Doreen Rao is a distinguished conductor and master teacher committed to the dynamic intersections linking choral artistry and music education. “For her, every note has an urgent meaning, not just within the composition, but within the wider world.” Recipient of the 2019 Robert Shaw lifetime achievement award by the American Choral Director’s Association for her extraordinary contributions to choral music, Doreen’s seminal work has inspired generations of young singers, accomplished choral teachers and celebrated conductors.
Doreen’s illustrious career began as a professional singer and choral music teacher. During her formative association with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, she prepared the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus for concerts and recorded performances, winning four Grammy Awards and a Grand Prix du Disque with Sir George Solti, Margaret Hillis, Claudio Abbado and James Levine. As Assistant Conductor for the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Doreen’s apprenticeship with Margaret Hillis informed her orchestral and choral conducting with a legacy of deep musicianship and enduring professionalism.
Doreen founded and chaired the first ACDA National Committee for Children’s Choirs organizing an inspired divisional and state leadership across the country. Commissioning, premiering and editing the music of living composers throughout her career, Doreen inspired and edited a massive choral repertoire for young treble and SATB choirs, published by Boosey & Hawkes as Choral Music Experience (CME). During the same period, she produced an innovative and on-going professional development curriculum dedicated to emerging conductors and choral teachers, founded as the CME Institute and Certification Courses in Choral Teacher Education, www.choralmusicexperience.com.
Following her graduate studies at Northwestern University, Doreen accepted an appointment as Director of Choral Programs at the University of Toronto. The first woman to hold an endowed chair in conducting, Doreen carries the prestigious Elmer Iseler Chair in Conducting Emeritus in perpetuity. During her twenty-two year tenure at the Faculty of Music, she regularly conducted the University Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a wide range of choral-orchestral masterworks. She founded and conducted the Faculty of Music MacMillan Singers and Bach Festival Singers for frequent concert collaborations with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra led by Maestros Michael Oundjian, Bernard Labadie, Gianandrea Noseda, among others. Collaborating with the distinguished German conductor and Bach scholar Helmuth Rilling, Rao led Canada’s International Bach Festival hosted by the University of Toronto in partnership with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the International Bach Academy Stuttgart.
From 2008, Doreen conducted and directed the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, preparing the large symphonic chorus for concerts with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra led by the Grammy award-winning conductor Joanne Falletta. She enjoyed regular guest appearances with the BPO and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestras conducting choral masterworks concerts that featured Mendelssohn Symphony No. 2 “Lobgesang,” Puccini Messa di Gloria and the American premiere of Puccini’s early opera Cessato il suon dell’armi, Bach Magnificat, and Bernstein, Chichester Psalms and Mass (Rao edition).
Doreen left University teaching in 2011 and returned to Chicago where she maintains an active career guest conducting, teaching and writing. She has enjoyed her tenures as Artistic Director of the Chicago Chamber Choir and the Buffalo Master Chorale. As a Visiting Professor at Ionian University, Doreen has led graduate conducting courses and summer academy courses in Corfu Greece. She spent the 2017-2018 season as Visiting Artistic Director of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay collaborating with the talented British conductor Michael Francis and the Florida Orchestra. Doreen recently signed with GIA Publications, Inc., in Chicago as Series Editor of the forthcoming Global Encounters for Young Choirs.
Doreen is a member of the Zen Peacemakers Order and a longtime student of the American Zen teacher, Roshi Joan Halifax. She is the author of Circle of Sound Voice Education, a book that serves as the philosophical and practical foundation for her innovative mindfulness approach to conducting and teaching.
Photograph courtesty of Elliott Mandel