Project Description

Shaw prepares in his home studio, Atlanta GA.

This feature length documentary takes an in depth look at Shaw’s life and legacy as of one the world’s most beloved classical music icons, from his serendipitous introduction into the world of music, through the many challenges and remarkable successes in his 60-year career. The essence of the film will be an exploration of Shaw’s unique gift for crafting and conducting exceptional choral music. Interviews with collaborators, students, choristers, music critics and friends along with Shaw’s biographer Keith Burris will provide insights into Shaw’s complex character and distinctive approach to music making.

The core audience for this film will be music lovers, especially those who follow classical and choral music. However, we believe Robert Shaw’s compelling story will interest a wider audience, and the film could enjoy national television broadcasts and even limited theatrical release. Shaw is unquestionably a unique contributor to music in the 20th century. Yet the appeal of his biography is even more broadly human, transcending the scope and depth of the music he gave us. His story is fundamentally a human story - a man who overcomes a lack of formal musical training with raw talent, hard work and great communication skills to rise to the highest levels of an elite group of conductors and music directors, while bonding the tens of thousands of amateurs whose world he touched.

“The arts may indeed be not the luxury of the few but the last best hope of humanity – to inhabit with joy this planet.”
— Robert Shaw

Fred Scott, Sylvia McNair and Robert Shaw backstage in recording session for Poulenc's Gloria, 1982.

Throughout the film, archival footage, photographs and sound recordings from different eras will mix with modern day interviews. Man of Many Voices however, will be more than a chronological biography. We will also explore how Shaw’s work lives on today, through the many people he influenced and the body of work he left behind. We will visit with present day choruses that employ and build on the techniques and approaches Shaw developed. These segments of the film will give us an insider’s view of the workings of a chorus, explained so that non-musicians will be able to develop a deeper appreciation for Shaw’s influence and the beautiful mysteries of music itself. It is here that we will see, perhaps, Shaw’s greatest contribution: the relentless pursuit of excellence in performance, especially with choral music. Those who worked closely with Shaw describe his unparalleled work ethic and his passion for communicating the most intricate details in any score. Shaw’s gift was his ability to see deeply into the music and share these ideas with his orchestras and choruses. He developed new techniques for choruses that allowed him to explore and eventually master various nuances of choral singing. As such, he elevated this art form with a wealth of new ideas and approaches. The film will focus heavily on the Shaw’s creative genius as a listener and a communicator and the lasting influence of his insights into music.

Over the course of his long career Shaw touched millions of lives. He was a passionate torchbearer, communicator and innovator of music in the 20th century. We will offer an intimate portrait of an artist who thought deeply about music and worked tirelessly to present great works to the world in ways that were both reverent and fresh. It has been over ten years since Shaw’s death and to date there exists no feature length documentary about his life. Many of Shaw’s contemporaries and collaborators are in their 70s and 80s, so time is of the essence in capturing the stories, insights and reminiscences critical to defining his legacy. Our goal with this film is to create a documentary that complements and deepens our understanding of Robert Shaw and his many contributions to the world of music.