By Michael Boo

It’s come out to about a dollar a year.  The inside of those paper band folders.  If you played a band instrument in school, you’ve seen them, from your earliest days in elementary band to your latest days in high school and beyond. Some 50 years after he was given $50 to write the tips, they’re STILL being produced and distributed by music dealers to their client school band programs.

Frederick Fennell’s Points for Performance.”

  • Line up your chair and stand so you may look directly over the top of the music at the conductor.
  • Resonance is the whole reason for your instrument to exist and why you play it in the first place.
  • Pulse is music’s lifeblood as well as yours: Learn to feel it — for it is always present. Seek to play by it.
  • You can only read a piece of music for the first time — once. Make that one memorable.
  • Music is not an art for the chicken-hearted: Seek what is right, but DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE WRONG.
  • Good performances are planned that way.

In that half-century, millions of musicians have been exposed to his 31 axioms.

He was irreplaceable — the singular, matchless, unique in all of music, Energizer Bunny of a world-wide conductor, innovative recording artist of several dozen groundbreaking albums, festival clinician of seven decades, arranger of hundreds of band works, author of countless magazine articles, friend of thousands and fervent believer in the role and purpose of drum corps.

Having still traveled around the world just last year, just prior to turning 90 years old, it seemed that Dr. Frederick Fennell would live forever. He was nearly a messiah to the wind band world, a genius in the purest sense, a gentleman in the same sense — Frederick Fennell was all these things and much, much more.

He literally invented an entirely new genre, the wind ensemble, with all its glittering musical transparencies, inspired by a trumpet player’s comment that if he didn’t play his part in one of the typical monolithically scored band transcriptions of the day, there were numerous others who would. No band director since the early 1950s has been immune from his influence and his direction.

He was a friend of the marching activity.

He believed in the message, in the activity’s purpose and ability to stir the soul, to teach musicianship, to imbue a competitive spirit that would serve its members well through their entire lives.

He had no patience for anyone who spoke ill of marching ensembles and competition.  He himself directed the University of Rochester marching band for several years prior to achieving his lasting fame by founding the Eastman Wind Ensemble at the University, the world’s first contemporary wind ensemble.

Timeless recordings

His timeless recordings for Mercury Records, of music written especially for wind bands as opposed to transcription after transcription of previously existing orchestral works, found their way into the libraries of band directors and other music lovers worldwide.  The President of Eastman, noted composer Howard Hanson, doubted the pressings would sell more than 50 copies, offering, “Well, I guess we could always give them to the alumni.”  He didn’t need to do so.  The Mercury/Eastman/Fennell recordings took the music world by storm.

He personally commissioned many of the selections on each of the recordings, works we’ve grown up with that have defined the best of the wind band experience.  And those LPs, now rereleased on CDs 40 to 50 years later, are again finding their way into the sound libraries of those who appreciate impeccable musical performances and daring musical selections that seem to have only gotten better with age.

Dr. Fennell was one of the very first musicians of any idiom to record to the newfangled idiom of the compact disc, having already been the very first to record direct-to-disk for the infant company then known to no one, Telarc.

At an age when most would be content to retire to rest and tranquility, he pumped himself up to spread his musical message to more and more people while he still could.  It was as if he was on a mission from God, and perhaps he was.

Not nearly enough time

I got to know Dr. Fennell through his wife, whom had published a number of my percussion solos and ensembles and for whom I had done some editing work.  Elizabeth Ludwig of Ludwig Music Publishing had become a friend years before she married Frederick Fennell.  And through her, I was fortunate to be exposed firsthand to one of the greatest giants of music this nation has ever produced.

He was not at all overwhelmed by the station in life that he earned through hard work and a singular dedication to creating great music.

One of the blessed things to happen in my life would be my almost annual visit to the Fennell’s condo on the Florida gulf coast. My first visit to the condo was on a day in 1994 when his vast collection of music scores and books were being moved back in after being in storage for a few weeks. While they were gone for several days, their downstairs toilet had flooded the entire bottom level and the carpeting throughout had to be ripped out.  This required moving out all his precious musical effects.

I was already in Florida for two weeks to take care of an estate of a relative and was invited over for an escape — as long as I didn’t mind the mess I would find.  When I walked into the lower level, Dr. Fennell was standing on a stepladder placing books and music on the upper levels of the bookcases.  He was — as anyone whom has ever met him knows — quite short.  After asking if I could see what he had in his hands, I casually reached up and put it in the bookcase with no effort.  And thus I had a “job” for three days.

And what a job it was — being able to pepper the Maestro with questions I had long wondered about as he gleefully regaled me with his knowledge and insights.  It didn’t take much to wind him up. It was like listening to a perpetual winner answer questions on some sort of musical “Jeopardy.”  The man’s knowledge of music knew no limitations, the result of reading about music and studying scores for hours every day of his life.

Worried about a performance

I didn’t realize how single-tracked his mind was about music until the final day of the move-in.  He wanted to play a CD of a new recording he had only heard in the studio while it was being produced.  And thus he, his wife and I gathered on the brand new tile floor downstairs to listen to the recording, still in shrink-wrap.

During the playing of the music, he had momentarily forgotten that he was no longer on carpet.  His desk task chair slid away from him and he fell on the floor, the frame of his glasses piercing his right temple.  It was a horrible site with profusely spurting blood over much of the floor, and honestly, I thought I was witnessing the death of the Maestro. What a relief when he came to and I could see the blood was due to injury to his head and would be something that could be fixed.   In the meantime, his wife calmly got wet towels to be compressed on his head until she could call 9-1-1.

All he could say was, “This is terrible. I’ve got to conduct the US Army Band in Washington next week.”  After an ambulance ride to the hospital, he was quickly taken into the emergency room and the attending doctor started to stitch him up.  The doctor made small talk to take Dr. Fennell’s mind off his situation and the Maestro asked the doctor who his favorite composer was.  When the doctor said it was Beethoven, I swear the ashen face of the injured lit up like a Christmas tree, and he launched into a minutes-long dissertation on why Beethoven could be EVERYONE’S favorite composer.  The doctor smiled and completed the stitching.  I was in awe.  Even in his darkest moments, music brought the man to life and nothing else mattered.

Music educators share their personal memories of the Maestro

Paula A. Crider, Past President
The National Band Association

We were most fortunate to have had Maestro Fennell serve as the first “Headliner” or Master Mentor for the National Band Association Young Conductor/Young Composer Mentor Program at the 2004 BOA Summer Symposium.

I had the privilege of escorting Fred and his wife, Betty.  Each morning I would take them to breakfast, where I witnessed a most touching morning ritual: upon ordering tall glasses of orange juice, they would smile at each other, clink glasses and Fred would say “here’s to another day.”  That simple toast made me extremely aware of how precious is every day.  I have no doubt that the Fennells savored life to the fullest.

I also have a vivid recollection of handing Fred a list of questions for his review prior to his clinic.  He looked at the clinic title, smiled, and with a twinkle in his eyes, said “ahhhh, The Posy.” These two words were spoken with such obvious passion and genuine affection that everyone within earshot was humbled to be in the presence of such a remarkably special man.

George N. Parks, Director
UMass Minuteman Band
Founder, Drum Major Academy

I remember the first time I met Dr. Fennell in the late 70’s, I was teaching a Drum Major Academy, he was conducting the summer Concert Band.  A few people started talking about marching bands and drum majors…I recall being somewhat embarrassed.  Come on guys, I thought, this Wind Ensemble genius doesn’t want to talk about marching bands.  I was mistaken, and shocked as I learned that THE Frederick Fennell HAD BEEN a drum major, and a champion baton twirler!  He actually started a marching band at the University of Rochester!  I had no idea.  Among his many special gifts to all of us was his support for all kinds of musical expression without the artistic prejudice that we can see in our field.

Finally, a moment seared into my brain forever: At a College Band Director National Convention, Frederick Fennell and William D. Revelli, shortly before Dr. Revelli’s passing, both appeared on stage together.  They grabbed each other’s hand, and raised it in the air.  It was clear to all that we were witnessing a special and symbolic moment.  The two giants of the band world bringing together the entire world of bands: Wind Ensemble, the more traditional Symphonic Band, and even the marching band.  It symbolizing a unity in the band world that we all need to strive for!  I will never forget it.

Brian Radock, Senior, Percussionist
Dr. Phillips H.S., Orlando, FL

I went to the Interlochen Arts Camp up in Michigan for many years.  My mother taught percussion there and my father was on the board of trustees.  My dad had to go to a meeting so I stayed to talk with Mr. Fennell.  I was about 12 at the time. My dad had told me that he was one of the most important people in the history of the concert band so I was scared to meet him, but he was not condescending and talked to me like a person and not a kid.

He bought me some ice cream and he and I talked for about an hour about music and what he has done in his life and what I should strive for in the future.  He gave me all kinds of advice on every part of being not only a good player and director, but more importantly on being a good human being.  His wisdom still rings in my ears.

Another fond memory of Mr. Fennell was when I was in the Bands of America Honor Band in 2003 as a sophomore.  He was the guest conductor on a march he arranged that I was playing bass drum on.  It was the funniest thing to see him conduct because he practically danced on the podium.  We were playing and he stopped and told me “Mr. bass drummer, hit that drum”….so i did….”no, louder”…..this was news to me because most of the time we are never told to play loud on a bass drum, so I once again hit it……..”even louder,” he said.  He eventually had me playing it so it sounded like a cannon! “Good” he remarked, “Every time I make this motion”–he held his arms both to the right and swung them towards me like he was swinging a baseball bat–”I want you to do that.”  I had to watch him like a hawk for that concert because he would do that gesture whenever he felt it fit and it was never the same twice.  It was a great experience.

Anthony J. Maiello
Professor of Music, Director of Instrumental Studies, George Mason University

Some years ago Fred, John Locke, and I were presenting a conducting symposium together in the Washington, DC area. When I arrived I found Fred sitting in a chair with an ice pack on his foot.  He had twisted his ankle prior to coming to the symposium.  After exchanging hellos we started working with the conductors who signed up to conduct the clinic ensemble.  I wondered how Fred would ever be able to do this seated in a chair with an ice pack on his bare foot?  To my amazement Fred was not hindered at all by his handicap.  Instead, he was at the top of his game, in spite of the fact that he could hardly walk and had to sit through 95% of the symposium.  It was a great lesson for me to see someone like Fred, who was in a great deal of pain and discomfort be so focused and dedicated.  I will never forget what an inspiration he was to me and will continue to be as long as I am on the podium.

William Palange
Oswego High School Bands, NY

I had the good fortune to attend the University of Miami from September, 1972 – December, 1975.  I was trombonist in the University Wind Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra at that time, both of which Fredrick Fennell conducted.

The university did not have a concert hall at that time.  Our band and orchestra concerts were given at the rehearsal halls with chairs set up around the ensemble for audience members.  It was interesting to have audience members so close during a performance!

Dr. Fennell’s passion for music and his insistence on excellence was evidenced daily.  He was an endless fountain of information about wind literature, orchestral literature AND their composers. At our concerts, Dr. Fennell sometimes spoke to the audience about the pieces we were going to play.  As I remember there was always a wonderful mix of new and old works which has served me very well as a band director for nearly 30 years.

This particular wind ensemble concert featured Leslie Basset’s Designs, Images and Textures.  Dr. Fennell explained to the audience members – some of whom were adoring senior citizens – about the nature of the piece, and that the piece was going to sound a little different.  The ensemble proceeded to perform the work under Dr. Fennell’s baton and as the piece neared its conclusion, one nice elderly lady leaned over and whispered to the other (as she would soon discover, too loudly) something to the effect of, “I didn’t like that piece.”  Well, that whisper was about three feet from Dr. Fennell’s podium…and he heard it.   Slowly he turned around from his towering podium before any applause and changed from his normally jolly demeanor into a fierce advocate for the music we had just performed.  He “retooled” the audience member’s attitude in a big hurry, jumped off the podium in his usual sprite-like style and stormed into his office – taking most of the air in the room with him.  Dr. Fennell was never afraid to tell anyone the truth and in this case made a lasting impression, on me and probably the guilty audience member anyways, about the meaning of passion for your craft.  Although it was an awkward moment, in hindsight it was appropriate and necessary.

Matthew L. Stultz
West Virginia University
MENC, WVU Chapter, Secretary

Dr. Fennell was both a guest on-hand for BOA and NBA (National Band Association) at the Bands of America 29th annual Summer Symposium in June 2004.  On the second night, before the Air Force Band of Mid-America performed, Dr. Fennell was brought out on stage.  I was sitting in about the second row of the auditorium, so I was quite close to the stage.  Being that it was his 90th birthday, everyone (almost 2,000 students, volunteers, music educators and BOA staff) sang Happy Birthday to Dr. Fennell.  It was a special moment for everyone.

Scott Edgar
Carroll H.S., Dayton, Ohio

Last January, Dr. Fennell was a guest clinician at the Bowling Green State University Reading Clinic.  He was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge.  He hosted a session with Dr. Tom Dvorak where he fielded questions from music educators and music students in attendance.  I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Fennell, “How has the march affected your life.”  This simple question led to a wonderful fifteen minute answer, which included stories, hints and a wonderful story of how to tune a bass drum.  He spoke of how he attended the concert where John Philip Sousa premiered the “Black Horse Troop” march.  At this concert Sousa had two rows of black horses come down the aisles of the theater.  Fennell stated that, “Since then, any concert that did not have black horses in it has been a disappointment.”  We can only hope to research, respect his legacy and honor the man who changed our profession.

Mark Elrod

Dr. Fennell was a guest at an informal gathering at a friend’s house following a concert on which Fennell was a guest conductor.  Knowing that “the man” would be there, and being the young and awe-struck director that I was, I took my copy of the score to Lincolnshire (edited by Fennell) and asked him to sign it.  Cradling his scotch, he was more than obliged.  The inscription reads “Best wishes from P.A.G.’s friend, Frederick Fennell – Carrollton, GA, 13 March 1997.”

I think I stared at it, dumbfounded, when realizing this man knew Grainger!  I now tend to think, wow, I/we all knew Fred Fennell.  How blessed we are. I will never part with that score.

Fred McInnis
Assistant Director of Bands
Brigham Young University

As a young junior high school band director attending Midwest Clinic many years ago, David O’Shields, now Associate Director of Bands at the University of South Carolina, and I were riding the elevator in the Chicago Hilton to attend a concert, when Maestro Fennell boarded with us.  I was impressed — not only by his mere presence with us in the elevator, knowing his musical talents and accomplishments — but also for the short dissertation he gave the two of us for the remainder of our ride concerning “fuzzy logic,” the computer software the elevators used to transport people.  What an amazing guy!

Lynn Klock
University of Massachusetts

First and foremost, what impressed me most about Frederick Fennell was the depth of his musical knowledge and musicianship.  His dedication and involvement in the music making process to the day he died will always be an inspiration to me.  I feel very fortunate to have been part of the National Concert Band Festivals that included Fennell, Revelli, and Paynter.  What a special memory!

Greg Bimm
Marian Catholic H.S., Chicago Heights, IL

As I think back, some of the most valued people to me are those who introduced me to those people significant in my life- my wife, friends, colleagues, etc.  Without these all important “introducers,” I might never have met the people so central to my life and to who I am.

Through his groundbreaking recordings, illuminating articles in The Instrumentalist, and boundless heralding of band music, Frederick Fennell introduced me to some of my dearest musical “friends.”  The Persichetti Symphony and Lincolnshire Posy among so many others were strangers until Frederick Fennell brought them to me.  Now I cannot imagine my musical world without these treasures.  How does one say thank you for a gift so profound?