Robert J. Dvorak

From Wind Repertory Project
Robert J. Dvorak

Biography

Robert James Dvorak (3 October 1919, Chicago, Ill. - 22 July 2020, Houston, Tx.) was an American composer, conductor and educator.

At age 8, Dvorak's interest and introduction to music study was guided by Czech composer-arranger Frank Mulacek, who gave him piano lessons and exposed him to quality music literature. At 12 years of age, he began French horn lessons with Chicago conductor and brass instrument instructor, Karel Husa. Later he was tutored by Chicago Symphony players Josef Mourek, Max Pottag and Philip Farkas. During his high school years 1933-37, of greatest importance was music teacher Louis M. Blaha, a Czech who emigrated from Vienna in the 1920s. As director of orchestra and band music in the J. Sterling Morton High School and College in Cicero, Illinois, Blaha inspired his students as he introduced them to the music of the world’s great masters. In addition, he guided them in future pursuits. He encouraged Robert’s beginning music composition efforts and advised his application for a scholarship to the original Chicago Musical College Conservatory in downtown Chicago. It followed that young Dvorak was awarded a full scholarship in composition and theory to study with composer Max Wald.

It was an unexpected surprise when a career was offered with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with whom Robert had frequently played extra horn parts. However, at this time, August 1941, and after only three years of conservatory were completed, a call to military service subverted his goals. Following World War II, Master Sgt. Robert J. Dvorak returned to the Chicago Conservatory in 1946 and completed his bachelor and master degrees in composition and theory. For two years, he taught music appreciation and music theory at Wilson Junior College in Chicago.

Because of the Korean War, Dvorak was again called into military service, this time for three years. Second Lieutenant Robert Dvorak was appointed assistant bandmaster of the U.S. Military Academy Band at West Point, New York, under Captain Francis E. Resta. This special band, in addition to regular duties at academy functions, performed at prestigious ceremonies for American presidents, heads of foreign countries, ambassadors, generals, and members of Congress. Since preparations were already beginning for the West Point Academy's sesquicentennial year of 1952, Lt. Dvorak, along with a number of composers in America and abroad, was requested to write appropriate music for the band. Dvorak composed his second symphony, West Point Symphony, which is still performed by the U.S. Army.

After being honorably discharged at the end of 1952, Dvorak taught in the music department at Chicago Teachers College before becoming chair of the department of music at J.S. Morton College and High School in Berwyn/Cicero, Ill., from 1953 to 1980, when he retired.

Dvorak served two terms as president of the Illinois Music Educators Association and two terms as chairman of the Midwest Chapter of the International Society for Contemporary Music.

Throughout his teaching career, Dvorak continued composing music. His vocal solo, choral, orchestral, band and chamber music have been published by Summy-Birchard in Evanston, Ill., Carl Fischer in New York, Franco-Colombo in New York, and more recently by Alliance Publications, Inc. in Wisconsin.

In 1990, ten years after retiring from the Morton District, Robert moved to Texas to be close to his son and grandchildren, who were living in the Houston area. He continued to pursue his “passion,” composing meaningful music, and he found additional purpose participating in the establishment of the Czech Center Museum Houston (CCMH).

In addition to a life rich with accomplishments, he was also an accomplished raconteur (storyteller), an engaging speaker, and always a gentleman. He was awarded the Comenius Award by the CCMH for his unfailing zeal to keep his Czech heritage alive through education. He proudly passed on his heritage to his son, grandchildren, and anyone he met.

"I have been writing music since the age of 14, and for me it is a compulsion," Dvorak said. "I must continue to write. It is something I feel I have to do. Beginning on my 90th birthday, it is my goal to write one symphony each year until I am 100, so that I will have written a total of 12 symphonies."


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