A gift of glee

Courtesy Heath family.

Courtesy Heath family.

Fenno Heath ’50, ’52MusM, on the Glee Club's 1983 European tour. View full image

For more than half a century, Fenno Heath '50, '52MusM, was the personification of glee and harmony at Yale. As an undergraduate, he sang the gamut: from the Freshman Chorus and the Apollo Glee Club to the Yale Glee Club and the Whiffenpoofs. After graduating from the School of Music in 1952, Heath stuck around for just shy of four decades as director of the Yale Glee Club. (Along the way, he brought women into the club in 1971, within two years of the advent of coeducation in Yale College.) In 1992, when the Glee Club granted him retirement and the title "conductor emeritus," he presided over the Friends of Music at Yale, a group that supports undergraduate music-making.

Heath's death at the age of 81 on December 5, and the days that preceded it, were marked by an inpouring of tributes from classmates and former students, in person and in a kind of online scrapbook. Visitors to the site exalted Heath both as a traditionalist who kept a broad repertoire of old-school Yale-specific anthems alive for future generations, and as an open-minded explorer of the latest musical forms. The poems he set to music included works by A. E. Housman, William Blake, and greeting-card great Sandra Boynton '74. On the website, Heath's daughter Peggy Ogilvy posted a list of "12 Pieces Fenno Felt Everyone Should Know," a list that lurches from sacred to secular, Bach to Barber, elegant Elgar to minimalist John Adams, from jazz composer Neal Hefti to twentieth-century contrapuntalist Paul Hindemith.

Such a general, yet exacting, love of music lives on in Heath's family, which includes his wife Carol, four children (Ogilvy, Sarah Heath, Lucy McLellan, and Fenno "Terry" Heath III), and six grandchildren. (His grandson Benjamin Ogilvy '11 is a sophomore in his grandfather's college, Timothy Dwight.) His three daughters formed an acoustic folk group known as the Heaths, and his grandson Max was a pop piano prodigy.

Fenno Heath's legacy is not limited to his well-known perfectionism as a director, or the reams of his choral arrangements in music-class cupboards nationwide. It will always consist, too, of his ability to use music as a tool to unite uncertain, largely untrained undergraduate singers and their receptive audiences into a single overwhelming sound of lux et veritas.

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