Founder and former director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus, James Erb, passed away November 11 at the age of 88.
“We will miss him very much,” says Richmond Symphony Executive Director David J.L. Fisk, “but his legacy in Richmond and his reputation in the field of American choral music will live on forever.”
Erb conducted the Richmond Symphony Chorus for 35 years before retiring in 2007.
Erb was also on the music faculty at the University of Richmond for 39 years, where he conducted the choirs and glee clubs. He is best known for his eight-part arrangement of the traditional American folk song “Shenandoah,” now performed internationally.
According to former Richmond Symphony Orchestra Music Director George Manahan, under Erb’s charismatic leadership the chorus performed some of the most challenging choral masterpieces, including works by Bernstein, Brahms, and Verdi. “Never did I think there was a work too tough for the symphony chorus with Jim at the helm,” Manahan said.
Erb studied music at Colorado College and The University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria. He earned a master’s degree in voice from Indiana University, as well as master of music and doctorate degrees in musicology from Harvard University. He was rambunctious and earnest in his love of choral music, known for saying “Abandonment of final consonants is something people ought to go to jail for!”
“His sincere and deep commitment to the music was truly inspiring,” said Richmond Symphony Music Director Steven Smith. “His legacy, not just here in Richmond but in the wider world of music will always be remembered with profound love and respect.”
Erb was fond of telling his chorus to “sing into the phrase and beyond into the silence that is part of the phrase.”