By Thomas Regan
Ray Robinson, the fourth president of Westminster Choir College, passed away on Oct. 8 in Columbia, South Carolina, his home for the last three years. He was 82.
Thomas Faracco, ’70, a professor of voice at Westminster and an alumnus who was a student during Robinson’s tenure from 1969 to 1987, lauded Robinson’s involvement with the students.
“He always went out of his way; he was always very interested in the students; he would stop by in the commons,” Faracco said. “He was on campus all of the time; he was a presence at most concerts, especially since he lived on campus. He would have the students over in groups to his house for dinner.”
Martha Mortensen Ahern, ’83, who had an audition in February of 1979, shared an example of Robinson’s dedication. A blizzard broke out during her flight from Columbus, Ohio, Ahern explained, and the following morning no one could make it to campus to listen to her audition. However, it was Robinson who took the phrase, “the show must go on,” seriously.
“I remember [President Robinson] walking up the steps of Williamson Hall in the middle of a blizzard. He had taken off his snowshoes and sat to hear me audition,” Ahern said. “I really had no idea who he was. I was told he was President Robinson. He remembered me when I started school there. He said, ‘Oh, I got to hear you play on that snow day when campus was closed.’ So I was just impressed that he would go that extra mile.”
Robinson’s involvement with the students at Westminster was apparent to Faracco when Robinson decided to participate with him in concert.
“He was a violist and he played in my senior recital — I was an organist back then,” Faracco said. “I’m now a singer and teach voice. I did a joint recital with a friend of mine who was a singer, and we did a piece that involved viola.”
In addition to Robinson’s consideration for his students, Faracco recounts several of Robinson’s notable achievements, which included increasing the diversity of the college’s faculty.
“Those first couple of years, he did a lot to open up the faculty ranks to people other than just Westminster graduates,” Faracco said. “So he really brought a lot of outside influences that really helped the school. He opened up the curriculum and all of the offerings, mainly due to the faculty he brought.”
Some of Robinson’s other accomplishments during his tenure from 1969 to 1987 include reinstating the graduate program and adding undergraduate degrees — a bachelor’s of performance in voice, as well as organ and piano performance.
Robinson was also responsible for expanding the summer program to include adults and bringing in two notable conductors to lead the programs, according to Faracco.
“[The program] was something that Westminster always did in the past, but it was on a very small scale,” he said. “It mainly was for high school students; occasionally there would be an adult offering. But this became one of the largest summer sessions in the country for music. He was able to bring in people who weren’t connected to Westminster during the year.
“Two people that were especially important were two choral conductors. First, Roger Wagner, a famous choral conductor who had a professional chorale that would go around the country to sing and also did a lot of recording. The most important person he brought in was Robert Shaw, the most renowned choral instructor in the country, and he came to Westminster every summer for 15 years, maybe. There were 150 to 200 people who would come to Westminster just to sing under his baton.”
According to Faracco, Robinson also played an important role in recommending Joseph Flummerfelt, who served as choral director for more than 30 years.
Robinson was born in San Jose, California and attended San Jose University, where he majored in music and received a Bachelor of Arts.
Robinson is survived by his wife, Ruth; his daughter, Cindy Wright of Columbia, South Carolina; and four sons, Brent Robinson of Hong Kong; Jeffery Robinson of Maidstone, England; and Greg and Daniel Robinson, both of Boulder, Colorado.