An American chorus composer has died, aged 88

An American chorus composer has died, aged 88


norman lebrecht

November 17, 2014

James Erb was founding conductor of the Richmond Symphony Chorus, which he directed from 1971 to 2007.

He made terrific settings of the 110 Magnificats of Orlando di Lasso and is most widely known for choral versions of core Americana.

james erb

Holly Mulcahy, concertmaster of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, writes:

My fondest memories as a member of the Richmond Symphony were of Jim Erb and his family. During my first couple years I rented a room with the Erbs and they took me in as one of their family members. Winters would be warmed with and old recording of a symphonic great, a fire every night, with wood Jim chopped himself earlier in the day.

Jim and I bonded as fellow musicians and friends as we were both from Colorado, both huge fans of Bugs Bunny, and both fans of a good debate about music (I usually lost). Upon hearing I’d never heard of the great Beethoven work, Missa Solemnis, Jim went crazy, yelling “WHAT?! This cannot be!!!” and shoved 3 different CDs at me to go listen to immediately.

His passion for continual learning about and experiencing music was contagious for me. His drive to never stop writing about, performing, and listening was a good role model for all of us. I’m grateful to have called him a friend, mentor, and example. But like most musicians that pass, Jim will live on through the music he taught, wrote, and shared. May he rest in peace and may his love of music continue to be passed on and on…

Obit here.


  • William Safford says:

    Question: any relation to Donald Erb?

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    His arrangement of Shenandoah is unsurpassed- simply sublime.

    RIP James Erb

  • Richard Savage says:

    I was the tour leader on that 1971 European choir trip for which he made the arrangement of Shenandoah that went on to become such a best-selling staple of the repertoire. Jim Erb was both a brilliant musician and a truly inspiring educator – as generations of University of Richmond students lucky enough to know him will all readily testify. Ruht wohl.

  • Steven Edwards says:

    I had an extensive correspondence with Mr. Erb in the 1980s about his arrangement of Shenandoah. I had inquired how he wanted the word “Missouri” pronounced. He seemed to think that the question was odd. But he did volunteer that the arrangement had been inspired by Ligeti’s Lux Astern, and sent an extensive analysis of the Ligeti and description of how he had adapted those textures. A brilliant – and nice – guy.