Discovered by Fred Waring
GP: We’re chatting this afternoon with the conductor and music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Robert Shaw. Welcome to the program tonight and let me wish you a Merry Christmas. And we’re going to talk tonight throughout the evening a lot about your music, especially during the Christmas Season. Let’s take us back to those early days, Mr. Shaw, I guess the nucleus. You were discovered by another legend in this choral business, Fred Waring. Can you take us back?
RS: Well, when I was a sophomore - Junior - in college, Greg, Fred made a picture with Dick Powell and the Lane sisters, and a bunch of other people, called“Varsity Show” on the Pomona College campus. At that time, I was conducting the college glee club in the absence of the director who had a year’s leave of absence with a somewhat serious illness. He subsequently came back and so he was conducting during my senior year, but the fact was that Pomona College had a very fine choral tradition. Actually, it had won the last national competition which had been held about 4 or 5 years before I got to college, back in St. Louis against universities like Harvard and Yale and so on. It was national. So we had that wonderful tradition, only to say that the tradition was - I had not formed but I happened to be an inheritor of the tradition.
And so when Fred heard our college glee club sing, he got very excited about its sound and its discipline, and he gave us a bunch of his arrangements, and actually sang some of his things from that Varsity Show with his own glee club. I don’t think the tracks were actually used in the film, but we did them in our annual home concert and some of their men came and sang with us and Fred came and heard the concert and so on.
So a year later, I wrote him when I graduated from college and asked if he had a place where I - since I was beginning then to be a little bit more interested in music. My major professional interests and majors in college study had been philosophy and English Literature. And I asked him if he had a place where I might be able see something of professional music in the East, and he asked me to come East, which I did, and formed for him, part of his request, formed for him, a separate choral unit. The men in his band had always doubled as singers. And they were usually in unison, but very frequently there was - and Roy Ringwald [an arranger and composer who worked with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians] was already associated with him, and so he had those rather spectacular and very, very wonderfully rich and sentimental arrangements. And he asked me to come back and form a special choral unit for him, which I did, and then subsequently, worked with him, oh ten broadcasts a week for seven years.