Harold Rosenbaum leads the choir

Acclaimed conductor Harold Rosenbaum balances multiple projects


Every Wednesday, Harold Rosenbaum flies to Buffalo from New York City.

He spends roughly 1,260 minutes on a plane every semester.

Rosenbaum teaches music classes at UB and directs the UB choir on Wednesdays and Thursdays, then returns to his home in Westchester County where he lives with his wife, Edie, and conducts various choirs in the New York City area.

He runs both The Canticum Novum Singers and The New York Virtuoso Singers, a professional choir. He established both choirs 41 and 27 years ago, respectively.

After so many years, where does the passion come from?

“I have not pursued it, it has pursued me,” Rosenbaum said. “I was driven to it. I had no choice – chorus was my instrument. I need to make music; 1,700 concerts later and that need is still there.”

Rosenbaum has been singing since he was 7 years old, where he sang in the Sam Sterner choir and was a soloist. He pursued music through high school and then decided to pursue music study at Queens College. He had no knowledge of classical music before college, as he only focused on popular music. He began to take music theory classes, learning more about the composers that shaped the music he was passionate about.

Rosenbaum began to consider conducting his senior year of college. He found himself disagreeing with the conductor’s interpretation of the music. In graduate school, he became the assistant conductor at Queens College where he realized he had found his calling.

Soon after graduation he established The Canticum Novum Singers.

The choir is a volunteer group only and performs music from all time periods.

After years of success with that organization, Rosenbaum became a highly sought-after conductor. He has taught at four universities including The Juilliard School and has conducted eight university choirs, seven church choirs, 10 synagogue choirs, two youth choirs and a senior adult choir. He is also writing two books and is heading Choralfest USA, an annual marathon concert for choruses all over the country.

Although he’s best known for his work in the contemporary classical genre, Rosenbaum still maintains a respect for classical Baroque.

“I would have to say my favorite composer to conduct is Bach,” Rosenbaum said. “He’s just head and shoulders above all the others spiritually.”

Rosenbaum likes to tackle many projects and often manages multiple choirs at once.

In one season, he was a conductor at both UB and Queens College, while simultaneously conducting five other non-university choirs in New York City.

“Students singing in his groups, or studying conducting with him, are learning from a true professional, who has organized, rehearsed and presented hundreds and hundreds of choral concerts over the years,” said Jeffrey Stadelman, chair of the Music Department at UB. “His profile in that way is rather different from that of most university choral conductors.”

Rosenbaum’s goal is to bring singers of all skill levels together and teach them to sing as one.

Though he maintains a busy schedule, Rosenbaum’s family has always been most important.

Rosenbaum has two daughters and three grandsons, all of whom he considers his proudest accomplishments. His wife often works with him as part of his staff, helping him maintain all of his organizations and keep his schedule up and running.

“I do have help – not a full-time staff, but people who help me do what I love to do,” Rosenbaum said. “My wife also shares my passion for music, which allows us to not only spend time together but to work together on projects that mean a lot to both of us.”

His wife sings in The Canticum Novum Singers and has performed as a soloist.

The conductor has collaborated with the New York Philharmonic, so he doesn’t keep his talents exclusive to choruses. He’s also worked with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Bang on a Can and the Mark Morris Dance Group.

Rosenbaum has conducted at big name theatres – Carnegie Hall, the Tanglewood Music Festival and the Siracusa Festival in Italy and continues to be a desirable conductor.

He doesn’t let the accolades get to his head. He loves to teach.

“I love passing on my knowledge,” Rosenbaum said. “Students are eager to learn. I choose pieces that they can handle, and we conquer them together.”

After years of success in conducting, Rosenbaum could not begin to recount his favorite moments.

He’s been honored with numerous awards, including the Ditson Conductor’s Award from Columbia University in 2014 and the American Composer Alliance’s Laurel Leaf Award in 2008. He is the founder and director of the Harold Rosenbaum Choral Conducting Institute that’s held annually and sponsored by UB and Columbia University.

“I would say my proudest career accomplishment is keeping a small arts organization alive for 42 years and maintaining The Canticum Novum Singers and The New York Virtuoso Singers,” Rosenbaum said. “These organizations need grants, passionate performers and support from the community to stay active and we’re fortunate to be able to have these resources.”

Over 40 years of conducting experience has shown Rosenbaum how much one person can accomplish when someone dedicates his or her life to a cause.

He plans to continue at the same pace, conducting, directing and collaborating, until he’s physically unable to do so.

His schedule forces him to travel, but the conductor doesn’t mind. He’d rather take the flights, enjoy his adventures and continue pursuing his passions while passing down his wisdom every day.

Tori Roseman is a senior arts editor and can be contacted at tori.roseman@ubspectrum.com