Willie Ruff awarded honorary doctorate

Willie Ruff receives an honorary doctorate from University President Salovey. Photo by Michael Marsland

As part of Yale’s 317th Commencement, which took place on May 21, the University awarded honorary degrees to “10 individuals who have received distinction in their respective fields.” Among the recipients was Willie Ruff ’53BM ’54MM, who retired in May 2017 having spent 46 years on the School of Music faculty.

Presenting Ruff with an honorary doctor of music degree, University President Peter Salovey said, “You have shared the wonders of music with the world. Introducing new audiences to the transcendent power of jazz; you discovered the echoes of distant times and faraway places in this quintessential American art form. In your ‘conservatory without walls,’ generations of young people have been inspired by jazz legends. Scholar, storyteller, and musician, in gratitude for your creativity and charisma, we are privileged to present your third Yale degree, Doctor of Music.”

The “conservatory without walls” to which Salovey referred is the “‘invisible institution’ through which African American music has been nurtured and developed over time,” explained Lucile Bruce in the Spring 2017 issue of Music at Yale. In 1972, a year after joining the faculty at his alma mater, Ruff brought 40 jazz legends to Yale — among them Duke Ellington, Marian Anderson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus — and launched the Duke Ellington Fellowship and the Ellington Jazz Series.

Throughout his extraordinary career, Ruff has introduced audiences around the world to jazz. With pianist Dwike Mitchell, Ruff — a horn and bass player — brought the art form to the Soviet Union in 1959 and to China in 1981.

Ruff’s scholarship has yielded remarkable insight into musical connections, and his eagerness to share his experiences and knowledge has enlightened many. His 1991 memoir, A Call to Assembly: The Autobiography of a Musical Storyteller, earned him an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Music Writing.

At the School of Music’s 2017 Honors Banquet, Ruff was given Yale University’s Nathan Hale Award. “He’s changed all our lives,” YSM Dean Robert Blocker said.

Ruff came to the Yale School of Music to study with Paul Hindemith — because he had read that Charlie Parker would have done the same. More than half century later, the School and the University continue to recognize and appreciate his remarkable legacy.

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Published May 23, 2018
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[ faculty ]

In memoriam: Otto-Werner Mueller, conductor

Otto-Werner Mueller conducts the Yale Philharmonia in Woolsey Hall

Otto-Werner Mueller conducts the Yale Philharmonia in Woolsey Hall

Otto-Werner Mueller, Professor of Conducting at the Yale School of Music and music director of the Yale Philharmonia from 1973 to 1987, passed away at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina on February 25. He was 89.

In a statement to the Yale School of Music community, Dean Robert Blocker said, “Under Otto-Werner Mueller’s artistic direction in the 1970s and 80s, the Yale Philharmonia emerged as one of the nation’s leading University orchestras. His accomplishments with his orchestras and his talent for nurturing young conductors have influenced the careers and lives of his students at Yale, Juilliard, and Curtis – and indeed our musical landscape.”

Mueller was a commanding presence on and off the podium due to his physical stature—he stood at six feet, seven inches tall – as well as his probing intellect and uncompromising musical standards. In addition to attracting enthusiastic audiences in Woolsey Hall, Mueller and the Yale Philharmonia recorded regularly for NPR’s “Performance Today,” made frequent appearances at Carnegie and Tully halls in New York City, and served as the resident orchestra of the Evian (France) Music Festival for two seasons. MORE

Published February 26, 2016
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[ former faculty ]

Gunther Schuller Dies at 89; taught at Yale in 1960s

schuller_guntherNew York Times | By Allan Kozinn

Gunther Schuller, a composer, conductor, author and teacher who coined the term Third Stream to describe music that drew on the forms and resources of both classical and jazz, and who was its most important composer, died on Sunday in Boston. He was 89.

The cause was complications of leukemia, said his personal assistant, Jennique Horrigan.

Mr. Schuller, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his orchestral work “Of Reminiscences and Reflections” in 1994, was partial to the 12-tone methods of the Second Viennese School, but he was not inextricably bound to them. Always fascinated by jazz, he wrote arrangements as well as compositions for several jazz artists, most notably the Modern Jazz Quartet. Several of his scores — among them the Concertino (1958) for jazz quartet and orchestra, the “Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee” (1959) and an opera, “The Visitation” (1966) — used aspects of his Third Stream aesthetic, though usually with contemporary classical influences dominating. MORE

Published June 21, 2015
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[ in memoriam ]

In memoriam: Lawrence Leighton Smith, past music director of Yale Philharmonia

Smith in front of Woolsey Hall in 2004

Smith in front of Woolsey Hall in 2004

Today, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic announced with sadness the death of Lawrence Leighton Smith, their beloved music director emeritus. Smith died at home on Friday, October 25, 2013 in the company of his family. He was 77.

Born April 8, 1936, Smith was one of the most respected American conductors of the 20th and 21st centuries. His brilliant conducting career began in 1973 when he became a first prize winner of the Dmitri Mitropoulos Competition. Smith went on to appear with nearly every major orchestra in the United States and to tour internationally.

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Published October 25, 2013
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In memoriam: Keith Wilson, Professor Emeritus of Clarinet

Keith Wilson long portraitKeith Wilson, Professor Emeritus of Clarinet, died peacefully on Sunday, June 2. He was 96.

“The profound influence Keith had on the lives of countless students, colleagues, and friends is incalculable, for he made each of us feel special in his presence,” said Robert Blocker, Dean of the School of Music. “His humanity and humility elevated music and its servants. We were enriched by Keith’s extraordinary life.”

Keith Wilson was appointed to the YSM faculty in 1946 and taught here for over 40 years before retiring in 1987 at the age of 70. When he joined the faculty, he was the School’s only woodwind professor. He served as director of the Yale Bands until 1972. During his tenure, he also served as the associate dean of the School of Music and director of the Norfolk Summer School of Music. MORE

Published June 7, 2013
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