American Choral Directors Association’s 2021 Robert Shaw Choral Awardee, Rodney Eichenberger, officially received his award surrounded by a few close friends and colleagues at his Oregon home, and joined by many others online during the last day of ACDA’s national conference in March.
In making the award, Past National ACDA President Karen Fulmer noted that the Shaw Award was created to recognize the lifelong accomplishments of legendary choral conductors, teachers, and mentors, and to invest in the future of the art. Noting that “Rod not only has a USC connection to the original recipient, but he also taught at the University of Washington, and Florida State University,” she said she first knew of him when she was a high school student in Kelso, Washington, attending a festival at the University of Washington in the early 1970s. “I thought “Wow, this man has a ton of energy, and his choirs sing that way!”
Upon receiving the award, Rodney Eichenberger reflected, “ACDA has played a major role in my professional life and I am deeply honored to have my name added to the impressive list of those this organization has considered to have made a contribution to the choral art of sufficient significance to be presented with this prestigious award.” He continued, “It is meaningful that the award was established with the blessing of Robert Shaw, whom most musicians consider to be the premier choral artist of the twentieth century. Of special import to me is that the first recipient of the award was Charles Hirt, who was an important mentor to me in my early years as a practicing choral conductor and whom I was fortunate enough to succeed as a professor at the University of Southern California. My heartfelt gratitude to the past presidents of ACDA for considering me to be worthy of this award.”
Rodney Eichenberger is Professor Emeritus at Florida State University. He has conducted 80 U. S. All State Choirs and guest conducted or lectured at more than 85 U. S., Australian, and New Zealand universities, and has been a frequent invited clinician throughout the world. His instructional videos on choral conducting, “What They See Is What You Get,” published by Hinshaw Music, and “Enhancing Musicality Through Movement,” published by Santa Barbara Music Publishing, are widely used in collegiate conducting courses. He has led a summer workshop on the Oregon coast for at least 30 years. Professor Eichenberger is a graduate of St. Olaf College with advanced study at the Universities of Denver, Washington, and Iowa. He taught at the University of Washington and the University of Southern California (USC) before his appointment at Florida State University in 1990. Rodney Eichenberger was one of 11 conductors invited to conduct the legacy choir at the ACDA 2019 national conference, where he also led sessions on a paradigm shift in undergraduate conducting classes.
Many colleagues shared their tributes to Eichenberger during the reception. Choral conductor and composer Judith Herrington voiced her congratulations and appreciation, saying “It is significant to recognize that your conducting and teaching concepts are now considered the how-to for educators and conductors, directors, singers. I’m so grateful to have been inspired and impacted by your work. I’ll always appreciate the many ‘ah-ha’ experiences I’ve had that have transformed my teaching and impacted my students.”
Mia Miller, founder of the Pacific Youth Choir, said much of her choral career and success has been “because of Rod, the acceptance he gives everyone,” and the way that he slowly and beautifully helps conductors evolve their gestures. She noted that after she attended his workshops, her students “sounded totally different. There’s a new tone, there’s a beauty, there’s joy. I’m forever changed.”
Eichenberger’s encouraging and effective manner of teaching was mentioned by several of his colleagues. A former student and now Director of Choral Studies at Oregon State University and ACDA Northwestern Region President-elect, Steve Zielke, met Eichenberger as a student while participating in a choral academy where Eichenberger was a guest clinician. Zielke remembers, “I just thought you were like, magical. Every time we stopped, you said the nicest things, that we had done well. And then, while we were glowing in that, you would mention three other things that you wished we had done better. And I was so impressed as a high school student that you could tell people how to be better without being angry or mean or dismissive.”
Randy Stenson, a music faculty member at St. Mary’s International School (Tokyo, Japan), said that after coming into contact with Eichenberger as a Minnesota All State chorister and later, in annual choral workshops, “Rod’s knowledge, expertise, intuitive insights, and affability offered a means to think outside the box in a supportive and caring atmosphere, one which I couldn’t wait to share with my choirs back in Tokyo. Your techniques, philosophy, pedagogy, and persona have positively influenced the choral art around the world by touching the musical minds of its directors, the souls of its singers, and the hearts of those who hear it.”
Kimberly Barclay Ritzer, Director of the Green Valley High School Choirs and Past President of ACDA’s Western Region, added, “I can’t think of anyone else who’s more deserving than you. When you came to the Clark County School District in the early ’90s to work with our conductors, you transformed the teaching of so many of us, and in turn, impacted our students and our choir programs. And you still are. You are so supportive of our teachers no matter what level of experience they had. Your kindness and generosity of spirit is known by all that you’ve touched in your lifetime.”
Current chair of the Thornton School of Music’s Department of Choral and Sacred Music at the University of Southern California, Jo-Michael Scheibe, credits Eichenberger with getting him to USC for doctoral studies. He said, “I’ve never forgotten that, because you were so kind. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But I am thankful for every moment of that time that we had together, and over the course of those 30 or 40 years that we’ve been together.
ACDA’s Robert Shaw Choral Award honoree is selected by the ACDA Post President’s Advisory Council and is presented during ACDA’s biennial national conference. The first was given in 1991. Recent awardees include choral luminaries Doreen Rao (2019), André Thomas (2017), H. Royce Saltzman (2015), Alice Parker (2013), and Ann Howard Jones (2011). All sixteen Shaw Award recipients are listed here.