The Shenandoah Conservatory Choir is an American college choir well-known through its successful recordings and its several acclaimed international tours. There has been a chorus at Shenandoah Conservatory since the founding of the institution as the Shenandoah Seminary in Dayton, VA, by Dr. Abraham Paul Funkhouser and Professor Jay Newton Fries in 1875.
The Conservatory is the oldest part of what is now Shenandoah University. The institution is located in the famous valley of the Shenandoah River, whose fabled beauty has inspired one of the loveliest and best-known of American folk songs. The name Shenandoah is said to have derived from that of Zynodoa, an Indian known for his appreciation of beauty as well as his strength and courage.
In 1879, the Joseph Funk family moved to Dayton. They were the proprietors of a leading publisher of Bibles, hymnals, and song books, and they reached an alliance with the Seminary. A member of the Funk family, L.H. Ruebush, was a music teacher there from 1886 to 1936.
In 1940, a change in the school's organization resulted in two separate divisions: Shenandoah College became a junior college, and Shenandoah Conservatory of Music remained a four-year institution. Financial situations forced the institution to move to Winchester, VA, in the 1950s, where it built a new campus, including Armstrong Hall, the seat of the Conservatory. In the 1970s, the college was reunited with the Conservatory (both now four-year institutions) as Shenandoah College and Conservatory of Music. It is now known as Shenandoah University and grants degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level. Its five divisions are the Conservatory, the School of Arts and Sciences, the Harry F. Byrd Jr. School of Business, the School of Health Professions (which also teaches at the Northern Virginia Campus in Leesburg) and the Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy. It has about 2,500 students.
As the historic heart of the University, the Conservatory and its chorus has retained over its history a high reputation for music. Since the addition of conductor Robert Shafer to the Conservatory faculty and as artist-in-residence in 1983, he has brought the choir to increased national and international recognition. Under his direction the choir debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1985.
The choir, under Shafer, has undertaken four international tours since 1993, visiting Italy, England, France, Spain, Majorca, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. It regularly appears with the National Symphony Orchestra in nearby Washington, D.C. and with that orchestra has sung such choral masterpieces as Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, Verdi's Requiem, the Berlioz Requiem, Brahms' German Requiem, and Druckman's Vox Humana. It also performs regularly with the Richmond (Virginia) Symphony Orchestra and the 20th Century Consort.
One of its most highly-acclaimed projects was its participation in Robert Shafer's performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem with Shafer's other major choral group, the Washington Chorus and the National Symphony Orchestra. The live performance was recorded and won the Grammy Award of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for Best Choral Performance given in 2000, beating stellar choral organizations on major labels. It was scheduled to record the Dvorák 149th Psalm for Naxos Records for international distribution.