Robert "Boss" Cutler laughs during a visit with Lehigh choral arts students in July 2004.
Sometimes when a student comes in to see him, Andy Knoll '73, the Fisher Professor of Natural History at Harvard, is tempted to say, "Come back at another time."
But then he thinks of Bob Cutler, the man Knoll and several generations of Lehigh students called "Boss."
"I hear Boss Cutler's voice in the back of my mind and I feel that the only form of debt repayment I have for the Boss is to do for students of the next generation what he did for me," Knoll says. "And that is to take time to listen."
There are hundreds of students like Knoll who were deeply touched by their years singing under Boss Cutler, professor of music and director of the Glee Club from 19541979. Cutler passed away at age 90 on Aug. 28, 2004.
"When I arrived, I became Bob's student," says Steven Sametz, director of Choral Arts. "He showed me the ropes at Lehigh, was continually supportive, and in his own gracious way set me on a path that has lasted quite a while here at Lehigh. None of the success of choral arts at Lehigh would have been possible without the Boss' legacy of excellent teaching and collegiality."
Cutler started many traditions in Lehigh Choral Arts continued by Sametz, a significant one being annual trips to Europe and Puerto Rico.
For more on the 130th anniversary of Choral Arts, read Choral Arts Remix
The depth of love and respect for Boss Cutler was evident at Cutler's 90th birthday party in November 2003, when so many returned to Bethlehem to say thanks to the man who was so generous with his time, his friendship, and his love of music. (For more on Cutler's party, click here
"It was the Boss who opened up the vistas that have enriched my life," says Stuart Chen '79. "You just knew his heart was overflowing with love for us in the Glee Club."
Blake Heffner '72 says, "Boss was like a father to us, and a brother, and a mentor, and a friend. He is the reason many of us found a home at Lehigh. The glee club was our family."
In a phone interview following his party, Cutler humbly expressed his gratitude. "I was moved to tears. I was friends with my students, but I didn't realize I was influencing their lives, except through music. At the birthday party was when this realization came to me. So it was worth living to 90."
Less than two months before he passed away, Cutler met with Sametz and two choir members, Tyler Tate and Kate Rooth, to share memories of his days at Lehigh.
"While I was at Lehigh I tried to bring the kind of music that was worthwhile to the students, music that was worth singing," Cutler said that day. "Most of the pieces we sang were masses, many by Mozart and Haydn. We didn't treat them as religious works, but as works with sacred texts."
Cutler also stressed the importance of music. "Music is such a wonderful, powerful, beautiful, moving, all-embracing experience. I'm so glad I spent my life in music."
Then he shared a memory from his childhood: "I played the piano fairly decently as a little boy and I remember my mother showing me off to a friend of hers and saying,'Of course, I would never want him to be a professional musician ...'"
Since he took over the position 25 years ago, Sametz has built on the strong foundation Cutler laid for choral arts at Lehigh.
"The tradition of Lehigh choral singing is strong. Boss was such an important part of that tradition," Sametz says. "He touched us all with his warmth, humor, and genuine friendship. He will be missed."
The Cutler-Sametz Choral Arts Endowed Scholarship Fund has been established to attract and retain exceptional student-singers who will carry on Lehigh's strong choral tradition. All contributions to this fund can be sent to the Development Office.
Lehigh Alumni Bulletin