Robert Scholz had a passion for music, learning to play the piano as a child and developing his voice — a light and clear tenor — as his instrument of choice.

As a professor of music at St. Olaf College, he dedicated his career to helping young people develop their musical talents. He was also a prolific composer and arranger, whose works are performed at St. Olaf and around the country.

"He really enjoyed his teaching. He loved the young people and wanted to help them grow to be good musicians and caring, compassionate people," said his wife, Cora. "He was never a choir director who was testy with his singers. He was gentle and caring and loving."

After a battle with Parkinson's disease, Scholz died Feb. 21 in Northfield. He was 81.

Robert Victor Scholz was born Nov. 19, 1939, in Chicago, the second son of Edmund and Eleonore Scholz. He attended Lutheran parochial schools and it was there he was formally introduced to music.

"There was a choir director who really sparked his interest," Cora said.

He learned to play the piano and the organ. After graduating from high school, he studied at St. Olaf College, singing tenor in the St. Olaf Choir and earning a bachelor of arts in music education in 1961. He met Cora, also a music major, at St. Olaf and they married in 1964.

Scholz earned a master's degree at the University of Illinois. He taught for two years at Campbell College in Buies Creek, N.C., before completing his doctorate in choral conducting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He then returned to St. Olaf in 1968 where he taught, composed and directed choirs for nearly four decades until his retirement in 2005.

Positions he held included director of the Campus Choir and director of the Chapel Choir. Scholz formed the first-year male ensemble, Viking Chorus, in 1972. He was one of the founding directors of the Male Chorus Festival in Minnesota.

Scholz also taught voice lessons, choral conducting and choral literature. His colleagues say Scholz, called Dr. Bob on campus, was known for his compassion and devotion to his students and his fellow professors.

"Bob Scholz never gave in to the pressure of choosing between being a caring teacher or an excellent choral conductor; he achieved choral excellence by caring always about the whole lives of his students," said Bruce Benson, pastor emeritus at St. Olaf.

Anton Armstrong, conductor of the St. Olaf Choir, first met Scholz as a student. Armstrong later returned to St. Olaf as a professor and worked with Scholz for decades.

"For 46 years, he's been my musical godfather. He was a man I could go to about any issue in music," Armstrong said. "He would help us to be better versions of ourselves."

Scholz also nurtured that love of music at home. All five of his children played the violin, viola or cello while in school.

"There was a lot of music-making in our house," Cora said. "Bob was chief accompanist for them. He played the piano for them while they practiced."

He also fostered a sense of adventure in his children. On one of his sabbaticals, the family toured Europe in a van.

The couple were members of St. John's Lutheran Church in Northfield. He is survived by Cora, his wife of 56 years; his five children, Wendy Scholz of Iowa City, Iowa, David Scholz of Chico, Calif., and Miriam Scholz-Carlson, Maria Boda and Carol Smith, all of Minneapolis; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will take place at a later date.

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804