The finest legacy of Fenno is his pursuit of excellence, which has been ingrained in generations of Yale singers and, through performance of his arrangements and compositions, in generations past and to come of choral singers everywhere. On occasion he was demanding, arrogant, uncompromising, disgusted and impatient, but the chorus generally improved as a result – and when we walked on stage in white tie and tails we knew we were prepared by the best and could move the souls of our audiences. From the opening dissonances of his setting of Donne’s “Wilt Thou Forgive” to the closing chords of his “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven” there was no doubt these were distinctive Heath creations, with his “tasteful modulations.” Another Fenno trait that comes to mind: though, as a bass, I long felt he favored tenors like himself, but over time it was clear he wrote good things for us – and you never wanted to sharp or flat a Heath piece, because he used every note every singer could provide.
For spine-tingling moments I recall, during the YGC’s 1963 European Tour, singing Bruckner’s “Christus Factus Est” on the stairs to the crypt of Bruckner’s own church in Austria. I have sung it many times since, but have never forgotten what 70 singers in sync with each other can do in the right space! Fenno prepared us, conducted us, and inspired us.
He contributed, as did Marshall Bartholomew and others before him, to a Yale tradition possibly unique in collegiate choral music: a core repertoire of Yale songs that have stayed in repertoire across generations. As freshmen, we were expected to learn a body of songs and to be able to sing them anytime, anywhere – which we often did, with enthusiasm, and still do in bars and train stations and public spaces all over the world. At Yale Singing Dinners graduates from the 1930’s through the current year can share a common heritage – many of us without referring to printed music because the legacy is intact and ingrained. This made the Yale Glee Club Associates a realistic link across the years and ensured the Yale Alumni Chorus would be a success from the start. Wherever Yale choral singing is heard, Fenno Heath is in the air and our hearts.
John T Hanold 1964
62 Prospect St
Turners Falls MA 01376-1305
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