Doreen Rao is celebrated internationally for her moving concerts and inspirational teaching. Her pioneering career changed the landscape of music education in America. Linking the standards of performance and the goals of education with the values of diversity and social responsibility, Rao’s seminal work teaching children to sing inspired a generation of conductors and teachers to lead young choirs in schools and communities around the world. In a national tribute presented to her by the American Choral Directors Association, the eminent conductor Robert Shaw wrote: “The world of choral music owes her special thanks. She is preparing our future.”
As Artistic Director of the Chicago Chamber Choir, Rao is committed to global-style programming, intergenerational performance projects, and innovative collaborations across the city. She founded The Rao Center for Choral and Contemplative Arts in 2014 to mentor emerging conductors, singers and music educators in the practice of mindfulness-based conducting and choral teaching. Doreen is a member of the Zen Peacemakers and a longtime student of the American Zen Buddhist teacher, Roshi Joan Halifax. She is the author of Circle of Sound: Contemplative Approach to Voice Education which serves as the philosophical and practical foundation for her mindfulness-based approach to conducting and teaching.
Doreen Rao holds the University of Toronto Elmer Iseler Chair in Conducting Emeritus. During her tenure as Director of Choral Programs, Rao founded Toronto’s International Bach Festival with Bach conductor-scholar Helmuth Rilling. She led the Faculty of Music’s graduate program in choral conducting with Canada’s Elmer Iseler Singers as University Artists-in-Residence. Her award-winning MacMillan Singers and Bach Festival Singers performed and broadcast regularly with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Maestros Rilling, Peter Oundjian, Gianandrea Noseda, and Bernard Labadie. Toronto music critic Robert Everett-Green wrote: “For Rao, every note has an urgent meaning, not just within the composition, but within the wider world.”
From 2008, Rao served as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, working in close collaboration with the Grammy Award-winning conductor JoAnn Falletta. Rao conducted numerous choral concerts with the Buffalo Philharmonic and Chautauqua Institute Symphony Orchestras. For her inspirational leadership in Western New York, Rao was named Buffalo Woman of Influence. In 2012 she was honored to be named Music Director of the Year by the WNY Gospel Music Association. Rao currently serves as Artistic Director of the Buffalo Master Chorale in association with Buffalo Niagara Choirs, Inc., an urban community of adult and youth choruses.
During Rao’s association with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, she prepared the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus (now Anima Young Singers) for concerts and four Grammy Award-winning recordings. She also served as Assistant Conductor to Margaret Hillis, preparing the Symphony Chorus for Sir Georg Solti, Claudio Abbado, James Levine, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Her choirs performed regularly with Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony, the Grant Park Orchestra, and with Helmuth Rilling at the Oregon Bach Festival.
Rao is the Founder-Director of CME Institute for Choral Teacher Education, a professional development and choral certification program for emerging conductors and choral music teachers. Her distinguished history of commissioning and premiering new choral music has championed a new generation of American and Canadian composers.
As editor and choral advisor to music publisher Boosey & Hawkes, Rao’s award-winning Choral Music Experience series of music and educational textbooks helped set the standards for quality concert repertoire for music education. Her popular edition of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS met with unprecedented accolades: “Rao’s performing edition should be widely heard by audiences everywhere, though it might be foolish to expect a better performance than the one Rao gave tonight.”
Rao regularly conducts choral festivals, music conferences, and special events worldwide. She received the prestigious Harold A. Decker Award, presented by the Illinois-ACDA to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the field of choral music. The Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia awarded Rao their National Citation for her â€œsignificant and lasting contribution to the cause of American music.” The American Choral Directors Association has honored Rao for her “commitment to choral excellence” and a CBS television documentary called her musical achievements “extraordinary.”
Doreen Rao was taught by beloved teachers, Harold Decker and Colleen Kirk, at the University of Illinois. She earned her PhD from Northwestern University and was generously mentored by Margaret Hillis and Robert Shaw during the formative years of her career. Doreen lives in Chicago where she enjoys a vibrant urban lifestyle with family and friends while continuing to conduct and teach worldwide.