As last night's dress rehearsal stretched on, and students began to lose their focus and chatter when we needed quiet, I heard myself saying, with a grin, "I love you. Now shut up." This was not the first time I've said these words to a group of students who both thrill me and drive me berserk. I had always thought the words were mine, but today I read them on this blog and learned that they were Fenno's, lodged deep somewhere in my musical soul. Once, many years ago, they must have been directed at me and my rambunctious singing friends, but it's only now that I recognize how real the sentiments were. Like a new mother who suddenly discovers the depth of love her own parents must hold for her, it is only when we become teachers (conductors, directors) ourselves that we learn how deeply our own mentors cared for us. Students come and go, and are replaced every year with a fresh batch of potential, but the connection is deep nonetheless.
Fenno, you were probably around the age I am now when I came into your office and challenged you to take me on as your first female assistant, the first young woman to direct the Freshman Chorus. I may have been frightened and full of self-doubt, but I know that I presented myself as a cocky know-it-all who deserved to be taken seriously. The temptation to put me in my place must have been enormous. Instead, you treated me with respect and decency, giving me the freedom to experiment and learn from my mistakes. You gave me free reign and support with the freshmen, and let me conduct the Glee Club in a complex Bach motet on our tour of Central America, though prudence would have urged you to give me something requiring less musical maturity. (I wish I could find the news clipping from one of the countries we visited, with a photo and caption which must have galled you as much as it amused you: a photo of me conducting the Glee Club, captioned with YOUR name, misspelled: "Seno Health". What made it even worse - "seno" means "breast" in Spanish!)
When I was at Yale I probably felt more connected to your daughter Lucy, with whom I played viols, then I did to you. So full of my recent discovery of early music, I didn't fully recognize the gifts you gave me or acknowledge your generous mentorship. Last night, as your words came out in rehearsal, I was reminded once again of the deep and lasting effect you have had on me as a teacher and musician. Thank you, Fenno, for what you have given to so many countless young musicians - more than we ever realized.
Sarah Mead, '75