It is with great sadness that Carla and I hear of Fenno’s illness and passing. As you know, our association over many years has been very important to us. In 2005 I wrote a letter of appreciation to Fenno, and he graciously wrote back to me saying that it was the best letter he had ever received. That made my day! If you are so inclined, I thought you might like to share that letter with your family at this time. Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
Carla and Dick Wilde
Enclosure: Letter to Fenno dated 28 February 2005
I have just turned 71 years old, and it is time for me to acknowledge what you, the Yale Glee Club, singing at Yale and our subsequent experiences together have meant to me over my lifetime.
As a youngster growing up in WWII, I decided early on to become an aeronautical engineer. However, in 1948, my dad, who was a chemical company VP in North Haven, received two tickets to the Yale broadcast of “Songs From New England Colleges.” We sat in Hendrie Hall (my first time there), and the Yale glee Club of 1948 stood on risers against the west wall. I had never heard such powerful, precise and moving singing in my life. I decided right there, that I would try for Yale and for the glee club, even though it meant giving up aeronautical engineering for mechanical engineering. While I didn’t know it at the time, you must have been singing to me in that group. Do you remember that broadcast?
I entered Yale with the class of 1955 in the fall of 1951 and tried out for the Freshman Glee Club. I didn’t make it, but Fred Pratt welcomed me into the Freshman Chorus. Meanwhile, my love of sacred music led me to the Battell Chapel Choir and Luther Noss. I was one of only two freshmen in the choir, and I loved that group. In the five years I sang there, I heard the finest organ liturgical music played on the brand new Holtkamp organ, sang wonderful sacred music, and heard legendary preachers, including Paul Tillich, the Niehbur brothers, Bill Coffin, Harry Emerson Fosdick and others. That was the beginning of a nearly continuous run of church choir singing that I am still enjoying.
I tried out for the varsity club in sophomore year, but didn’t make it. That year, Fred Pratt took a fellowship in Europe. Meanwhile, I was having great academic problems with math, which affected my whole engineering program, and at the end of that year I flunked out. However, Dean Robley told me to work for a year and take night school courses, which I did. Working in New Haven, I was available to Luther Noss for the chapel choir, and he allowed me to sing and to get paid. This was particularly important to me because my dad was having severe financial problems. I was on my own from that time on, including future college expenses. I returned to Yale the following autumn with the class of 1956, paying for that year with my earnings from my year of outside work and working in the medical school as a machinist. Soon after my return, we heard that Fred Pratt had died of leukemia. I cut Saturday classes and joined a group of Yale friends to sing at his service in Memorial Church at Harvard. On the bus trip up, I learned Randall Thompson’s Alleluia, which I have never forgotten.
Junior year I tried again for the varsity, and didn’t make it. However, Pete Westermann, whom I had gotten to know in the Battell Chapel Choir, invited me to sing in the Apollo, which I did and enjoyed. Senior year I tried again for the varsity, and you let me in. I think I was the last person admitted. I enjoyed that year very much, and it was so important to me that I quit my outside job to make time to sing. Meanwhile, I borrowed the cost of my entire senior year from a local bank, for which my employer for the year I was out of school cosigned the loan. Highlights for me were learning the Hindemith Requiem, which retuned my ears for all time to the dissonance of 20th century music, and our trip around the United States that summer. Three memorable impressions from that trip were that people all over the United States were basically the same (I didn’t begin to understand regional differences until my much later travels with the space program). Also, learning the Mormon hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints” while flying from Denver to Salt Lake City, and looking down and trying to imagine what crossing that territory by wagon must have been like in the 1840’s. And then to sing that hymn in the Mormon Tabernacle to the Tabernacle Choir! I still relate that experience to people. And lastly, singing the Cowell Hymns and Fuging Tunes and the Martinu Field Mass at Tanglewood. Henry Cowell and I conversed for about 15 minutes, and I really appreciated his spending that time with me.
Well, I met my objectives: I got my engineering degree from Yale and I sang with the Yale Glee Club! However, I didn’t realize that was only the beginning. You invited me to sing with the University Glee Club, and we sang together for several years in the United Church Choir. During those “New Haven” years, I built two stereo systems for you, one for your Hendrie Hall office and one for your Sheffield St. home. Those were fun projects for me. I custom designed the speaker enclosures to match the characteristics of the speakers, and I learned a lot about acoustics from those projects. But more important to me was the boost you gave to my confidence by being an already an eminent person who trusted my engineering judgment to build something of value for you. I also remember with great pleasure your inviting me back in 1957 to sing the Bach B Minor with Connecticut College, and later to sing the second and third sections of the Messiah with the Litchfield County Choral Union at Norfolk. Those pieces still reside in my repertoire. You also invited me to join the Glee Club European tour in 1958, but I had to refuse because Carla and I were getting married and she did not want to share our honeymoon with 80 other guys! I finally got to take a Yale overseas singing trip in 1998 when the YAC went to China. Carla and I celebrated our 40th anniversary on that trip.
Fenno, I could go on and on, about glee club singing dinners, reunions, Heath family musicales in New Hartford, and YCOB festivals in Concord and Milton. But you get the idea. You admitted me to a very select and prestigious organization that has formed a significant part of my adult identity and has given me a lifetime of pleasure and satisfaction. It has also opened some amazing doors. Let me cite an example. In 1990 I was part of the first US engineering delegation to visit our counterparts in the Soviet space program. We were in Moscow visiting “Nauka” (“science” in Russian). They built the life support equipment aboard the Russian Mir Space station. Imagine the scene: we are in a hunter green and white conference room in a really grubby and run down factory in downtown Moscow, with a plaster bust of Lenin glowering down at us. A long table has been set with water and fruit, and we Americans are on one side, and the Russians are lined up in a row on the other side. After the formalities, no one knows what to say. After what seems like an embarrassingly long time, a Russian points to my Yale Glee Club key on my tie bar, and asks through his interpreter, “What is that?” I answer through my interpreter that as an undergraduate I was privileged to sing with the Yale University Glee Club. He replies that while in medical school in Leningrad, he had established the singing society there. That breaks the ice. We talk about choral music, and the rest becomes history. (Re Barty: the world needs less talking and more singing) I subsequently became the first US engineer to go aboard a Mir space station. There was a second flight unit used for training the cosmonauts at Star City. Our trip to Russia led ultimately to the US government’s inviting Russia to join the International Space Station program, and I subsequently led the effort to integrate their Orlan (Eagle) space suit into the space station. As you know, the Russian ability to resupply the station after the loss of the Shuttle Columbia has been absolutely critical in keeping that program alive. Over the years, my Russian colleagues and I have written several joint papers for international presentation, and recently we have each contributed to books about the development of our respective countries’ spacesuits. In 2001 YAC sang in Moscow, and I invited about 30 Russian friends to hear us in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. Joining my love of singing with the international space program has been very special for me.
This has been a long letter, but you and I have known each other for a long time, too. Thank you for being a teacher, inspiration and friend for more than 50 years.
Dick Wilde, 56E
F F Heath Jr. 12-30-1926 to 12-05-2008
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Thank you. Your letters bring us joy.
~Carol, Sarah, Lucy, Peggy, and Terry Heath