Great Musicians Who Greatly Influenced Me

Robert Shaw, Julius Herford, John Wustman, Alice Parker, Roger Wagner,
Robert Fountain, Sergius Kagen, Madeleine Marshall, Leonard Bernstein,
Sandor Salgo
, Thomas Dunn, Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Aaron Copeland,
Luigi Ricci, Renata Heredia Capnist, George Shirley, Jester Hairston

(Many photos taken by me)

Robert Shaw

Probably the most influential musician on my life was the great Robert Shaw. I had long known of this great musician/conductor/philosopher and had religiously collected each of his numerous recordings. He was, without a doubt, the finest choral conductor who ever lived.

During my 2nd year at the University I learned that he would be teaching at San Diego State College during the summer. I made application to attend (hoping that I would be admitted but not certain that I had sufficient experience and training to do so.) I was thrilled when accepted and made plans to drive to San Diego for the summer. As fate would have it, I happened to find housing in a fraternity house directly across the street from where Mr. Shaw lived for the summer. In addition, strictly by chance, I became acquainted with his daughter, Johanna, and his son, Peter, as well as occasionally would baby-sit his youngest son, Thaddeus.

Others who attended that particular workshop were Weston Nobel, and Maurice Casey. We had daily classes and rehearsals. We also performed with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. Every rehearsal with Mr. Shaw was an enlightening learning experience. Not only did I have the opportunity to learn from him during classes and rehearsals, I also was fortunate to be able to attend social events with him.

One day, Mr. Shaw told me about the Anchorage Festival of Music which he conducted. He told me that I should plan to attend that event if possible. I never dreamed that one day I would be asked to become the Director of the Anchorage Festival.

When living in New York city and attending both Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music as well as Columbia University Teachers College, I had the privilege of attending every rehearsal, performance, and recording session Mr. Shaw would have with the Robert Shaw Chorale in New York. I even became his "baton carrier" during those days. I will forever be indebted to Robert Shaw for showing me the way to magnificent music.

Robert Shaw, conductor
Robert Shaw, conductor and Isaac Stern in Rehearsal
(I took this photo in San Diego, 1957)

Robert Shaw in rehearsal
Robert Shaw in rehearsal

Julius Herford

As part of the scheduled classes at San Diego Choral Workshop were analysis sessions with Julius Herford, a world-renowned musical scholar, pianist, and philosopher. Mr. Shaw had often said that Mr. Herford taught him music and he taught Mr. Herford how to swear! Phyllis and I became close friends with Mr. Herford and his wife, Hanna and were fortunate to have social interactions with them.

One evening, Hanna invited Phyllis and me to their house for dinner. Joining us for dinner would be John and Nancy Wustman, Robert and Maxine Shaw. Before we left to go to their house I mentioned to Phyllis that we might be offered some alcoholic beverage. Being reared in a "dry county" in Kentucky and reared in the t-totally religion of Baptists we neither had ever partaken of beer, wine, or other "spirits."

'What would we do if offered alcohol' was the subject of an extended discussion. I had been told from a very early age that if I took only one sip of alcohol I would possibly become an "alcoholic." Could I risk such a horrible future for myself? On the other hand, how would my refusal of the Herford's hospitality affect the evening? We determined that if offered alcohol, we would accept. Sure enough, we were offered a wine punch, complete with luscious strawberries. The punch was delicious and I shall never forget watching Phyllis fishing for the strawberry! As far as we know, neither of us became alcoholics!

We had many social events with the Herfords after we moved to New York City. Mr. Herford was once again my teacher and mentor while studying at Union. His insight into musical analysis and the historical analysis had been foremost in my musical preparation.

Julius Hereford
Julius Herford, musicologist
(I took this photo in 1958)

John Wustman

Another member of the San Diego Choral Workshop was a young man (originally from Michigan) who served as Mr. Shaw's accompanist. John Wustman also gave voice lessons and I took the opportunity of studying with him during the summer. In those days my Kentucky accent was quite pronounced and I had spoken exactly like most everyone in my little home town of Somerset. We called the state immediately north of Kentucky, "Oh-high-uh" or an opening in the side of a building which was covered by glass we called, win-duh. John was very gentle in correcting my various pronunciations, but I will never forget that particular learning experience.

After we moved to New York City, we would visit with John and Nancy - both at our place and theirs. When I gave my recital at the conclusion of my Master's degree, John played for me. He was the finest pianist I have ever known. What he loved most dearly was accompanying singers. Not only did he play for the Robert Shaw Chorale, he also was the principal accompanist for Luciano Pavarotti, Renata Scotto, Mirella Freni, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Régine Crespin, Christa Ludwig, Birgit Nilsson, Carlo Bergonzi, Nicolai Gedda and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to name only a few.

John also founded the accompanying program at the University of Illinois. Among his most distinguished students are Jerry Hadley, Erie Mills, Nathan Gunn, and Zhou Zheng.

John Wustman
?, John Wustman, Nancy Wustman, and Hanna Herford - 1958
(I took this photo)

John Wustman
A more mature John Wustman, pianist

Alice Parker

Of all the various arrangers of choral music, Alice Parker (of the Shaw-Parker fame) was the very best. She did virtually all the arrangements which Mr. Shaw would record. We first met at the San Diego choral workshop. Alice was married to Tommy Pyle (who was the primary contractor for any choral event in New York City) and they lived in a lovely apartment which we often visited. Alice initially was known mostly as an arranger, but soon became renowned for her own compositions.

Alice loved to cook, make bread, and thoroughly enjoyed her summers which often were spent in Massachusetts. We visited here at Meadow Brooke Farm on various occasions. Our babies and some of hers were about the same age. Alice was always generous and hospitable and we loved spending time with the Parker-Pyles.

I always admired her approach to choral arrangements and emulated this style in several of my own publications. We are indebted to Alice and her family for giving us a love for arranging.

Alice Parker
Alice Parker, composer, arranger

Roger Wagner

Phyllis and I had just married and were headed to San Diego for my second summer at the Choral Workshop. Instead of Robert Shaw as the headliner, another well-known and respected conductor took his place. Roger Wagner was widely recorded and the reputation of the Roger Wagner Chorale was well known.

While quite different in approach, Roger Wagner was interesting to watch and to analyze. He was born in France and lived a rich lifestyle in the Hollywood area. I was fortunate to have been selected as a soloist for a performance of the St. Matthew Passion of Bach which we performed.

Roger Wagner
Roger Wagner, conductor
(I took this photo in 1958)

Roger Wagner, Marilyn van Horne
Roger Wagner, conductor and Marilyn Horne, mezzo soprano
(I took this photo in 1958)

Robert Fountain

I had long known the reputation of Robert Fountain and the outstanding program he ran at Oberlin Conservatory of Music. He came to Union during the summer of 1960 for a choral workshop. He was a very tall handsome man with extremely long arms. His approach to the choral art was wonderful. He seemed to love every minute of his work and his enjoyment of the music and the art of making music was contagious. The photo below was taken in our small apartment in Hastings Hall at Union.

Robert Fountain
Robert Fountain, conductor
(I took this photo in our appartment at Union Seminary, 1960)

Sergius Kagen

Union Seminary was across the street from Juilliard School of Music when I was a student. The proximity of the two schools allowed Union to use the services of Juilliard's finest professors. Sergius Kagen taught a pedagogy/coaching class which I attended for two years. He was both a professional pianist and singer and highly respected and renown for his 2 books: Music for the Voice and On Studying Singing.

Sergius Kagen
Sergius Kagen, Vocal Coach, Pedagog, Pianist
(I took this photo in class at Union Seminary, 1960)

Madeleine Marshall

Another Juilliard faculty member and Metropolitan Opera coach/diction expert was Madeleine Marshall. We had the unique opportunity of taking two years of classes with the best expert in diction. She had an unusual teaching style which was both informative and engaging. Her book, The Singer's Manuel of English Diction, was the standard treatise on the subject since it was first published in 1953. Reviewing her book in The New York Times, Howard Taubman wrote: "What all the advice aims at is the eternal one of learning to make technique the servant of art. As Miss Marshall sums it up, articulation should be 'so persuasive that no one will be conscious of method.' " Over the years, she was coach and accompanist for many artists, including Lily Pons, Helen Traubel, Leontyne Price, Lawrence Tibbett and Lauritz Melchior. She began her career as a concert pianist and performed as soloist with the New York Philharmonic under Arturo Toscanini and other conductors.

Madeleine Marshall
Madeleine Marshall, English/French Diction
(This photo was taken in class)

Leonard Bernstein

While I only participated in a few performances conducted by Leonard Bernstein, I learned a great deal from this fantastic conductor. His televised dramatic conducting was not what I experienced as a performer. He had a profound understanding of the musical works and a great command of the orchestra under his direction. He seemed to be a concerned leader and conducted with understanding and authority. I greatly appreciate the opportunity I had to closely observe this great musician/composer/leader and thank him for his leadership in bringing artistic understanding to the general public.

Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein, conductor

Sandor Salgo

When I arrived at Stanford, I was introduced to Maestro Sandor Salgo, a Hungarian conductor who had taught for many years at Stanford but had recently retired. He was also the Director of the California Bach Festival in Carmel, California as well as the conductor of various symphony orchestras in the Bay Area (the Marin Symphony, the Modesto Symphony, etc.)

During my first year at Stanford, I was programmed to sing Il Maestro di Cappella of Cimarosa with the Stanford Symphony. Maestro Salgo attended the performance and invited me to perform the work as a part of the program of the Bach Festival as well as sing the role of Papageno in Mozart's The Magic Flute. Maestro Salgo was one of the finest conductors I have ever known. His knowledge of musical literature was profound and his affable manner endeared him to all who had the privilege to perform under his baton.

Sandor Salgo
Sandor Salgo, conductor

Thomas Dunn

While I was still a student at Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music, I made contact with Thomas Dunn, who was the Music Director of The Church of the Incarnation as well as the Director of the New York Cantata Singers. I first auditioned to sing as a member of the Church of the Incarnation and only later was asked by Mr. Dunn to become an Associate Director of The Cantata Singers. The organization had a long and distinguished history of outstanding leaders: Paul Boepple (1934) as an extension of the Dalcroze School of Music. In 1936 Arthur Mendel assumed the directorship of the organization and remained until Alfred Mann became Director in 1953. Thomas Dunn became Director of Cantata Singers in 1959. I joined the organization in 1960 as Associate Conductor.

Mr. Dunn did an outstanding job of forming the goals of Cantata Singers. He introduced me to Charles Bressler, tenor, Albert Fuller, harpsichord, Frank Campbell, director of the Music Division of the New York Public Library, and outstanding flutist John Solum. Together these artists revolutionized the music scene in NYC. I was fortunate to be able to be included in this historically informed approach to music and to bring it to life in the modern era.

Tommy eventually moved to Boston to become the editor-in-chief of E.C. Schirmer music publishing company and the Director of the Handel and Haydn Society.

Thomas Dunn
Thomas Dunn

Igor Stravinsky

In observance of his 80th birthday, Igor Stravinsky conducted a series of concerts of his works which I was privileged to attend. His energy and interpretation (who better to interpret Stravinsky than Stravinsky) were enlightening. I had many years earlier been captivated by his music and at last was able to see his personal evolution in performance.

Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky, composer

Paul Hindemith

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd: A Requiem for Those We Love by Hindemith is one of the great choral/orchestral works of the 20th Century. Written in 1946 and based on a Walt Whitman poem, I was fortunate to be able to perform and record the work in Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center with Hindemith rehearsing and conducting. He exhibited endless patience and constraint as all performers were forced to wait approximately a half hour until one of the soloists arrived. His interpretation of his own work brought insight I had never considered. How wonderful to be able to sing this great work under the leadership of the composer.

Paul Hindemith
Paul Hindemith, composer

Aaron Copeland

Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City opened on September 23, 1963. As a member of the chorus (performing the Gloria from Missa Solemnis of Beethoven and the Mahler Symphony No. 8, Part I, Veni Creator Spiritus under the baton of Leonard Bernstein) I was also fortunate to watch Aaron Copeland bring to life his newest composition, Orchestral Connections, in its world premiere. He was gentle but insistent upon accuracy and intent.

Aaron Copeland
Aaron Copeland, composer

Luigi Ricci

While on sabbatical leave and living in Rome, Italy, I made an appointment to audition with Maestro Ricci to coach with him. His reputation was far-reaching. He had been one of Giacomo Puccini's closest associates, having conducted many premieres of Puccini's works. He was also closely associated with Pietro Mascagni, Ottorino Respighi, Umberto Giordano, and others. The finest singers in the world journeyed to Rome to study with him. Among his students were Ezio Pinza, Beniamino Gigli, Tito Gobbi, Anna Moffo, Rosalindo Elias and many others.

After my audition (Maestro Ricci only spoke Italian with me) he told me that he would be happy to take me as his student. In my somewhat broken Italian, I asked when I should come for my lesson. He said I should be there at 4:30. I asked, "which day" and he answered that I should come every day. I thought that I probably misunderstood and attempted to have him clarify his answer. He explained that I was there for only a short time (3 months) and that I should see him daily. I explained that we were on a very limited budget and he agreed that I could have Sunday as a free day if that would help our financial situation. I then meekly inquired about the cost per lesson. I was flabbergasted when he told me that my lessons would be approximately $5 US dollars for a one-hour lesson!

In the photo below, you can see Maestro Ricci at the piano. The many photos are of some of the world's greatest composers and singers. Anna Moffo's photo is just above my left hand and Respighi's photo is on the far right on the piano.

Luigi Ricci
Luigi Ricci, conductor, vocal coach
(Phyllis took this photo of Ricci and me)

Renata Heredia Capnist

In addition to coaching with Luigi Ricci, I also sought a voice teacher. It had been many years since I had taken voice lessons. I had studied during my undergraduate days with Aimo Kiviniemi at the University of Kentucky and with Hans Heinz at Juilliard. The last formal lesson had been approximately 10 years earlier. I had been a voice teacher since I earned my doctoral degree and had little time to study as I was teaching about 50 students per week.

One of the primary reasons we chose Rome for our sabbatical was to become better acquainted with the musical life of Italy, specifically to learn from Luigi Trevisan, who was instrumental in rescuing the first tour of America's Youth in Concert in 1971. He also happened to be the husband of the soprano, Renata Heredia Capnist. Arrangements were made and I was blessed to have a one-hour lesson per week with Renata as well as the 6-days-per-week coaching sessions with Luigi Ricci.

Renata Heredia Capnist
Renata Heredia Capnist, soprano, voice teacher
(Phyllis took this photo of Renata and me)

Renata Heredia Capnist
Renata Heredia Capnist in Tosca with Franco Corelli

George Shirley

George Shirley with President Obama
George Shirley receives the National Medal of the Arts

The Church of the Incarnation was one of the most musical churches in New York City - a city which was overflowing with outstanding music in various venues. I was hired to be one of the 4 professional singers in the bass section (David Clatworthy, Maurice Casey, Tommy Pyle, and me!) The other sections of the choir were also populated with equally outstanding professional singers. Like most churches in the city, our rehearsals were always on Thursday evenings for 1½ hours with services at 11:00 on Sunday mornings. The church was not a particularly large church, but we did have a very supportive Rector and some rather well-known personalities in the congregation. One I especially remember was the singer, Kate Smith (who was probably the best-known singer during World War II.) I would pass her every Sunday morning during "processional" and she never sang the hymns - I was told that was because her voice was so big and powerful, she declined to sing the hymns in order not to detract from the congregational singing. She is best remembered for her singing of God Bless America.

The Church of the Incarnation
The Church of the Incarnation

Although the 16-voice choir was a relatively stable population, we did, occasionally, have new voices join when others left for other singing "gigs." One such addition was the tenor, George Shirley. He had been a member of the U.S. Army Men's Chorus and he was no longer a member of the armed services. I remember how impressed I was when I first heard his voice. Like most members of the choir, he was humble and very personable.

One Thursday evening at the rehearsal, the Organist/Choir Director, Thomas Dunn, announced that George would not be attending that evening's rehearsal because, in that afternoon, he had won the Metropolitan Opera National Competition. After resounding applause from the remaining 15 members, we were about to begin rehearsal when we all spontaneously decided that George should attend the rehearsal (of course, we were all joking.) Tommy asked me to go to the office and call George and tell him that he must come to the rehearsal regardless of the fact that he had just won the most prestigious singing competition in the world.

As instructed, I left the rehearsal momentarily and called George delivering the fake message. He laughed and said that he thought that, because of the events of the day, he could be excused. I then told him that the entire choir was so excited that we would all like to come to his apartment to congratulate him. He agreed and after a short rehearsal, we departed to have a celebration party. We stopped on the way to purchase congratulatory foods and drinks and arrived at George and Gladys' apartment and toasted our friend and colleague on his fantastic achievement. I also remember after a short celebration that George told us that he would have to leave, due to the fact that he was recording a commercial at midnight.

George was the first African-American tenor to sing a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera. He was awarded the 2014 National Medal of the Arts by President Barack Obama. George and I have remained close friends since he first joined the choir at Incarnation. He has had a wonderful career - at the Met and throughout the world. He furthered his career as a Distinguished Professor at the University of Michigan. For my last concert with the Steiner Chorale in East Lansing, I asked George to join us as soloist. He graciously accepted and we celebrated our friendship yet once again. He had just turned 80 years of age and still sang better than most people I have ever heard.

George Shirley & Bill
George Shirley & Bill after the concert
(Photo, 2013)

Click here to for more information about George Shirley

Jester Hairston

One of the most personable musicians I have ever met was the composer, arranger, actor, singer, conductor, personality, Jester Hairston. The president of Utah State University had suggested that we bring Jester to Utah State for a concert. I, of course, had long known the arrangements of this wonderful person and was honored that Dr. Taggart offered to bring him to our school for what can only be described as an experience! In my early musical endeavors, I had programmed many of his compositions, including Poor Man Lazrus, Mary's Little Boy Child, and countless others. Jester was considered as the leading expert on Negro Spirituals and I jumped at the opportunity to learn from this great musician. I had also known of Jester's most famous composition, Amen, which was sung by Sydney Poitier in the great movie, Lilies of the Field, but was unaware that it was really Jester who was singing. As he said, "Sydney can't sing!"

He spent a week with my University choral group and we then presented a concert with Jester as the conductor, MC, and master of the stage. Prior to this experience in 1970, I had never met Jester and only seen him in films like To Kill a Mockingbird, or on TV, in shows like The Amos and Andy Show.

After the week spent with Jester, I received a call from Norman Warembud, manager of publications at Bourne Music Company, asking if we would consider recording a couple of record albums with Jester, and also if we could make a film for the popular Sunday morning program, Lamp Unto My Feet, which was broadcast from 1949-1979 on the CBS Television Network.

After the recordings and the TV program, Jester became a close friend of our family. Every Christmas he would send a hand-written card to our daughter, Cheri. He invited us to visit his home which was directly across the street from that of Ferde Grofé (composer of The Grand Canyon Suite and many other outstanding musical compositions.) Jester was an avid collector of beer steins which he proudly exhibited in his home.

I had invited him back to Utah to conduct the Utah All-State-Chorus. As we were standing in the wings prior to his walking on stage, we were listening to the final piece of the All-State-Band. The piece was a very low-energy and solemn composition. Jester turned to me and said, "How does he expect to get a standing ovation like that?" Jester was a one-of-a-kind and a dear personal friend.

Jester Hairston - Program
Program from Jester's performance at USU

Jester Hairston - Letter to Eula Ramsey
Jester wrote this letter to my mother in 1972

Jester Hairston - Check to USU

Click here for more information about Jester Hairston

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