Please DONATE to help with maintenance and upkeep of the Wind Repertory Project!

Frederick Fennell

From Wind Repertory Project
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Frederick Fennell


Frederick Fennell (2 July 1914, Cleveland, Ohio – 7 December 2004, Siesta Key, Fla.) was an internationally recognized conductor, and one of the primary figures in promoting the wind ensemble as a performing group. He was also influential as a band pedagogue, and greatly affected the field of music education in the USA and abroad. In Fennell's The New York Times obituary, colleague Jerry F. Junkin was quoted, saying "He was arguably the most famous band conductor since John Philip Sousa."

Fennell chose percussion as his primary instrument at the age of seven, as drummer in the fife-and-drum corps at the family's encampment called Camp Zeke. He owned his first drum set at age ten. In the John Adams High School Orchestra, Fennell performed as the kettledrummer and served as the band's drum major.

His studies at the Interlochen Arts Camp (then the National Music Camp) included being chosen by famed bandmaster Albert Austin Harding as the bass drummer in the National High School Band in 1931. This band was conducted by John Philip Sousa on July 26, the program including the premiere of Sousa's Northern Pines march. Fennell himself conducted at Interlochen at the age of seventeen.

Fennell found a compatible and fruitful relationship at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. As a student, he organized the first University of Rochester marching band for the football team and held indoor concerts with the band after the football season for ten years. At Eastman, he completed his bachelor's and master's degrees (in 1937 and 1939). Fennell became the first person ever to be awarded a degree in percussion performance. He was also awarded a fellowship that allowed him to study at the Mozarteum Salzburg in 1938. Attending the Mozarteum Salzburg allowed him to take several classes with Herbert Albert and visit several times with the festival’s chief conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. Fennell also studied conducting with Sergei Koussevitzky at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood in 1942 (with classmates Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss, and Walter Hendl). (He was appointed Koussevitzky’s assistant at the Center in 1948). During World War II Fennell served as the National Musical Advisor in the United Service Organizations.

While Fennell was recuperating from hepatitis for six weeks in 1952, he devised a new symphonic band organization. This involved scaling the typical concert band down to the wind section of a symphony orchestra, allowing for greater clarity and fewer intonation difficulties. Fennell called a meeting of nearly 40 players in May 1952. Fennell himself explained that “I chose the best students in the school, and the best solo performers, and the best ensemble players”. On September 20, 1952 he held the first rehearsal for the Eastman Wind Ensemble, and he conducted the first concert at Eastman's Kilbourn Hall on February 8, 1953. Desiring expanded repertoire, Fennell mailed letters to nearly 400 composers around the world requesting appropriate compositions for the new group. The first composer to respond was Percy Grainger, followed by Vincent Persichetti and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

While with the Eastman Wind Ensemble, the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, and various other groups, starting in 1953, Fennell recorded many of the standards of the wind band repertoire. He became one of America's most-recorded conductors.

In September 1965 Dr. Fennell became conductor-in-residence at the University of Miami where he conducted the symphony orchestra and also founded a wind ensemble. He also served as the resident conductor of the Miami Philharmonic from 1974 to 1975. He was also principal guest conductor of the Interlochen Arts Academy and Dallas Wind Symphony. At the invitation of its players, he was appointed the initial conductor of the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra in 1984.

On the podium, Fennell evinced a courtly yet commanding manner despite his five foot, one inch stature. He was known to take charge of a room with just his words, and his conducting was extremely animated. His conducting workshops were famous for including calisthenics and baton technique exercises in swimming pools. He remained highly active in the world of conducting until a few months before his death at the age of ninety at his home in Siesta Key, Florida. At the time he was conductor laureate of the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Dallas Wind Symphony, and professor emeritus of the University of Miami Frost School of Music.

Dr. Fennell received Columbia University's Alice M. Ditson Conductor's Award in 1969, was presented the Star of the Order from the John Philip Sousa Memorial Foundation in 1985, received an honorary doctorate from Eastman in 1988, and was inducted into the National Band Association Hall of Fame of Distinguished Band Conductors in 1990. He received the Theodore Thomas Award of the Conductor's Guild in 1994. He was also inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2003, he received the Charles E. Lutton Man of Music Award from Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia at its national convention in Washington, DC.

Fennell wrote several books: Time and the Winds, a Short History of the Use of Wind Instruments in the Orchestra, Band and the Wind Ensemble, 1954; The Drummer’s Heritage, a Collection of Popular Airs and Official U.S. Army Music for Fifes and Drums, 1956; and The Wind Ensemble, 1988. Fennell also edited for several music publishers. For the Fennell Editions at Ludwig Music he edited over 50 scores for band performance, including many marches. He also wrote a series of sixteen articles published in The Instrumentalist under the heading ‘Basic Band Repertory’ beginning in April 1975 and concluding in February 1984. These articles were devoted to what Fennell called "...indestructible masterpieces for band that have survived the ravages of time and many an inept conductor".

At the conductor's request, his ashes were scattered in the woods at Interlochen, Michigan.

Works for Winds

Dr. Fennell is known principally as an editor, arranger and conductor.