Lorna Cooke de Varon, a world renowned choral conductor, was raised in a musical household in Chicago. Her mother was a church organist, and de Varon learned how to play classical piano, while teaching herself jazz during her youth. While at Wellesley, de Varon majored in music and sang in the choir. After graduating, she was accepted into a graduate program at Harvard and worked as an assistant conductor for the Radcliff Choral Society under G. Wallace Woodward, the director of the Harvard Glee Club.
De Varon joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory in 1947, where she served as the director of choral activities until 1988. Many of the choral performances that she prepared are documented on recordings by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and she took her choral ensembles to numerous premieres worldwide. She remained at the NEC to direct an alumni ensemble called the Conservatory Camerata. She also served as the conductor of the Longy Chamber Singers at the Longy School of Music until 2005. She has continued to work with a group of singers from Longy who call themselves the De Varonistas.
Lorna Cooke de Varon has been a significant force in opening up opportunities in the choral world to women. Having entered the choral field during World War II, she says, “the men were all going into the army, and the young Harvard guys were not interested in being a conductor.” She was also the only female student of Robert Shaw at Tanglewood. De Varon conducted her farewell concert with the Camerata in May 2006.
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