By Jim Carnett
(Jim was an Orange Coast College student in the early 1960s. Now in his 36th year as Director of Community Relations, he is editor of Coast-to-Coast. This is a regular column that focuses on OCC’s history and distinctive characteristics and characters.)
Richard Raub was a brilliant maestro and a near obsessive perfectionist.
Dick led Orange Coast College’s Chorale and Chamber Singers with panache from 1970-93. During that time, they were two of the finest collegiate choral groups in the land…and that statement is tendered without the slightest exaggeration! Winners of many competitions, his OCC choirs were renowned for their maturity, insight, articulation and sensitivity to text.
Raub’s OCC choirs never held sheet music. The music was always memorized, and performance manners were highly polished. Despite being a great choral director, he considered himself first a musician, then a conductor.
Dick lives today in retirement in Colorado Springs. He has battled leukemia for the last several years.
Highly esteemed by musicians and critics the world over, he brought great respect and acclaim for more than two decades to Orange Coast College and its Visual and Performing Arts Division. Twice he was selected to direct the prestigious Los Angeles Bach Festival, and the campus and community annually anticipated his 100-voice OCC Chorale’s Christmas production and/or “Messiah” concert.
“Known for building voices and character in his followers, Richard carried a torch of love and a demand for quality,” says Karen McBride, who taught music at OCC from 1979-93.
“In a time when the ordinary had become commonplace, Richard excelled at creating wonderful music and musicians. His influence will live in the lives of those who had the privilege of knowing him.”
His students saw him as a director who was obsessed with details.
“Richard drills and drills his singers, and then drills them some more,” said one of his colleagues in 1993.
“Richard brought out the best in his singers and also expected the best from them,” says Patricia McFarland, a member of the Chorale from 1982-92. “We worked very hard for him during rehearsal because he taught us that we needed to do justice to the music.
“It was never enough to go through the motions of singing a piece of music, we needed to respect the composer and the notes and nuances on a score. Richard was tireless in his expectations of what good singing entailed, yet to see a look of absolute delight on his face was worth all the hard work.”
“I try to let (students) know that in order to get in touch with the music, they first have to be sensitive, awake and alive,” he once told a reporter. “We start off with the dynamics on the page. But there’s a dynamic beyond that, where they discover things about the way the music speaks to them and respond to it.”
Dick admitted that he could be tough on his students.
“I often have great difficulty with students early on,” he admitted to a reporter in the late 1980s. “I expect them to give everything to the music – to give 100 percent – and to really get involved, and some of them just can’t handle it. I know some of the students think I’m a madman.”
But madmen frequently make the most effective leaders.
“Thank you,” wrote a student to Richard following a 1975 concert, “for the most frustrating, tiring, challenging, lovely, rewarding and inspirational musical experience of my life.”
One of the hallmarks of Raub’s tenure at Coast was his close bond with the people who studied under him.
“I’ve noticed with some of my colleagues (that) the better their students get to know them, the more disenchanted they become,” he once observed. “I know lots of teachers whose students are glad if they never see them again.
“Maybe my students can’t understand me at first. But, the longer we’re in touch with each other, the more a sort of slow respect develops. They stay in touch. They come back just to visit and to share things with me. It makes me feel that I haven’t made a bad choice in doing what I’m doing.”
He changed lives.
“After spending eight years as a psychiatric nurse, I found that I missed music in my life,” says music instructor, Darlene Falco. “I enrolled in one of Mr. Raub’s voice classes for enrichment purposes only.
“At our first class meeting I discovered that Mr. Raub maintained high expectations in his classroom. He commanded the respect of all his students, even as he demanded that we learn. His dedication to making music as beautiful and flawless as possible prompted me to continue taking music classes.”
Falco says Raub gave up much personal time – and considerable personal treasure – to support his OCC students. His tireless dedication led directly to Orange Coast College becoming known far and wide for its outstanding music program.
“That reputation was invaluable to myself and to many other students in transferring to four-year universities like UC Irvine, UCLA, USC and Chapman University.”
In addition to teaching choral performance and voice, Raub also taught OCC classes in conducting, applied music, beginning piano and music history.
Richard left a huge and lasting imprint upon Orange Coast College’s campus.
“My goal is to bring OCC’s Chorale back to the level that it enjoyed for so many years under the leadership of Richard Raub,” said Dr. Ricardo Soto when he took over the group in 2001. He later also assumed the reins of OCC’s Symphony.
“Dick is a legend around here. His OCC chorales were highly respected by audiences, musicians and music critics for more than 20 years.”
Thanks to Soto, the college’s vocal performance program is back on track, and moving in the right direction.
“Since Richard Raub joined the Orange Coast College staff in 1970, the voices he has been working with have not been the crème de la crème,” L.A. Times critic, Benjamin Epstein, wrote somewhat derisively in the late 1980s.
“Rather, with OCC being a community college, the voices Raub has heard have been a fairly representative cross section of young community talent. Yet, year after year Raub has molded this amalgamation into an ensemble respectable by any standards.”
Though not exactly gushing, that’s unambiguous praise from a crusty Times music critic!
Several years earlier, OC Register critic, Clint Erney, offered a similar assessment.
“Orange County is choral country,” Erney wrote. “Besides two master chorales, most of the major colleges in the county maintain chorales. Orange Coast College and its able young choral director, Richard Raub, needn’t take a back seat to any of the academic vocal ensembles in choral Orange County.”
Raub’s early OCC concerts were offered to the public, gratis…FREE OF CHARGE!
“We wish to express our deep pleasure of having the opportunity to attend tonight’s performance of Mozart’s Great Mass,” wrote an Orange County resident to Raub in 1978. “It was a memorable experience and everyone is to be congratulated in their contribution to a great evening of music.
“We feel fortunate to be privileged to have these concerts to enjoy. I’m sure everyone feels as we do that it would not be untoward to charge a nominal fee of admission to encourage such a group of musicians who offer Orange County residents an opportunity of hearing truly good music.”
Shortly thereafter, following passage of Proposition 13, the college obliged the generous concertgoer! A concert admission fee was instituted.
A four-year university conductor wrote Raub a memo following a 1975 concert.
“What can I say? Your Brahms last night was one of the most moving performances I’ve ever been a part of.”
“I find it difficult to put into words,” penned another attendee of that same ‘75 concert, “as I recall the moving emotional musical and spiritual experience I received through your beautiful presentation of Ein Deutcher Requiem.”
Raub obliterated stereotypes and consistently exceeded expectations.
“One would expect that the cultural foothold for music lovers in Orange County would emerge from the four-year colleges and universities,” opined a newspaper critic in 1978. “Saturday night, conductor Richard Raub again demonstrated that the excellence we seek can just as well appear under the auspices of the two-year community college.”
A 1978 Times review of the Chorale’s performance of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor said, “The chorus sounded well rehearsed and precise in diction, singing with its brightest tone in the Sanctus of the Mass and with unexpected agility and energy in the final Osanna.”
In 1983, Raub’s Chorale presented a Bach “mini-fest” in the Moore Theatre. A rich sampling of the great German composer’s work was showcased.
“For several soaring moments (the Chorale was) one with the music, a most satisfying musical experience and all too rare,” wrote a critic who reviewed the concert.
“The tenor section is outstanding and a credit to Raub, who is a master of musical pedagogy and concerns himself with every detail in the chorus and orchestra at all times. Not a note goes by his eagle eye, and this is evidenced by the attention given by both the orchestra and chorus to every nuance of his direction.
“Raub has been quoted as saying, ‘Bach is a genius and inventor beyond compare. Each piece is a real treasure.’ It might also be said, so is Raub a real treasure!”
Dick Raub stunned the campus and the surrounding community by announcing his retirement in the spring of 1993. He was at the height of his musical genius, and just 59 years of age.
“It’s time for me to move on to the next stage of my life,” he said, simply.
His final concert was anything but simple.
On Saturday evening, May 8, 1993, his select vocal ensemble, the 34-member Orange Coast Singers, presented a magnificent Mozart and Haydn concert. OCC’s 100-voice Chorale didn’t perform, however, because it had been shockingly disbanded the previous fall due to campus budget cuts. Clearly, Raub was deeply wounded by that turn of events. Some said the autumn demise of his Chorale prompted his spring surprise.
The featured work of the May concert was Mozart’s Grand Mass in C Minor, K. 427.
In the program notes, Raub referred to the Grand Mass as “the most impressive mass setting that Mozart composed…(rivaling) Bach’s Mass in B Minor in its concept.” Four outstanding soloists were featured in the performance.
“It will be bitter-sweet for me, and emotional for a lot of us,” Raub predicted several days before the concert. “We’ve had some wonderful times together.”
“His talent and his thoughtful and sensitive personality have made him an enormous favorite with performers and audiences,” Dave Grant, OCC’s president at the time, told a reporter before the concert. “He will be a tough act to follow.”
Indeed he was!
Raub went out in style. The concert was presented at Red Hill Lutheran Church in Tustin (because of its superior acoustics when compared to the pre-renovation Robert B. Moore Theatre), and the facility was packed to the rafters. It was a bravura performance, and Raub and the Singers received a standing ovation at the close of the Grand Mass. Critics accorded the concert glowing reviews the following week, and bemoaned his retirement.
Raub was able to walk out to his car in OCC’s parking lot for the final time three weeks later knowing that his magnificent Coast career couldn’t have been one micron weightier…nor more satisfying. To employ a sports cliché, he’d left it all on the playing field. Richard departed OCC at the top of his game!
Because of a Coast District hiring freeze, Dick’s retirement put the future of OCC’s award-winning singing program in jeopardy.
“I’m not being replaced with a full-time person,” Raub complained to a reporter. “This group will not continue to operate as it has and I feel bad about that. I don’t know what will happen.”
Dick wasn’t adequately replaced until Soto came to the campus eight years later. During the gap in their regimes, OCC’s choral music program foundered.
Trim and athletic – Dick and I were jogging partners for a time – it was fun to watch him as he directed his vocal groups and orchestra during his heyday on the Robert B. Moore Theatre stage. I attended many of his concerts. It was his philosophy that a conductor must act as a motivator – to both the singers and audience – in order to bring a musical score to life. Bounding with energy, he was animated and intense. He also exuded a sense of elation. It was obvious that he passionately loved what he was doing.
Dick standing in front of his Chorale before the opening downbeat, with baton in hand, was akin to Kobe setting up to drive the baseline, or A-Rod sizing up a juicy fastball: the atmosphere was electric, filled with anticipation!
A native of Wichita Falls, Tex., Richard came by his musical ability naturally. His father was a violinist and Juilliard School of Music graduate. At the age of four, Dick began studying the violin and piano.
In high school, Richard joined the school choir and was enthralled with the possibilities of the human voice.
“That’s when I made up my mind to go into choral music,” he said. “I knew that choral music would play a major role in the rest of my life. The human voice is the only instrument we have with us wherever we go. It’s a part of us.”
Richard earned his bachelor’s degree in voice and master’s in conducting at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. As a member of the Westminster Choir, Richard sang under such masters of the podium as Dimitri Mitropoulos, Guido Cantelli, Leopold Stokowski and Bruno Walter.
He says he learned the most working under great conductors, not because he studied their conducting technique but from the “greatness” that each conductor exuded, and how he “felt” about the music.
“Bruno Walter was a saint of a man, somebody the musicians absolutely loved,” Raub recalls. “He never raised his voice. He didn’t rant and rave or throw insults.
“When something didn’t please him, he was so pained. He would just say, ‘Oh no, oh no…’ and problems would instantly disappear. The musicians didn’t want to do anything to hurt him.”
Dick did additional postgraduate work at the University of Oregon.
Raub held full-time church music positions in Texas and California, and was an interim professor of music at Whittier College in the mid-1960s. He inaugurated the music program at Saddleback College in 1968, and was spirited away by Orange Coast College two years later.
He was 36 at the time that he came to the Costa Mesa campus.
After he took over OCC’s choirs, things transformed rapidly and dramatically.
“Richard changed an informal community college choir into a music course which gave serious singers an opportunity to work in a professional environment with professional musicians,” says a longtime member of his OCC choirs. “(Over the years), I sang nearly 40 great classical works with his choirs.
“Richard always inspired his singers to improve, and was diligent in preparing his choral singers. As a result, he is the only college director to my knowledge to receive regular press write-ups and whose concerts were regularly reviewed by the music critics of both the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times.”
Raub loved the challenge of preparing his OCC choral groups to sing great works of music by great composers. He chose works rarely performed in Southern California, and was undaunted by the degree of difficulty of the work he selected.
During his 23 years on campus, OCC’s groups sang such works as Bach’s B Minor Mass; Brahms’ Requiem; Verdi’s Requiem; Britten’s War Requiem, Ceremony of Carols and exquisite Serenade; Polenc’s Motets; and Stravinsky’s In Memoriam Dylan Thomas and Symphony of Psalms.
Though Raub loved many composers, two of his favorites were Bach and Handel.
“Although Handel was a contemporary of Bach, their music is completely different,” he once said. “Whereas Bach was a master of counterpoint and his melodies are complex, Handel’s music is more straightforward and his melodies stand alone.”
American audiences are more attuned to Handel, Richard noted, because his oratorios are written in English and the music seems more accessible to the layperson.
“Teaching music is tremendously gratifying,” he said in 1983 as he prepared his Chorale to perform Handel’s Israel in Egypt. “To know that my students have an opportunity to sing these pieces, seeing their faces and knowing it has meant something in their lives that they will remember for the rest of their lives…that’s what teaching is all about.”
Former members of his OCC choirs miss him greatly since his retirement.
“I continue to sing with several friends that I made at OCC,” says one former 10-year Chorale member. “Our time with Richard was memorable, and the things he taught us are forever etched into our singing.
“These days at choir practice you might hear one of us remark, ‘Richard wouldn’t do it like that,’ or, ‘I like the way Richard had us do that piece,’ or, ‘Richard would never let us get away with that!’ I could go on.”
Like I said, he was a perfectionist.
Many who sang for Raub at Coast embarked upon a lifetime journey deep into the world of music.
“I can easily name a dozen people with whom I sang who went into fulltime careers in music,” says a former OCC Chorale member. “I can name at least as many – myself included – who are part time music educators or performers.
“As a result of Richard Raub’s inspiration, I continue private vocal studies, teach music theory at a local piano studio, hold a church position as a section leader and soloist, and am a staff member at a music studio, teaching voice, music theory and piano.”
Richard Raub dramatically impacted the lives of scores of OCC students and staff members, as well as members of the local community. He is easily a one-in-a-million musician…and virtually irreplaceable. It took us 22 years to find him, and we had him for 23.
It took us eight more years to find Ricardo Soto. How incredibly fortunate we are!
First Richard, now Ricardo. How can a single institution be so doubly blessed?