, have enriched American life by their achievement in the performing arts." The following year Musical America honored Robert Shaw as Musician of the Year.