F F Heath Jr. 12-30-1926 to 12-05-2008
About the blog:
Please feel free to share your memories with us about Fenno/Dad. Send your stories/memories to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will gladly post your letter, unless you indicate otherwise.
Thank you. Your letters bring us joy.
~Carol, Sarah, Lucy, Peggy, and Terry Heath
Sunday, December 7, 2008
I'm so sorry to receive your news about Uncle Fenno. I think it was a month ago when you first sent news that he was failing but it seems like just yesterday. It was great to hear that the whole family has been together, providing him (and each other) with the love & music that was his life.
My Mom always spoke so glowingly of Fenno. With the ease of playback available today, I'm sure if she were around now we'd be listening to the Yale Glee Club and the Whiffenpoofs every day. She unconditionally supported Art and my numerous sports interests. But I always considered her mentions of Fenno to be a way of telling us that she wished we were also interested in music beyond simply listening.
I looked forward to reading additions to the blog every day. Each entry provided some insight, and many made me wish I was a YGC alum. I even sent the link to our church choir director. He's been there over 20 years now, and I'm sure he will find some of the "Fenno-isms" to be useful as he works to get the choir to sound "presentable."
But with his lifetime love of music at work and at home, my mind's eye sees this scene when I think of him: wearing a bow tie, telling some goofy joke - - "An Englishman checks into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel..."
I consider myself fortunate to have sung in the Glee Club at about the time Fenno began to think this mixed chorus thing might actually work. I still remember a speech he gave at the end of our Christmas tour, in Chicago, in December 1972, about how proud he was of what the group had become. A couple of years later, Robert Shaw came to New Haven to conduct us in an Ives concert, as part of the University's commemoration of the Ives centenary. After the concert, the Glee Club officers went out for drinks with Fenno and Shaw. On the way back, Shaw said to Fenno: "Your successor will be a great man." At the time, we all scratched our heads about what he meant. ("What do your mean 'successor'? We think the genuine article is pretty great?") In the years since graduation, I've learned what Shaw meant. Fenno's successors have extraordinary talents of their own, but their success with the Glee Club has been in no small part because they have been able to follow in Fenno's footsteps in shaping a mixed-chorus tradition that is every bit as excellent, vibrant, and fun as the old one.
Finally, thank you to the Heath family for bringing us "into the tent" in this amazing blog. From the Glee Club picnics in your back yard at the beginning of each academic year, to Fenno's and Carol's extraordinary memory for Glee Clubbers who have graduated long ago, to allowing us to share in Fenno's final days, you've treated us like extended family, and we love you for it.
Ray Wells '75
Please accept my most heartfelt condolences. Fenno was a truly remarkable and inspiring man. The first time I met him was at my audition in 1982, as a nervous sophomore who was somewhat lacking in confidence. Going in to the audition, I was almost sure I wouldn’t make the Glee Club. Fenno’s encouraging words and his warmth out me immediately at ease and somehow I did well enough to get in. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Glee Club under Fenno. He had that memorable quality of being, at once, a perfectionist and a person of deep humanity and kindness. He was a legend that will be remembered always.
I will keep him and the rest of the family in my prayers.
Yale Glee Club 1982-85
As the daughter of a Yalie and a Glee Club member, I grew up singing "Bulldog Bulldog," " Bandalero," and innumerable other Yale songs. I heard stories of tours in South America and across the US, and I couldn't wait to join the traditions of the Glee Club when I came to Yale.
Although I was a member of the Glee Club during David Connell's tenure, Fenno's presence loomed large. In rehearsals, the watchful eyes of his portrait on the Hendrie walls encouraged us to work hard to make the key changes and dramatic shifts both correct and musical. In concerts, his presence on the balcony at Woolsey inspired us to greater heights. And even after I graduated, Fenno's continued presence and involvement in YGCA events showed me how possible it was to remain involved in the Glee Club for a lifetime. His presence and his music will be remembered and missed.
You are all in my thoughts and prayers.
yours in song,
Anne Geiger, TC '98
When I was in high school my dad took me to the Yale-Princeton Glee Club concert. He took great pleasure in pointing out how superior YCS was, singing beautifully and without music! I was still only 15 but after that concert I knew that there was only one school and one singing group I wanted to be a part of--Yale and the Yale Glee Club. Both were better than I could have ever imagined. Three years in Battelle Chapel Choir and two years in Glee Club--these defined much of my Yale experience, and laid a musical foundation for all the singing I have done after college. Fenno, you are loved by so many. You have touched our hearts and souls in such a meaningful and musical way. I am choking back tears as I write this. Peace be with you and your family.
Abby Tate Reynolds '
First of all, much love to you all, as always. Bobbsie sent me your family blog and it is great. I've been listening to Fenno's composition for voice and piano--"I will lift up mine eyes." Very beautiful.
For some reason I keep thinking of that very funny CD you made as a family with the pigs as stars. It was a great comfort to me when I was injured many years ago.What a marvelous bunch you are.
Life is terribly hard, but our love has to sustain us.
The sudden reality of the devastating news of Fenno, forwarded to me by our dear friend, Bruce McInnes, caught me entirely with shocked, unbelieving surprise! Regrettably, I had not been in touch with Fenno for several years, but always thought of him as advancing into very old age, still embodying the same enthused, spirited thoughts, expressions, and musical acumen which made him the much beloved figure at Yale and the world. My relationship with him centered mainly about our association in engineering and producing custom recordings for the Yale Glee Club, since as early as 1960 or '61 (a concert at Vassar, as I recall). He came to visit with me in Needham on an occasion or two, for editing or audition of our recordings. And when he graciously invited me to New Haven for discussion, or following a recording at Dwight or Woolsey, he always saw to it that I was his guest at Mory's, to wind up the afternoon in regal style. - I felt rather special, not being a 'Yalee!' And I was apprised early on, of his personal affection for a really 'good' cigar after one of his musical triumphs, and one time when planning to attend the club's performance at John Hancock Hall, in Boston, I did procure one of the finest cigars I could find in town, and stuck it into his jacket pocket after the concert, which he promptly unwrapped and lit up with great gusto, - the 'hell' with Boston's fire regs!
A life is no doubt measured by notable accomplishment in chosen endeavors, in which Fenno stands with the tallest. But perhaps more important, as I'm sure he would agree, are his family, and his legions of friends who gather with him now, in person, and in prayerful spirit and gratitude for his life and their place in it, made more meaningful for having been his true personal friend.
Sent with love, and sadness,
Robert A. Vogt
It may be that I have not seen Fenno more than once since I graduated from Yale in the turbulent year of 1969. However, my memories of the time I spent with him, and the influence he had on me are wonderfully vivid.
Not only did I sing in the Yale Glee Club and the SOB's, but I was a Music History major, and took conducting from Fenno. In addition, my scholarship job for two years was working in the Glee Club office. Weirdly, I ended up becoming a director of movies,television, and theatre, after a ten year career as an actor. There is never a day that I work in my craft that I don't exercise muscles that were first conditioned on the second floor of Hendrie Hall, in that wonderful rehearsal room. Singing in a group, with the rigor, discipline, concentration, and the spirit of cooperation engendered by Fenno, is an incredible life lesson; especially for life on a film set. The world would be a better place if everyone had the experience of being part of a group like the ones that Fenno magically created year after year. From the Football Medley, to "Mother of Men," to "Frostiana," to "In That Great Gettin' Up Mornin'," the music and the voices still ring in my ears. And if I close my eyes, I still see the elegance, grace, and spirit of the man who led us in song.
Thank you, Fenno.
All my love----
Sam Weisman '69
Yale Freshman Glee Club, Yale Apollo Glee Club, Battell Chapel Choir, Yale Glee Club Madrigal Singers
Society Of Orpheus and Bacchus
I will always remember Fenno as the first person who gave me a chance to sing in a school group. I used to sing in the kids’ choir, then graduated to being the youngest member of the adult choir in several churches. However, when I tried to join my high school choir, they said I couldn’t because I couldn’t sight read. I could read music and play piano and flute, but I couldn’t match notes without at least one listening time through the music. When I changed high schools for my senior year, I was so defeated by the previous rejection, that I didn’t even try. When I got to Yale and tried out for the Freshman Chorus (then directed by someone other than Fenno), the same thing happened again.
Finally, I tried out for the Glee Club with Fenno – he said he couldn’t understand why I didn’t get into the Freshman Chorus and welcomed me into the Glee Club, despite my lack of sight-singing expertise. Over the next three years as I sang under Fenno twice a week on serious (and some fun) music, I finally learned how to sight read. All I had needed was a chance and Fenno was the first person to give me that. In the 30+ years since I graduated from Yale, I have had the opportunity to sing for a Revels recording, for a performance of the Fauré Requiem as the soprano soloist for the Pié Jésu, and in numerous church choirs. I have been a tenor for Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, an alto for a chorus in Livermore, CA, and finally back to the soprano Fenno first placed me in. His custom of insisting the Glee Club sing in a mixed format gave me practice and confidence in holding my own among different parts which has never failed me. I make myself useful in my current choir by being able to learn the ATB parts as they practice, so that I can support or supplement as needed. We are very small – only about 10 members in my church choir – with a wide range of singing and sight-reading ability, so our rehearsal times are full of parts practice. Thus it can happen that on Sunday morning the choir director/organist notices one of the hymns has a descant, which she asks me to sing 30 minutes later! Again, what Fenno gave me in the Glee Club holds true – be willing to try to sing anything and when you practice sing even your mistakes loudly so the director can hear and correct any problems.
Fenno was kind and gentle, and demanding and fierce. He was teacher and guide and had a great sense of humor when the situation called for it, as well as the capacity for serious annoyance on occasion. I remember when the Glee Club and the Whiffenpoofs did a European tour the summer of 1977. When we got to Copenhagen, we were taken on a tour of the Tübingen beer plant and finished with a red carpet tasting room full of all the beers in all their variety of colors. The bottles were carefully stacked upright in several piles on each table with one or two bottles of orange juice and a few sodas in each pile. It was a measure of the self-respect the Glee Club had for their performances and their desire not to let Fenno down, that the juices and the sodas went very rapidly and much of the beer was untouched or people had just one. Following the tour, we were taken to the main city park and treated to a smorgebröt luncheon with beer in kegs. Again, the Glee Club people didn’t indulge much. The same could not be said for the Whiffenpoofs and Fenno was LIVID, when he had to deal with drunk Whiffs right before the concert was due to begin. I found out from another student, as Fenno gave no sign during our performance that anything was wrong. Besides – you could tell they were having a hard time as we watched during our intermission as they sang. I have no idea what Fenno said, but I know he was most angered by the way they were letting Yale down.
Another incident was during a winter tour, when the Glee Club was travelling from a concert in far western New York state to our final tour concert at the Yale Club in New York City. We occupied two tour busses, driving through a blizzard so bad that the only way to get through was for the busses to follow immediately behind the slowplows on the New York Turnpike. We ended up traveling through the night and when one bus broke down, we crowded as many from the second bus onto the one that could still drive. Of course, we made sure that Fenno got on, even though he was making noises about needed to stay with the students left behind. Some people managed to get up onto the luggage racks to try and nap, but no one got much sleep. We arrived at the Yale Club with just enough time to wash up and change before going on stage. There was a suggestion we not do the concert which was cried down by all. So, tired and rather hungry, the show went on. It wasn’t without its moments, though. One of the sopranos, who sang in the back row because she was so tall, fainted during a song, toppling forward into the two rows in front of her but sparing the very front row. She was caught and carried off stage by one of the basses, still singing his part as he disappeared into the wings! Fenno never batted an eyelash although he must have seen it, so we followed his cue and kept on singing as people picked themselves up off the risers and took up their parts and places again. I think it happened during one of the Yale football songs, which we knew so well we could sing them without our full attention.
That’s another thing Fenno taught me - With the exception of the Bach B Minor Mass, Fenno insisted our concerts be completely memorized. I have never stopped doing so in all the years since. It’s a great habit and I’ll always be grateful to the man who taught me and coached me during my years at Yale.
Goodbye, Fenno, and rest well.
Jodi H. Benson
I appreciate the demands and expectations of an excellent choir master known as Fenno Heath!
Sincerely, Thea Weiss Hayes (formerly Thea Weiss (graduated F&ES '81) and Thea Weiss Tarbet)
I just heard about Fenno's passing. I will have to take time to reflect and read the comments posted. It was a unique honor and privilege to be a member of his last class of the Yale Glee Club. I still remember that he had more energy and vitality than most of us "young" students. Comments like "F as in Fenno" ring clearly in my memory. He always challenged us to achieve our best, and his devotion and dedication will always remain an inspiration. May we always carry his energy with us.
Yale Class of 1994
G. Trevor Vietor
He exuded the joy and magic of making music together and has instilled that love in so many of us. As many have said, it’s impossible to find words to describe the profound impact he had on so many people. All we can do is to be grateful for being lucky enough to have known him and to say ‘thank you’ to his family for having shared him with so many of us.
One of my many fond memories is of simply watching the incredible energy he put into conducting every day, which always brought out the best in the group; even if you were tired or had an exam, how could you NOT give your all when Fenno was doing just that. I remember watching from the audience one time on a tour (while sick). Watching Fenno from behind -- kneeling on the ground to get the group to be pianissimo, and then jumping to the ceiling to get the group to be forte -- was in some ways more entertaining than listening to the glorious music that was being performed.
Fenno was larger than life and will live on forever in our hearts and in the glorious music he created. May he rest in peace.
Lots of love to Carol and the rest of the family.
Rita Helfand ’83
Well, we've lost a giant, haven't we. Fenno may have been small in stature, but in every other respect he was what a talented leader is all about. The worst thing about growing old is not that you wake up every morning experiencing pain or discomfort somewhere, or that you've come to realize that you have not lived up to your potential as a father, a husband, a friend, or in your chosen profession. No, the cruelest companion of aging is the irreplaceable loss of so many friends you have known throughout the years...friends you wish you had had more quality time with, time which would have enriched and broadened not only your personal relationship, but added substance, creativity and wonderment to a world often lacking in all of the above. Happily such people leave memories that warm the heart, and which leave those left behind with a greater sense of community, a more urgent desire to be available and empathetic to those we love as friends and family. So here's to Fenno, the giant !
Dwight "Froggy" Townsend, Yale and Whiffenpoof '55
Denis McNamara, '91
Whiffenpoof 1973, Society of Orpheus and Bacchus and sometimes Yale Glee Club Impostor
letting everyone share our memories in this way. If I may add a few
more in addition to the lines I offered last week:
I loved how Fenno would begin "'Neath the Elms." Just a little flick
of the wrist in our direction--"Go!" As if to say: I gave you all the
tools, and now it's your job. Don't worry, I'll help. But you lucky
people get to do most of it.
Singing, since Yale, has remained my biggest hobby--in 25 years I've
never been without an opportunity to raise my voice in the company of
others, and owe much of this addiction to my Glee Club experience.
I've had some excellent conductors, but can honestly say that none
came close to Fenno for the passion and drive to excellence he managed
to instill in us all, always with good humor and the reminder that
this was, above all, fun. From Fenno I learned that a well-lived life
must have two often-overlapping parts: singing, and everything else.
I spent an hour last Friday afternoon reading the beautiful words on
this website and then, as usual, went to Friday evening services at my
syangogue. I belong to a congregation where prayer is always in the
form of music--they subscribe completely to Fenno's exhortation that
there's too much talking going on. But as I walked in, a little after
6:00 pm, my heart was heavy with the loss I knew this world would soon
bear, and I wondered how I could sing of the joy that the Sabbath
brings. Then I heard eveyone's voices in harmony around me, and
realized that if I learned one thing from Fenno it was that when given
the opportunity to sing, take it. The outcome would always be good and
healing. I bet Fenno was standing in front of the heavenly choir at
that very moment and telling them the same thing.
--Harriet Goren '83
I am deeply sorry to hear of Fenno's death. We've been thinking about you every day, and hoping that this monumental and sad life event was happening in the easiest possible way for you and for Fenno. And indeed it sounds as if he slipped away gently and painlessly, with those who have been so devoted and loving nearby.
I know that you set the standard for caring, Carol. I wish you peace and acceptance and rest after these long and stressful days of anxiety.
At Plainfield, Uncle Fenno was always one of my favorite adults - to a child, he seemed to exist in another world than the one the other grown-ups inhabited: he was funny, light-hearted, and irreverent about things other grown-ups seemed to take very seriously; he never once tried to get us to go pick lettuce from the garden, wash out root beer bottles or go to sleep. (He was, however, always the grown-up dispatched to the McClean's back yard to get us to come down off the trampoline; I loved his wisecracking while he let us jump on and on and on.) I'm grateful for the chances I had to get to know Fenno better after I grew up - especially during the Heath pilgrimage to the redwood trees that he led like a true patriarch, basking in the luxuries of the Claremont Hotel and telling stories about the glee club in the silence of Muir Woods. He was still funny, still totally engaged in music, and still absolutely charming.
All my love goes out to you today, Carol, and to Sarah, Peggy, Lucy and Terry. Fenno's passing is a true loss, for which you have our deepest condolences.
Much much love,
Gay Auerbach, Fenno's Niece
I just wanted you to know how deeply touched I have been by Fenno, Carol and the Heath family. Alas I had actually forgotten how profound my YGC experience had been for me. (Surgical residency seemed to have burned out all trace of song in me). But your effect came back to me in two rather jarring moments: the first of which was during these last 3-4 days upon hearing of your final journey. The other instance was upon the death of my father in 2003. He had a love of the Brahms Requiem, and I would play it around the house while we prepared for his funeral. I poignantly remember the phrase "Holle, vo ist dein sieg" [Hell, were is thy victory] playing, and remembering Fenno's direction of that particular movement. He would simply raise his arms, spread them wide, and just let us SING! In 2003 it brought me to tears, and today, it does so again. I play it now, and just see you, spreading your arms and I just want to SING.
True, I left the world of singing after leaving Yale. But your impression upon me never did. You took me (and others like me - people who never sang, or never thought they could) and led us on a journey into a world, a tradition, and a new joy. I owe you so much. The people in my operating rooms wonder why I sing so often and so vociferously. They ain't heard nuthin' yet!
Thank you. God Speed Fenno. God Bless the entire Heath family.
Stage manager and former cross-dressing yodeller
I spent the day hosting the Michigan School Vocal Music Association Region C Honors Choir, 180 of the best choral singers in south eastern Michigan. I was turning off the lights in the auditorium at the same time Fenno passed away.
Three of my students were selected to sing with the state honors choirs in January, they will be numbers 312,313 and 314 in my 34 year career as a public school choral director.
Cherry is conducting the 7th, 8th and 9th grade SATB state honors choir next year. Being elected to the honor by a vote of all of the school choral directors in Michigan.
Our daughter sang with Red, Hot and Blue, Whim'n'Rhythm as an undergraduate, JE '03, and is working on a Phd in Biology at Yale. Our son sang with the Longfellows at Bowdoin, turning down mother Yale so he could sing and play hockey like his father did at Yale. He was also an all american hockey player at Bowdoin.
Cherry and I met on a Glee Club tour in the fall of 1969. We were married in October of 1971. Cherry has been a public school choral director just as long as I but with a year off for both children so only 32 years :-)
I can't imagine how many of us there are that owe a large part of our joy, our lives, and our living to Fenno.
God bless you all.
Ken Westerman, TD '71, Whiffenpoof, Spizzwink and proud member of the Yale
I remember Fenno with great affection and gratitude. I was in the class of '56 and was proud to sing in the Freshman Glee Club. I had to turn down the Glee Club in sophomore year because of an overwhelming schedule -- engineering major, six days a week classes and labs; NROTC, 20% of my courses; musical director of the Dukes Men; scholarship job; and so forth. In four years I had only one elective and chose a harmony course, in the graduate school as it turned out, a surprise to me. To rescue me with the Dukes Men, I audited a course Fenno taught in Choral Conducting. If I'd spent as much attention and time to thermodynamics as I did to Fenno's course, I might have graduated /cum laude/.
The big thrill in my Yale days was Fenno's asking me to serve as the Glee Club's critic at concerts. In senior year I sang with the Whiffenpoofs, as he had a few years earlier. As our Whiffs sang at all the Glee Club concerts in those days, I was always available in the audience. Fenno asked me to listen to the Glee Club in each concert and give him feedback. What pieces worked? How was the balance? What might he and the Glee Club do differently?
Wow! For a 21 year-old to serve as the informal, confidential critic of Fenno's work -- what an unprecedented privilege in my life! He listened to my comments. I think they meant something to him. He certainly convinced me that they did.
In later years Fenno brought the Glee Club to Pittsburgh where I was able, as president of the local Yale club, to introduce him to an enthusiastic audience. Once again, what a privilege for me! The concerts -- Saturday night and Sunday morning -- were superb.
I will miss Fenno greatly.
Gib Durfee, '56e
Ah, those were definitely the days.
In connection with what Matt Ringel just said, and what a number of others have already said -- I was listening to this recording of "Fern Hill" on my computer, with its incredibly limited sound system (and no external speakers), and as it came to the end, I turned the volume up as high as it could go, and I could still barely hear the voices. And as the ending continued, I turned to my boyfriend and said, "We're still singing, you know." (I did say "we," even though I know that wasn't my generation singing on that particular recording!) And after another moment I said, "We're still singing." And then again a moment later. And then at long last I turned to him and said -- and he understood, because I have shared so much of this blog with him -- "How do they do it?"
-- Karen Sherman '88, Back Row Alto, who could never shut up back then and can't seem to shut up now!
So many have written about the Glee Club and the wonderful times we had with Fenno, singing classics, Yale Songs, spirituals, and his big settings of "Death Be Not Proud" and "Fern Hill," but not many have written about his work at Battell.
I was lucky enough to sing in the Battell Choir under Fenno for my four years at Yale as well, and through it, acquired a taste for picking up a piece, learning it quickly, rehearsing it during the week with typical Fennovian elan, singing it on Sunday, and moving on. He had a fairly reliable cycle of anthems that he would use throughout the year - the first section of Brahms' "Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein rein Herz" ["Create in me, o God, a clean heart"] for the first Sunday of the year; Schutz' "Erhore mich", a plea for Reformation Sunday; "For unto us a child is born" for the last Sunday before Christmas break, etc. Like Glee Club, it was extremely satisfying but in a totally different way from the fun of Glee Club, and I miss the challenge of that experience as much as I miss the fun of Glee Club.
As winter came on, I recall Fenno would often give us his setting of a poem by a friend of his, Alexander Winston, "A Winter Prayer":
The Lord Came down on a snowy day.
White, O, white He lay.
The trees knelt down
In the fold of his gown
To silently, silently pray.
In spring, the Lord walked all around.
Stirred seed, spread sod o'er leaf and ground.
Fell with the rain and rose again.
Green root, green shoot, oh green he strode.
So kneel I by thy branches in the snow.
Let all my branches down and pray to know
That from each bough so barren now
A shoot of grace, a sprig of faith will grow.
This piece was nowhere near the size of "Fern Hill" or "Death Be Not Proud," but it had many of Fenno's hallmarks - his deeply lyrical atonality, with snowflakes falling seemingly randomly but coming to rest logically at the start in the organ accompaniment, a breathless setting of "white" I can't begin to reconstruct, vibrant fifths on "green he strode", and at the end another deep open fifth in the accompaniment to express hope and faith. It always got to me because it was not big, but it did everything it needed to, a small perfect Fenno watercolor vs. the sweeping impastoed oils the Glee Club sang.
Part of what makes it hard for me to accept that he is gone is the fact we knew Fenno as a man in his prime, who strode green and vibrant (NOT dying as in "Fern Hill") like those fifths, at the heart of our musical experience of Yale. It is hard to think of him as someone Time has finally taken from us - I can't let go of the absurd notion that he should somehow be the open fifth at the heart of Yale, a banked fire eternally ready for us to come back and sing again for him at the next Reunion. I think about the idea of both snow and music as forms of grace (reminded of grace again by "Es ist das Heil" on the 125th tape), and that the chance to make music and attain some kind of grace was always possible with Fenno on the podium. [I'm not much of a believer in a benevolent deity or organized religion - but I always believed in God when I sang.]
I have a young family, and it is difficult to find time for choral music, but now that Fenno is gone, and with it the chance ever again to breathe in and then exhale a little grace under his direction, I feel a new urgency - because of what he showed me is possible, and what my time with Fenno reminds me of - I must find a chorus - soon. And I find that the years of memories - which everyone who has posted has helped to bring back - are now a humming fifth inside me, expressive of the hope that through music, those shoots of grace will grow again.
[If you miss Fenno and don't now have a chorus or choir - find one - I'll bet Fenno would want you to.]