Tribute to Fredrick Fennell

In every musician’s background there is some teacher who showed us the right path, gave us an example and trained us to play as beautifully as possible. In my life and career and the formative period of countless musicians for the passed 50 years, Fredrick Fennell was clearly that teacher. All of us, whose lives he influenced so profoundly, were deeply saddened by the news of his passing on December 7 at 90 years.

Before I ever met Dr. Fennell, the Eastman Wind Ensemble was a sonic icon, which I dreamed someday I might become a member. In 1955 I met Dr fennel for the first time at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan and auditioned for him to enter the Eastman School of Music; in September 1956 my dream came true.

For the next 5 years I played in the Eastman Wind Ensemble. During this time we learned the art and techniques of ensemble playing and we learned them at a level that would prepare us for any kind of playing we would encounter in the working musical world. Even today, almost 50 years later, I can listen to the recordings we made during my 5 years of Eastman Wind Ensemble membership and hear what an extraordinary ensemble Fredrick Fennell had developed.

Two weeks ago I was in Hiroshima, Japan conducting the Elizabeth University of Music Wind Ensemble and as I rehearsed I was frequently conscious that I was using the rehearsal techniques the Dr Fennell exemplified a half-century before. They worked just fine.

But Fredrick Fennell was much more to the students whose lives he influenced; he cared deeply about the well being of his students far beyond the ensembles he conducted. There are countless stories of Dr. Fennell coming to the aid of students who were suffering through difficult times.

In September 1962 I left my 6 years in Rochester and the Eastman School of Music and Moved to Amsterdam, Holland, to play with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Although this move was exciting and playing with the Concertgebouw Orchestra was a wonderful experience, I quickly entered a painful period of deep homesickness or put more accurately, Eastman sickness. Somehow Dr. Fennell had heard of my nostalgic suffering and I soon began receiving letters from him helping and supporting me through this difficult time; he was a one-man support group. Quickly, with his help, I recovered and also became profoundly aware of the dimension of Fredrick Fennell’s kindness.

The last time I saw him was at the annual Yamaha Music Camp in Hamamatsu, Japan. Just as in the fifties, he radiated his unique kind of positive infectious energy. Goodbyes are difficult but what I want to say even more is thank you. Thank you for the unforgettable music making, thank you for the personal help and thank you for the incredible happy times.

And goodbye my Maestro.

Manchester, UK

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