Cold War Choir

November 14, 2013

Kira McGirr

During the weekend of November 15 to 17, Oberlin welcomed back to campus the alumni choir members and instrumentalists who made a historic and transformative tour of the former Soviet Union and Romania during the spring of 1964. Under the gifted direction of Oberlin College Choral Conductor Robert Fountain, the Oberlin College Choir represented the United States as part of the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Cultural Exchange Program signed in February 1964 between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

This historic concert tour spanned eight weeks and nearly 40 concerts comprising five distinct programs in seven languages, all from memory. A central component in Robert Fountain’s choral philosophy was his belief and practice that the Oberlin College Choir should be comprised of able and talented student singers from both the Conservatory of Music and the College of Arts and Sciences. Accordingly, the Oberlin College Choir of 1964 represented an almost equal balance between students from the conservatory and the college in its membership.

Soviet critics lavished high praise on the choir and the multifaceted undergraduate musicians:

“… [The choir] performed with a high degree of diversity … a richness which reveals the unqualified professionalism of the choir. This is assured by the presence of their highly gifted director, Robert Fountain, and the dedication to him of the members of his group. It is necessary for one to hear only once with what selfless concentration and delicacy, and with what rare musical quality they sing, to fall inescapably in love with the music and beauty which literally permeates the art of the choir.” —Tass, Soviet News Agency

“The manner in which the choir sings is noble and modest. One does not feel any desire for outward effects in the performance of the young Americans. Fine sense of style, faultless intonation and perfect phrasing have produced an indelible impression. This is a company brought up in the spirit of the finest musical traditions.” —Rudolf Barshai, conductor of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra

The 1964 Oberlin College Choir reunion was a weekend of remembrance, reflection, and renewal of friendships begun long ago. Among the weekend’s events were several open to the campus community, including:

  • a panel discussion organized by the Department of Russian Language, Literature, and Culture, and

  • an Oberlin College Archives exhibit of tour memorabilia that will be unveiled Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. and which will be on view in the main library’s Academic Commons through November 22.

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