Robert Fountain

The legendary choral conductor Robert Fountain was born 26 December 1917 into a musical family in Niagara Falls, New York. In his childhood his mother instructed him in piano, and by the age of eight he had been introduced to the music of Bach. At age twelve, Fountain joined his father's church choir and developed a passion for various musical works, Bach in particular.


Fountain received his formal music training at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York. He was awarded a Bachelor of Music in Voice, Master of Music in Voice Literature, and the Performer's Certificate. During his Eastman years, Fountain studied with Arthur Fraft, Emanuel Balaban, Herman Genhart, Harold Gleason, and Burrill Philips.

After graduating from Eastman, Fountain served as a faculty member at Mount Union College, Alliance, Ohio (1942-1946), teaching voice and conducting choirs. He also taught at Ohio State University in Columbus (1946-1948) and at Brooklyn College. From 1948 until 1970 Fountain was conductor of Singing and Choral Activities at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. He conducted the Oberlin College Choir, which made annual tours of the United States and Canada, including performances at New York City's Town Hall, Philharmonic Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and Symphony Hall in Boston. In 1964, under the sponsorship of the U.S. State Department Office of Cultural Presentation, Fountain led the Oberlin Choir on an eight-week tour of the former Soviet Union and Romania.

In 1965 Fountain was appointed Dean of the Oberlin Conservatory, a position he retained until 1971, when he joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty as Director of Choral Activities. His career as a teacher and choral conductor continued for another twenty-three years, until his retirement in 1994. During this time, the University of Wisconsin Concert Choir toured throughout the Midwest. In 1973 the choir toured Venezuela at that country's invitation. The choir toured the East Coast in 1977, 1985, and 1994, in such prestigious venues as Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York and the Kennedy Center and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Fountain's performances of masterworks such as Bach's Saint Matthew Passion were legendary, not only for their level of excellence, but also for the demands he made upon the performers on such occasions. One such performance of the Bach work was scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m., with a supper break between 7:00 - 8:30 and final portion of the work to be finished by 10:30 p.m. The performers, including the singers and the symphony members, were not allowed to leave the concert hall, because Fountain did not want them to get distracted by the outside world. "They will have their 'Bach's lunches' here," quipped Fountain, always ready with a pun.

Robert Fountain died on May 19, 1996.