Three men contributed to my development as a singer and choral conductor; John Elliott, my high school choir director, Elmer Thomas, my college choir director, and Robert Page. With the recent passing of Bob, they’ve all left us now.
Bob’s influence on me as a singer and composer of choral music cannot be quantified. I spent ten seasons singing for Bob in the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. For all but my first season, I was a member of the professional core and for my last season, was privileged to be one of his conducting assistants. For several years, I was a member the Junior Mendelssohn faculty. All this is meant to say that from the years I spent singing for Bob, I learned more about vocal production than any of my several voice teachers. One simply could not spend that much time with Bob and not have a whole lot of Page rub off on you.
Under Bob, I was introduced to masterpieces of the literature: Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Janáček’s Glagotitic Mass, William Schuman’s On Freedom’s Ground, Ned Rorem’s American Oratorio, Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Ninth Symphony, and Handel’s Messiah. Bob prepared us to sing under the batons of André Previn, Lorin Maazel, Michael Tilson Thomas, Charles Dutoit, and Leonard Slatkin (among others), in venues like Heinz Hall and Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, the amphitheater at Chautauqua and Carnegie Hall in New York – all, the stuff of a choral singer’s and composer’s dreams.
It is absolutely true that no one taught me more about singing or how to compose for singers than Robert Page. He provided me with countless opportunities full of memorable musical moments. Most of all, under Bob I gained an appreciation for what wonderful creatures choral singers are; people who love to sing so much that they’re willing to check their egos at the door for the sake of the music, to sacrifice the sound of the one for the benefit of the sound of the many, to be willing to voluntarily devote countless hours of preparation in pursuit of those transcendent moments in performance that are so powerful and so fleeting.
I’ve been fortunate enough to compose choral music for a generous number of choirs across the country. In my notes to their directors, I always thank them for their interest in my music and ask them to “say hello to your singers for me” – that’s Bob Page speaking.
P.S. A few hours after writing this short memorial, it occurred to me…Robert Page and Robert Shaw are now both roaming the heavens – in competition with each other again! Good Lord!