St. Olaf College | Music

In Memory of Robert Scholz (1939-2021)

Robert Victor Scholz, Professor Emeritus of Music at St. Olaf College, died Sunday, February 21 at age 81 of Parkinson’s Disease. He had lived at the Cottage on Forest, Three Links, since late March, 2020.

Robert Scholz was born on November 19, 1939 in Chicago, Illinois, the younger of two sons of Edmund and Eleonore Scholz. Robert began piano lessons as a child, adding organ lessons in high school. He lived with his parents and older brother Richard in the family home on Marmora Avenue and attended Lutheran parochial schools until he moved to Minnesota to begin his collegiate studies at St. Olaf College.

While at St. Olaf, he was a tenor in the St. Olaf Choir under Olaf Christiansen and earned a Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude with a Music Education Major in 1961. After graduation, he began work on a Master’s degree at the University of Illinois followed by 2 years’ teaching at Campbell College in Buies Creek, North Carolina.  He then began doctoral studies in choral conducting at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.  Following the completion of his graduate studies, Robert began his tenure at St. Olaf College in 1968.

Upon his appointment to St. Olaf College in 1968, he led the Viking Chorus, the first-year male ensemble, and the St. Olaf Chapel Choir. Around 1972, he was the founding director of the Campus Choir, which would later become St. Olaf Cantorei. With the Chapel Choir, he presented a major choral-orchestral work each spring in collaboration with the St. Olaf Orchestra such as the Brahms Requiem, the Bach St. Matthew Passion, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and the Britten War Requiem. Both ensembles performed regularly at Sunday morning services in Boe Chapel and on various concerts throughout the academic year, including the St. Olaf Christmas Festival.

Besides directing these choirs on the campus, Robert taught voice lessons, choral conducting, and choral literature. He was an integral part in the planning of the annual Christmas Festival and spent many hours proofreading and editing the programs for that event, which he continued to do even after his retirement. He was also a prolific composer and arranger, and many of his works continue to be performed both at St. Olaf and around the country. He was one of the founding directors of the Male Chorus Festival in Minnesota, an event that continues to this day.

Dr. Bob, as he was affectionately called by his students, was considered a pastoral figure in the music department by both students and faculty. Over the course of his tenure, he touched the lives of many thousands of students. His light and clear tenor voice was a fixture in the hallways of the Christiansen Hall of Music, and many of his students went on to become members of the St. Olaf Choir and music teachers in their own right. Bruce Benson, pastor emeritus from St. Olaf, and one of Bob’s longest and dearest friends, said this of his friend, “Bob Scholz never gave in to the pressure of choosing between being a caring teacher or an excellent choral conductor; he achieved choral excellence by caring always about the whole lives of his students.  Bless him for that.”

Anton Armstrong, director of the St. Olaf Choir, said this of the man he called his “musical godfather.” “When I returned to St. Olaf in 1990 as faculty member in the Music Department and Conductor of the St. Olaf Choir, Bob was always a supportive colleague and friend.  He was perhaps the most “pastoral” colleague I’ve been blessed to know in my 30 years at St. Olaf College.  Bob was a model of the scholar/teacher/conductor who was also a gifted composer. Robert Scholz was the exemplary servant-leader as he nurtured thousands of students who had the privilege and joy of singing with him in the Chapel Choir, Viking Chorus and Campus Choir or being his private voice student or studying conducting with him during his years of faithful service to St. Olaf College.” Robert Scholz retired in 2005 after teaching at St. Olaf for 37 years.

Robert was a man of strong faith. He and Cora were members of St. John’s Lutheran Church since they moved to Northfield, and they attended services consistently even as his Parkinson’s progressed over the past several years.

He is survived by Cora, his wife of 56 years, his five children; Miriam Scholz-Carlson, Maria Boda (Stephan), David Scholz (Dara), Wendy Scholz, and Carol Smith (David), and 7 grandchildren; Helena, Anna and Eva Scholz-Carlson, Mae and Beno Boda, Luka Scholz, and Fiona Smith.  He is preceded in death by his parents and older brother Richard.

The family greatly appreciates the staff of The Cottages for all their care and kindness, and Lou Patrick for the years he lovingly cared for Bob at the house with the bright red door on St. Olaf Avenue.

A memorial service will be held  to celebrate his life on Friday, July 9 at 10:30am, at Boe Memorial Chapel, St. Olaf College. Doors will open to the public at 10:00am. If you are not able to attend in person, you may find it via streaming here:

Memorial contributions can be made to the Robert (Dr. Bob) Scholz Memorial Fund (c/o St. Olaf College, 1520 St. Olaf Ave., Northfield, MN, 55057, Att’n: Development Office) or to St. John’s Lutheran Church Music Fund, Northfield.