University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - May Commencement

Judith Buechner

Honorary Degree Recipient

Robert De Cormier
Doctor of Letters

Michael DubieAs a young man in New York City recovering from wounds sustained in Germany during World War II, Robert De Cormier was torn between a career in music or the labor movement. Fittingly, his passion for music and commitment to social justice became the two brightest threads woven into the fabric of his life’s work.

A gifted vocalist and musician from a young age, he enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music at a time when the social activism of postwar America was in its infancy. In the 1950s he met and performed with other young musicians who would become the legends of the American folk music movement, including Pete Seeger, Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, Woody Guthrie, and Harry Belafonte, with whom he still collaborates artistically and in mutual support of civil and human rights.

He always viewed his music as "way of uniting people, moving audiences with the music of great composers and using folk music to raise people’s consciousness to the cause of social justice."

One of his students as a young music teacher after graduating from Juilliard was the late Mary Travers, who came to prominence with the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, a group with which he would form a long-time professional relationship as music director.

A conductor and prolific composer and arranger, De Cormier has experience with a wide range of musical genres including classical, Broadway and folk music. This, together with his eagerness to explore the music of other cultures, led to his selection as Music Director of the New York Choral Society in 1970, a position he held for seventeen years. During that time, the Society’s Holiday Celebration with Peter, Paul & Mary became a popular holiday tradition and a successful PBS fundraiser across the country for many seasons. De Cormier remains New York Choral Society’s music director emeritus.

A Vermont resident for more than four decades, De Cormier is the co-founder and director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus, which has won unqualified praise from audiences and critics alike. He has also toured extensively as the founder and conductor of the Robert De Cormier Singers and the Vermont-based vocal ensemble Counterpoint.

Revered in the world of professional music for the range of his musical intellect and his use of music to lift the human spirit, he has served on the New York State Council on the Arts and the Choral Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts, and was presented the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts by the Vermont Arts Council. He has received two Lifetime Achievement Awards from New England Choral Arts and the New York Choral Society. In 2007 he was the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Middlebury College.

Last modified January 27 2012 04:17 PM