Interview with Dr. Charles Hamilton, longtime member of the Chamber Chorus and the Atlanta Symphony Chorus. 1992

CH:            My name is Charles Hamilton and I’m from Atlanta, Georgia and I’m a physician with Emory University School of Medicine and Grady Memorial Hospital.

Q:            Even medical doctors find time to sing in choirs.

CH:            I certainly do.  It’s been a very important part of my life for the past 25 years, singing with Mr. Robert Shaw.

Q:            Now, were you with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus from the beginning?

CH:            Yes.  Let me say this.  The first chorus that was formed when Mr. Shaw came in 1967 was a group of 60. This was the original Atlanta Symphony Chamber Chorus.  Some 500 people from the surrounding area auditioned for this and 60 persons were chosen for this particular chorus. And we served the purpose of doing the smaller choral works and we augmented an independent choral group called The Choral Guild for the larger choral works such as the Verdi Requiem, the Missa Solemnis, etc.  There was no Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus per se until 1970. It became apparent that Mr. Shaw and the Symphony needed a little more control over the large chorus. Therefore, this was formed and members of the original Choral Guild and Chamber Chorus became the basic nucleus of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus as it ls now. And from 1970 on to the present, it is an integral part of the Symphony.

Q:            You’ve been with that large chorus since the beginning.  How have you found Mr. Shaw to change or grow and develop in his approach to music and choral music making over those years?

CH:            Well, actually, I find that the chorus itself has changed because of him.  Now sometimes I would say that – I like to say that he’s a little mellower now.  However, I’ve seen over the past 25 years a difference in techniques that he uses to teach choral music.  Some of the techniques we’re seeing during this workshop have been extant only about the past ten years, things that he has developed.  Things I’ve seen during his workshop, he’s never done before, the ways of warning up the chorus.  So I see, as far as his changing, I’m drawing a blank.

Q:            A pretty constant approach on his part, hasn’t it?

CH:            Oh yes, yes.  As I say, I have to go back to say that I have always been an admirer of Mr. Robert Shaw.  When he had the Chorale, that’s when I first became aware of his existence and I knew there was something about the way he produced the choral sound, got this sound out of the chorus, that there was something unique about this man.  And it was just one of the greatest days of my life when I had the opportunity to be a part of a chorus directed by him.  And I say that at first we were totally in awe of him and didn’t know what we were doing.  We were very confused.  We knew this was an individual who was on a very high pedestal who – well, choral music was Robert Shaw and Robert Shaw is choral music.  And like you say, it took the years of working with him and more experience, the years of experience by this group of choristers to get where we are now, to be a rather professional volunteer chorus. 

Q:            I want to ask you this.  You’re a medical person.  You sit in the rehearsals and you listen to and watch Mr. Shaw.  He works very hard.  He’s seventy-five years old.  He’s had some health problems and perhaps continues to.  Are you concerned at all about him, about his well-being when he works himself into such a frenzy in rehearsals?

CH:            Strangely enough, no.  I have seen him work so hard for so long that I think he’s indestructible during rehearsal.  Now, during times other than at rehearsal, I hesitate because he has, as you say, he has had some problems over the years but basically now I think he’s – he is as vital and as strong as he has ever been and I have never seen him in the past ten years to be as full of life and just full of energy and wanting to do more and go on another 25 years.  As I say, it’s amazing to me that one with his age and so forth has such energy to carry on such energetic and such meaningful rehearsals.  I never cease to be amazed by this.

Q:            Dr. Hamilton, thank you very much.

CH:            Thank you.