Private Criticism

In a 1947 letter to Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland wrote:

Bob Shaw did a bee-utiful job with my new chorus….I can only imagine how you’ll react to it. Any ho you won’t have to conduct it – since there’s nothing but voices. (I decided that Bob’s conducting technique derives from the football cheerleader. Or did you say that already?)

(Excerpt from The Leonard Bernstein Letters, pp. 226-227)

Here is Robert Shaw, later the dean of American choral conductors, the butt of a joke between Copland and Bernstein. A football cheerleader! It seems clear that they had already shared privately criticism of his conducting. Now bear in mind that only a year later, Shaw started preparing choruses for Toscanini, who then said “In Robert Shaw I have at last found the maestro I have been looking for.”

This Copland letter serves that a good reminder of several things:

  1. Robert Shaw wasn’t always The Legendary Robert Shaw.
  2. What people say about you in private isn’t always kind, accurate, or important.
  3. You can do a “bee-utiful” job and still be criticized (fairly or unfairly).

Most of all, keep doing what you’re passionate about. Whether or not Shaw was aware of Lenny and Aaron cracking jokes behind his back, he kept on and built a remarkable career as a conductor.