Howard Dyck: Now, when you talk about a sound which doesn’t have excessive vibrato but which is a free and open sound where the soloistic qualities of the singers don’t get in the way, you must have had your work cut out for you with those early choirs – The Robert Shaw Chorale, The Collegiate Chorale, for that matter.  Where you were auditioning people with considerable vocal expertise and people, indeed, with aspirations to becoming soloists. How did you harness that?  


Shaw: I asked Roger that once and he says “I’d swear at ‘em.” That’s Roger Wagner. And Fred used to be pretty free with his language, too. And there’s no doubt that I was as mean as a snake in some regards and desperately anxious to get it right.  The thing that I discovered pretty early, and again largely through Julius who was kind in his approach to music and to human beings rather than vehement and disciplinarian and tyrannical and dictatorial, was that if you got the pitch right, that was a start.  And if you got the dynamics right, that was a start, that was a little bit along on the line.  And, somehow, the music was more important than any of us together or any of us alone and I couldn’t work without those voices.  The thing that always confused me was when I heard people say “Blend, you nuts," “Porco Dio," “Blend!” And what was necessary at that moment was finding that this guy was singing flat, or this guy’s singing a little too soon, or this one is singing a little too loud.  Therefore, if you had the right pitch with the right vowel, at the right dynamic level at the right time, this was the way to get it disciplined. It wasn’t just by yelling “Blend!” That you had to find out what was at fault.

And then, pretty early, Howard, I invented something for my own self protection, because I couldn’t read music real fast. Though I studied real hard, I studied my music very thoroughly.  I invented these systems of count-singing and nonsense syllables that made it very difficult for people to cover up mistakes.   The teaching process became a part of the final product and the means became the end, in a certain sense. When these became to be identified together...