Achievements celebrated at annual Honors Dinner

Carol Colburn Grigor, recipient of the Samuel Simons Sanford Award

Left to right: Benjamin Polak, Peter Salovey, Samuel Simons Sanford Award winner Carol Colburn Grigor, and Robert Blocker

The Yale School of Music held its annual Honors Dinner on Sunday, May 7, welcoming students and alumni, faculty and staff, and distinguished guests to the Yale Commons for an evening of celebration. After thanking recently retired staff members for their service and acknowledging the University officers who were in attendance, YSM Dean Robert Blocker presented Carol Colburn Grigor ’69MMA CBE with the School’s highest honor, the Samuel Simons Sanford Award. Grigor, Blocker, said, “is one of America’s most generous … most thoughtful philanthropists.” Composer and former Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills congratulated Grigor via video.

Willie Ruff, recipient of the Nathan Hale Award

Left to right: Benjamin Polak, Peter Salovey, Nathan Hale Award recipient Willie Ruff, and Robert Blocker

Dean Blocker, with University President Peter Salovey and Yale Provost Benjamin Polak at his side, presented longtime YSM professor Willie Ruff ’53BM ’54MM, who will retire at the end of the semester, with the University’s prestigious Nathan Hale Award. “He’s changed all our lives,” Blocker said, before attendees were shown a video tribute to Ruff’s life and work. In a nod to the man who indirectly inspired him decades ago to study at YSM, Ruff said, “I thank, most of all, Charlie Parker.” The jazz office in the Yale School of Music’s Adams Center for Musical Arts was recently named in Ruff’s honor.

Left to right: Benjamin Polak, Peter Salovey, Ian Mininberg Distinguished Service Award winner Warren Lee, and Robert Blocker

Blocker presented the Ian Mininberg Distinguished Service Award to pianist Warren Lee ’00MM and the Cultural Leadership Citation to retiring Yale Collection of Musical Instruments curator William Nicholas Renouf ’71MMA. The Collection’s director, William Purvis, accepted the Citation on behalf of Renouf, who was unable to attend the Honors Dinner. Before presenting student prizes, Blocker referenced an impressive number of awards and successes earned and realized this year by students, faculty, and staff. He recognized longtime YSM faculty pianist Peter Frankl, who plans to retire in the fall, for his dedication to the School community.

At the end of the evening, Blocker told the students in attendance, “Claim the future. It belongs to you. You will make us better.” What follows is a list of the student prizes awarded during YSM’s 2017 Honors Dinner. MORE

Published May 9, 2017
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Willie Ruff retires having given “conservatory without walls” a home at Yale

By Lucile Bruce

Willie Ruff

Willie Ruff was born in 1931 in Sheffield, Alabama, a rural town on the south side of the Tennessee River. As a child, he showed an aptitude for music and immersed himself in the musical resources of his community. A neighborhood boy shared his drum set with young Willie and they became lifelong friends. The pianist at church became his piano teacher. But the best music he heard was the drumming in the African Pentecostal church half a block from his house. “We would sit on the ground outside the church and listen to the people playing those drums,” Ruff recalled. “It was the most exciting, the most moving music. I heard them in my sleep.”

Across the river from Sheffield stands Florence, the hometown of W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues.” Handy visited Ruff ’s elementary school classroom, played for the children, and accompanied their singing. “W.C. Handy was a big presence in my world,” Ruff recounted. “When I saw him on stage in my school, talking about the importance of our musical heritage, I said, ‘I want to do that.’ I think I have.” MORE

Published May 1, 2017
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