200 Days in the Life of the College

Tuesday, November 30

His forte was apparent presto, con brio

By Nick Stagliano ’11

Did you know that G. Roberts Kolb, professor of music and director of choral music, has never taken a music theory course?

Kolb has taught and conducted on the Hill for more than 30 years but originally set out to become a minister. A lay assistant at his home church in Kansas City, he enrolled at the Claremont School of Theology after graduation from Occidental College, but soon realized, “I don’t want to do this.” Instead, he pursued his true passion.

Music was hardly new to Kolb. He began taking piano lessons when he was 5 and became adept at sight-reading by 8. In fifth grade he took up the French horn, which he played throughout college. He also sang in every vocal music ensemble Occidental offered. In short, Kolb “spent every spare moment in college making music,” although he took no music courses other than one on choral conducting.

The summer before beginning work on his master’s degree at the California State University at Fullerton, he read textbooks to teach himself enough music history and theory to pass out of those courses. He would then earn his doctorate at the University of Illinois.

At his first teaching job at Smith College, Kolb met John Baldwin, the legendary Hamilton choirmaster, and learned from him of an opening on the Hill. He admits that since coming to campus in 1981, he has at times considered leaving to teach at a music school or conservatory but has “never tested the waters” — in part because of the challenge here. “It’s easy to get a beautiful product out of an entire choir of music majors,” Kolb says, “but to achieve that from 65 people at Hamilton from all walks of life who just come together because they value choral music, that is the real reward.”