The Letter Every Singer Wants to Receive

I don't know about you, but I have received at least one letter telling me that, no, I would not be singing in the chorus next year. So it was a great balm to read this post-audition letter from the late great choral director Robert Shaw to the members of one of his early choral groups, The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.

September 21, 1960

Dear friends-

It is my unpleasant duty to inform you that your re-audition for the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus has been successful, and you may expect to resume orbit sometime between 7:30 and 7:45 next Monday, September 26.

You may wish to know some of the considerations which have guided our evaluations and have qualified you for re-admission. Believe me, it ain't been easy.

Number One: Any good-looking woman was admitted ipso facto and sans souci. This might sound to you like a pretty personal way to go about this sort of thing—but I assure you that George and I had either (1) to agree, or (2) voluntarily disqualify ourselves before a decision was reached and as George says, "A chorus is a pretty personal sort of instrument—let's keep it that way."

Number Two: Anybody who was really scared made it. I mean really scared. George and I get a big kick out of seeing some of you who really suffer: you know-clammy hands, all choked up in the voice, stomach muscles shaking like crazy, stumble up the steps or trip over the electric fan, start sight-reading from right to left and all that—anybody who gave old George and me a sort of pin-the-butterfly chuckle had it made.

Number Three: Anybody who had a cold got in. Almost all the great singers we know are hypochondriacs—and we didn't feel we could afford to pass anybody up here (I remember one person who's had throat trouble at every audition since 1956 and that's the kind of sensitive person we like to have around.)

Number Four: There are always a few special rules for tenors. For instance, their reading test would be a little more accurately described as "sight improvising." I ask them to make up a note and hum it—and if George can find it on the piano, they're in. (I try not to look when these things are going on because I don't want to be unduly influenced by appearances or things like that, and George says three tenors made it this year just by blowing their noses.)

Number Five: Husband and wife teams stood a good chance this year, particularly when one partner to the marriage (and here we accept their word completely) was a bass or a tenor. This is a sort of insurance policy. Remember last year when churches got mad because we had scheduled a St. Matthew Passion for Easter Sunday—well, suppose one of our concerts happens to fall on Mother's Day? From here on we have our own built-in mothers—and fathers—and anyway like George says you can't win 'em all.

These things—plus little things like giving preference to people who were studying medicine or engineering or math—because they'd have lots of free time and could make extra rehearsals, or to folks who lived fifty or one hundred miles from Cleveland—so that their families could learn independence—these are the things, my friends and fellow-Americans, which lead me to believe that this year's chorus will be the chorus of 1960-61, and I'm sure we all know how we all feel about all that.

Pox nobiscum,


©2004 Yale University Press. Excerpted from The Robert Shaw Reader, edited by Robert Blocker. Reproduced by permission of Yale University Press.