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.


Published May 23, 2018
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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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Peter Oundjian leads the Yale Philharmonia in Gershwin, Barber, and more Nov. 7

Peter Oundjian

Peter Oundjian

The Yale School of Music presents the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale with guest conductor Peter Oundjian in concert Friday, November 7, 2014 at 7:30 pm. The program features music from the first half of the twentieth century by Gershwin, Barber, Elgar, and Hindemith.

The concert opens with Gershwin‘s An American in Paris. Originally composed in 1928, the piece would later inspire the 1951 musical film of the same title starring Gene Kelly. Gershwin’s audience favorite is followed by the Symphonic Metamorphosis (based on themes by Carl Maria von Weber) by Paul Hindemith, a German composer who spent several years in the U.S. and was a member of the Yale School of Music faculty. MORE

Published October 31, 2014
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[ in the press ]

Review: Yale in New York Concert Champions the Legacy of Paul Hindemith

I Care If You Listen
By Rob Wendt

Despite this concert having been anticipated in The Wall Street Journal and The Jewish Week (as well as in these pages), it was not particularly well attended, with the lion’s share of seats empty. Indeed, Paul Hindemith remains unknown even among some who consider themselves classical music fans. A reappraisal of his work and influence is thus always welcome, and this well-curated program shed new light on the composer, his pedagogy, his protégés, and even his personality. Yale School of Music brought faculty, students, and alumni to Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall on November 22, 2013, to forge a direct musical link to this master of theory, melody, form, and fugue.

Composer Paul Hindemith (photo credit: hindemith.info)

In Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2, the composer captured the frenetic pace of industrial growth that characterized the inter-war years. No one would call this musical language atonal, but it contains humor alongside a tongue-in-cheek dark, dissociative pensiveness and sense of disturbance not usually found in the romantic tradition. At the same time, there is something very primal and peasant-like in the bouncy tough rhythms. MORE

Published December 2, 2013
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[ in the press ]

I Care If You Listen: Five Questions with David Shifrin

shifrin_teachingRob Wendt asked 5 questions to David Shifrin (clarinetist, artistic director) about the legacy of Paul Hindemith—a member of the YSM faculty 1940-1953—and the central idea of a Carnegie Hall concert happening tomorrow, Friday, November 22, as part of the Yale in New York series. Indeed, the concert will feature music by Hindemith and several of his Yale students, including Alvin Etler, Lukas Foss, Mitch Leigh, Mel Powell, and Yehudi Wyner.

David Shifrin, welcome back to New York! The playful and inventive Op. 24 Kammermusik pieces (1922) date from well before Hindemith’s time at Yale, and yet they sound very ahead of their time, anticipating the later work of composers like Roger Sessions. Still in his twenties, the composer could not have known he would one day expatriate himself from Germany. How do these youthful compositions fit in with Hindemith’s overall legacy?

I have to confess that the selection of this work to open our program is a somewhat personal one. In my experience as a young clarinet student, Hindemith’s Kleine Kammermusik was among the most often studied and performed woodwind chamber music works. It almost defines the medium of the woodwind quintet. Stylistically and architecturally, it is near perfect, combining jazzy rhythms, expressive harmonies, amazing colors both blending and contrasting orchestration of the five diverse wind instruments.


Published November 21, 2013
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Wall Street Journal: Tuning Up to Pay Tribute to a Master

Hindemith_teaching_SpragueNo matter what they play, most young musicians at some point study the work of the 20th-century composer Paul Hindemith.

“Just about every instrument has a Hindemith sonata,” said David Shifrin, a clarinetist and professor at the Yale School of Music. “He wrote such a broad cross-section of music.”

Hindemith, who lived from 1895 to 1963, was principally a violist, but could play virtually every instrument he wrote for. Over the decades, his composition style changed from romantic to modern, emphasizing counterpoint, but he also created comic works, such as a parody of a string quartet or a takeoff on Wagnerian opera. Born in Germany, he came to the U.S. in 1940 and found a musical home at Yale, where he taught from 1940 to 1953. MORE

Published November 21, 2013
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In the Press: Under Hindemith’s Wing

The Jewish Week (New York)

By George Robinson

Hindemith_CollegeStIf, as Shakespeare famously wrote, every man in his time plays many parts, it should come as no surprise that various observers will see him differently over time. The time span needn’t even be a particularly long one. Consider the case of the 20th-century composer Paul Hindemith. While in exile to escape the Nazis, Hindemith taught at the Yale School of Music and, in that capacity he mentored a distinguished group of younger composers whose music is being performed, along with that of Hindemith himself, on Nov. 22 in a concert tribute “Hindemith at Yale.” Of the five Hindemith protégés whose work will be on the program, the two who are still alive have recollections of Hindemith that seem to be calculated to make the listener think they are discussing completely different, albeit potent, teachers. MORE

Published November 20, 2013
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Concerts explore the legacy of Paul Hindemith Nov. 21 & 22

YNY-HindemithThe Yale School of Music will explore the legacy of Paul Hindemith (1895–1963) in two concerts on November 21 and 22. Hindemith, an innovative composer and theorist as well as a passionate educator, served on the Yale School of Music faculty 1940–53 and left a legacy of invention and exploration that still characterizes the School’s programs.

The Legacy of Paul Hindemith commemorates sixty years since the composer’s stay in New Haven and fifty years since his death, with a program that presents his own compositions side-by-side with music by his Yale students. The program, which is part of the Yale in New York series, will be presented in New Haven on November 21 and in New York City on November 22; details are below.


Published November 8, 2013
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[ in the press ]

Yale in New York kicks off season with The Legacy of Paul Hindemith

Hindemith_CollegeStClassical Music News Desk

Yale School of Music opens the 2013-14 season of YALE IN NEW YORK with THE LEGACY OF PAUL HINDEMITH on Friday, November 22, 2013 at 7:30pm in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall.

At once an innovative composer and theorist and a passionate educator, Paul Hindemith(1895–1963) served on the Yale School of Music faculty from 1940-53 and left behind a spirit of invention and exploration that remains at the heart of Yale’s program. The Legacy of Paul Hindemith commemorates sixty years since the composer’s stay in New Haven and fifty years since his passing, with a program focusing on composers, faculty, and students who have felt this profound influence. MORE

Published October 24, 2013
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Yale in New York announces 2013–14 season


Hindemith on the steps of Sprague Hall

The Yale School of Music announces its return to Carnegie Hall with the 2013–14 season of Yale in New York. The series—now in its seventh year at Carnegie—has garnered a reputation for its creative and diverse programming, with frequent collaborations between Yale’s distinguished faculty and its exceptional network of current students and alumni.

This season, two concerts focus on musical icons of the 20th century: The Legacy of Paul Hindemith on Friday, November 22, 2013 at 7:30 pm; and a fully staged original production and translation of Igor Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale, in collaboration with Yale School of Drama on Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 7:30 pm. Both events take place in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall. MORE

Published October 17, 2013
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