Robert L CowlesProfessor of Music

Joined faculty in 1992

D.M., Indiana University
M.M., The New England Conservatory of Music
B.A., Macalester College

Contact Information

Gearan Center for the Performing Arts 306Phone (315) 781-3404

Scholarly Interest

Contemporary choral music
Choral music of Estonia and Finland 
Artistic Director, Seneca Camerata
Music of the baroque

Courses Taught

Introduction to Music Theory
Tonal Theory and Aural Skills I and II

Musical Ensembles Directed

HWS Colleges Chorale
HWS Colleges Cantori


Member, American Choral Directors Association
Member, International Federation of Choral Music

International Professional Experience

Guest conductor of Finnish chamber choirs: Murtusointu, Audite, Näsin Ääni, Gloria
Fulbright Scholar in Finland; teaching/conducting at the Sibelius Academy, 2014-15
Guest conductor of Estonian chamber choir: Estonia seltsi segakoor
Adjudicator at Hong Kong Music Schools Festival, 2005
Fulbright Scholar in Estonia; teaching/conducting at the Estonian Academy of Music, 2001-02


Robert Cowles is a professor of music and chair of the department of music at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where since 1992 he has directed the choral ensembles and taught music theory and conducting. He is also co-director of the chamber vocal ensemble Mysterium, a Rochester-based professional chamber choir that had its inaugural performances in 2021.

Cowles has been a Fulbright Scholar twice, once in Finland, where he taught at the Sibelius Academy, and once in the Republic of Estonia, he taught at the Estonian Academy of Music. He has continued to have professional affiliations in the Baltic and nordic regions, including  bringing choirs on two occasions to participate in the famed Estonian Song Festival.
Prior to his time directing Mysterium, Cowles was artistic director of Seneca Camerata and, for nearly two decades, the Syracuse Vocal Ensemble, which under his leadership garnered a reputation for innovative programming and superb choral artistry. He has guest lectured for the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and Eastman School of Music and has presented conducting master classes at the Sibelius Academy of Music in Helsinki, Finland. He has guest conducted a variety of chamber choirs in Finland as well. Elsewhere he has adjudicated music competitions, including at the Hong Kong Schools Music Festival, and his musical expertise has brought him to Cuba, where he coached in rehearsal the renowned professional chamber choir Exaudi. As a singer he has performed with elite choral ensembles such as the Dale Warland Singers, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and the Eastman-affiliated ensemble Voices.
In addition to his lengthy tenure at HWS, Cowles has held choral faculty positions at Minnesota State University Moorhead and Wake Forest University. He holds a doctorate from Indiana University School of Music, a masters from New England Conservatory of Music, and a bachelor of arts from Macalester College.

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