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Robert Shaw Letters

About the Collection

Robert Lawson Shaw (1916-1999) was a music director and choral conductor professionally active in music from the late 1930s through the 1990s. He was the associate conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra from 1956 through 1967.

This collection consists primarily of letters written by Robert Lawson Shaw to members of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus from the fall of 1961 to his last season of 1966-67. They were collected by Martha (Martie) Eckelberry Pryor, who was an alto in the chorus beginning with the 1961-62 season. There are 99 items in the collection dating from August 9, 1961 through February 14, 1967.

There is also frequent correspondence from the chorus secretary, Edna-Lea Burress, to members of the chorus. The letters in each season mark the progress through the season; each season introduced new repertory to the chorus, and Shaw used the letters to convey information not adequately addressed in the weekly rehearsals, with regular attention devoted to offering feedback on the previous week’s rehearsal.

The letters concern a myriad of topics related to choral techniques, musicianship, and performance. Since this was an amateur chorus founded by Shaw, he often used the letters to review the basics of choral technique and inspire members of the chorus to higher performance standards. Through these letters, Shaw conveyed his ideas on general choral etiquette, such as punctuality at rehearsals, sectional attendance, and individual preparation.

He also offered specific guidelines related to his own musical tastes, such as treatment of pitch, time, tone, speech, and dynamics. Because of his own interest in contemporary and modern composers, Shaw also provided an introduction to relevant composers and an overview of their roles in the history of choral music. Shaw’s sense of humor comes through in frequent jokes and puns related to the repertory.

To request access to the collection, contact Conservatory Library special collections staff.

Additional notes about the collection