Robert Shafer is one of the mostly highly regarded choral conductors in the United States. He was a student of the celebrated Nadia Boulanger at the Conservatoire Americain in Paris, and while there won the first prize in composition in 1969. By then he had become a high school teacher. His work at James Madison High School in Virginia attracted national attention, especially for his founding and leading a first-rate madrigal group. He remained on its faculty from 1968 to 1975. In 1972, he became music director of the Washington Chorus, a leading choral ensemble of the U.S. capital, which gave him the opportunity not only to lead its subscription series but to prepare it for performance with the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C. for such conductors as Seiji Ozawa, Neville Marriner, Zdenek Mácal, Charles Dutoit, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Leonard Slatkin.
As music director of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, he conducted his own version of the Papal hymn "Tu es Petrus" in honor of the visit there of Pope John Paul II. (He has since composed a second setting of "Tu es Petrus" for children's chorus.)
In 1983, Shafer was appointed artist-in-residence and professor of music at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA. There he has taken the Shenandoah Conservatory Chorus to new heights of excellence. For this and other achievements as a teacher he was awarded in 1989 the Outstanding Faculty Award form the Virginia Council on Higher Education. He is the only teacher in the field of the Arts to have ever received this distinction.
Shafer's work in recordings has won national recognition. He prepared the Washington Chorus and the Choral Arts Society for Leonard Slatkin's recording of John Corigliano's First Symphony ("Of Rage and Remembrance") with the National Symphony, which won a Grammy Award. His work with the chorus for Mstislav Rostropovich's acclaimed recording of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov was nominated for a Grammy. In addition, a live recording he conducted himself, using both his Washington Chorus and the Shenandoah Conservatory Chorus, of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem on the Washington Chorus' own private label beat all the nominated performances on international labels to win the Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance of the Year in 2000.