Brahms Requiem and Robert Shaw
During my first year of medical school, Robert Shaw was hired as Associate Conductor under George Szell and immediately began auditions for the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. I auditioned and was excited to be accepted, but quickly learned that rehearsals interfered with studies and had to drop out.
In 1960, after graduating, I moved on to a surgical internship at Cleveland Metropolitan Hospital, where life evolved into a thirty-six hour on-duty, twelve hours or less off-duty to be with my wife and new born son of six months. During the summer, I became infatuated with neurosurgery and strongly considered it as a career choice. In October, having moved to the ophthalmology rotation, my wife and I went to a performance of the Brahms Requiem with the Cleveland Orchestra and Robert Shaw conducting. During the performance, I was moved to tears, missing music and realizing I had forsaken my goal, made as a college freshman, to pursue medicine and music simultaneously. I ached as I had not sung for months.
Returning home to our apartment, I vowed to change my life and pursue a career in ophthalmology, which might give the time needed to sing as well as practice medicine. Immediately I called programs around the country to find an opening in Los Angeles at the UCLA Department of Ophthalmology beginning July 1, 1961. The chairman informed me that the opening was created as an applicant had been drafted into the military. Come the end of June, our family moved to Los Angeles, where we quickly found a house to rent and I started another training program. At the same time, I found a voice coach at the School of Music located in then Schoenberg Hall, a relatively short walk from the hospital during lunch break.
That life was interrupted in December, when I was drafted into the military and quickly sent to Fort Lee, Virginia. After almost a year there, I was abruptly shipped out to Vietnam in January of 1963 to head up a medical team in the city of Hue. Due to an off-year and over-mobilization, the Army informed all of us in July that we would be released to return home to start residency training again. I called a number of training sites from Vietnam's only international phone in Saigon, and managed to be accepted at University Hospitals in Cleveland.
Flying back to the States, reuniting with my family, finding a house in Cleveland and starting residency again was a blur of activity. In short order, I met an incredible baritone, living only three houses up the street, blind from congenital glaucoma, who informed me that Mr. Shaw was looking for another tenor soloist for a fourth solo quartet at the First Unitarian Church of Shaker Heights, where John was already singing. I auditioned and was accepted. My first solo under Mr. Shaw, was singing For the Flowers section from Benjamin Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb. Afterwards, he kindly recommended a voice coach to push me along. My joy singing weekly with Mr. Shaw helped pull me out of anger about Vietnam. On Easter Sunday of the third year, he asked where I was going next. The answer was to New York for a fellowship in ocular plastic surgery. He then suggested I land in Atlanta afterwards, as he was moving there to assume the role of Music Director for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. At just that time, the Cleveland Plain Dealer was running a series of articles on Atlanta's development, so my wife and I flew down to sample the city and wound up joining another ophthalmologist on 1293 Peachtree Street, right across from Symphony Hall, after my fellowship.
After several years and a move back to Cleveland, followed by divorce, a second marriage and ultimately a move to Maine in 1990, I once again had the opportunity to sing with Mr. Shaw, the PSO and ChoralART in a performance of the Brahms Requiem in 1991. We exchanged greetings like old friends, which was the last time I saw him before his demise. I truly consider Robert Shaw my mentor and guru for life.