David Randolph (1914-2010)
Conductor, Educator, Broadcaster, & Author
David Randolph was highly respected in the New York choral music community for more than 70 years. He was named conductor of The St. Cecilia Chorus in 1965. For decades, he made it possible for amateur singers to master the great works of the choral-orchestral repertoire and to perform in Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. His choruses also performed in numerous venues in the New York metropolitan area. He enlightened the general public, both music lovers and non-music lovers, through his ability to present the fundamentals of music in laymen’s terms for all to understand. He was Professor of Music at several N.Y. and N.J. universities, and shared his knowledge and wisdom nationally on radio and television.
Mr. Randolph’s career began as a graduate of The College of the City of New York, where he received a Bachelor of Music degree. He later received a Master of Arts degree from Teacher’s College at Columbia University, and honorary doctoral degrees from The College of Staten Island and Saint Peter’s College, Jersey City.
Among his earliest achievements was the formation of his first chorus in 1940 when he organized 24 singers in Knickerbocker Village, his residential apartment complex. In 1943, he founded the Randolph Singers, a five-voice madrigal group that gave concerts in Town Hall, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Recital Hall, and other venues across the United States. The Randolph Singers produced commercial recordings, and were the subject of a full two-hour “Today” Show on NBC in 1966. In 1948, Mr. Randolph married the contralto of the group, Mildred Greenberg. They were married for 60 years until her death in 2008. Mildred was the “Matriarch” of The St. Cecilia Chorus.
In 1955, Mr. Randolph co-founded the New Jersey based Masterwork Chorus. The Chorus began with 28 singers, and eventually grew to 200. The Masterwork Chorus performed an annual concert series in Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, and numerous concerts throughout New Jersey, Washington, D.C., etc. Commercial recordings were also produced. The Chorus became well known for its concert series of Handel’s Messiah each December, largely due to Mr. Randolph’s interpretation of Messiah, which became his trademark. His performances became a seasonal tradition in New York City. Throughout his career, he conducted 173 complete performances of Messiah. Critic Michael Redmond wrote:
“Some two decades ago, Randolph knocked the critics and musicologists on their ears by restoring to Handel's masterpiece, his original chamber orchestration and by training the chorus to sing in authentic Baroque style — clear textures, bright colors, and sprightly tempos. His ‘innovations’ were later adopted by many choral directors and are, more or less, ‘the rule’ today.”
In 1991, in recognition of his expertise as a conductor of Messiah, Mr. Randolph was the guest of honor at the Handel Festival in Halle, Germany, Handel’s birthplace.
Mr. Randolph co-founded The Masterwork Music and Arts Foundation and established The Masterwork School, The Masterwork Chamber Orchestra, The Masterwork Theatre Group, and The Masterwork Children’s Chorus. He remained Music Director until he stepped down in 1992, at which time he was named Conductor Emeritus. He was a life member of The Masterwork Foundation Board.
In addition to his post as Music Director of The Masterwork Chorus, Mr. Randolph was named Conductor of The United Choral Society, Long Island, New York in 1961. He was named Conductor of The St. Cecilia Chorus in 1965. He also became Conductor of The Montclair State College Concert Choir and Chamber Choir in 1973. Under the auspices of MidAmerica Productions, he conducted the Brahms Requiem with The Philharmonia Orchestra at the Barbican Centre in London and conducted Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass and the Vivaldi Gloria with the Moscow Radio-Television Orchestra throughout Spain. On many occasions, Mr. Randolph recruited local youth choruses to perform jointly with his chorus in concerts.
For many years, Mr. Randolph used his skills as an educator and lecturer to enhance the knowledge of his students, singers, and the general public. He was Professor of Music at Montclair State College, The State University of New York at New Paltz, and Fordham University. He gave Mostly Mozart lectures at New York University in conjunction with the Mostly Mozart series at Lincoln Center. He gave lectures for The New School for Social Research, New York University School of Continuing Education, Columbia University Institute of Arts and Sciences, Westchester Conservatory of Music, Oberlin College, Rutgers University, and others. He also lectured for The Beethoven Society, IBM, Concert Artists Guild, Town Hall Lecture Series, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Cooper Union, etc., constantly building an understanding of the great works of the choral and orchestral repertoire. In addition, he gave pre-concert lectures for The New York Philharmonic, The Cleveland Orchestra, and The Little Orchestra Society, among others. Numerous lectures were given for St. Cecilia Chorus members and guests to enhance their knowledge and appreciation of the works that were performed in concert. Audiences were also treated to brief musical demonstrations on the music before a concert began. Mr. Randolph also held “Conductors’ Institutes” that provided an educational opportunity for conductors to enhance their skills.
Mr. Randolph conducted weekend seminars once a year for 10 years where a single choral work was chosen for in-depth study with a “sing-in” finale at the end of the weekend. He also conducted Choral Weekend Sings 3-5 times a year for 30 years where singers could explore the choral repertoire in an informal setting, reading unfamiliar works as well as their favorites.
Mr. Randolph’s voice was heard for many years over the radio. On July 2, 1946, he began a series of weekly broadcasts called “Music for the Connoisseur,, later known as “The David Randolph Concerts,” on New York City’s public radio station, WNYC. For his fourth broadcast, on July 23, 1946, he surveyed the subject of “Humor in Music,” thus “inventing” the type of radio broadcast devoted to a single musical subject, with commentary. The broadcasts were later heard nationwide on the 72-station network of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters. These broadcasts won four Ohio State University Awards as “the best programs of music and commentary in the nation” and continued for 33 years. Mr. Randolph’s commentary resulted in invitations from 23 publishers to write a book. His book, This Is Music, published in 1964 and re-issued several times, was described by The New York Times as “One of the Best of the Year.” His recording, “Instruments of the Orchestra,” explained the sound and role of each orchestral instrument, with musical examples from the core classical repertoire.
Mr. Randolph hosted the program “Lincoln Center Spotlight,” heard weekly on classical radio station WQXR, and hosted “Young Audiences,” a series of 39 programs on the CBS Television network. He has been a regular guest critic on WQXR’s “First Hearing.”
The St. Cecilia Chorus Educational Outreach Program enables young people throughout New York City to attend its Carnegie Hall concerts. The program targets students and youth who might otherwise never be exposed to classical choral music, and who probably would never get to experience the magic of Carnegie Hall. Mr. Randolph had a tradition of meeting these young concert attendees backstage after the performances. During these sessions, he provided insights into the music, gave them an opportunity to examine the conductor’s score, and answered their questions on the performance and the music. Throughout the years, 2,171 participants have attended St. Cecilia concerts as a result of the Outreach Program.
For 13 years, Mr. Randolph led The St. Cecilia Chorus in bringing holiday cheer to the community by performing holiday songs on the human Chorus Tree at South Street Seaport in New York. Holiday performances were also given to community clubs, nursing homes, and other corporate and academic venues.
Mr. Randolph was listed in “Who’s Who in the World,” “Who’s Who in America,” the “Dictionary of International Biography,” and the “International Who’s Who in Music."
He was the recipient of numerous awards. In May 2000, he was presented a “Lifetime Achievement Award” on the stage of Carnegie Hall by MidAmerica Productions, another sponsor of choral concerts. In 1982, he was honored by Columbia as one of its “Distinguished Alumni.” In 1996, The College of the City of New York awarded him The Townsend Harris Medal for distinguished service to the city.
In 2006, he was awarded two honorary doctorates: a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, and a Doctorate of Fine Arts from the College of Staten Island, the City University of New York.
Mr. Randolph’s long and distinguished career was one of many distinctions. Had he been alive to conduct Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in December 2010, he would have celebrated the 50th Anniversary of his conducting debut in Carnegie Hall, which occurred on December 10, 1960, when coincidentally, he conducted The Masterwork Chorus in a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.
Mr. Randolph was part of a small, distinguished group, as he was among the oldest musicians to have conducted in Carnegie Hall. At 95, Mr. Randolph surpassed a host of conductors, including Leopold Stokowski and Arturo Toscanini, who were 89 and 87 respectively, on their last appearances in Carnegie Hall. The December 10, 2009 concert of the Mozart Great Mass in C minor and Hummel Mass in B flat marked Mr. Randolph’s 164th Carnegie Hall appearance, and the 2009-2010 season was his 45th year as conductor of The St. Cecilia Chorus and Orchestra.