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College Choir and Meistersingers Concert Pays Tribute to French

The four-decade Ursinus College career of John French, the William F. Heefner Professor of Music, will be celebrated during a concert April 28 at 4 p.m. in Bomberger Hall.

The concert will serve as a retrospective of French’s career, featuring excerpts from the larger choral works performed by the college choir and meistersingers over the years, including compositions by Maurice Duruflé, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Felix Mendelssohn.

It will also include a new commissioned work by Philadelphia composer Kile Smith with college organist Alan Morrison providing accompaniment on the Heefner Memorial Organ. 

The Heefner Organ is an important part of French’s career at Ursinus. He was present for the design, construction and dedication of the organ in 1986 and has played it during the college’s baccalaureate ceremonies and other special events. He has also coordinated free organ recitals throughout each academic year.

French has been the organist-choirmaster for the Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia for 27 years and served as the associate conductor of the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia for 20 years.

Ursinus’s proximity to Philadelphia was one of the reasons French was drawn to Ursinus 40 years ago. He says, “It allowed me to have numerous contacts and engagements as a musician in a rather large metropolitan area.”

In addition to being a performer, French is also an accomplished music scholar. He holds degrees from the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts, Westminster Choir College and the College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati. He has received Ursinus’s Laughlin Professional Achievement Award and the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Teaching has been a vital part of French’s career and he is happy that phased-retirement will allow him to teach one of his favorite courses, music history, for a few more years. And as the conductor for the College Choir and Meistersingers, French notes that he and his students have enjoyed rehearsing Kile Smith’s new work this semester.

“Such projects are a real highlight of my career, especially working on something new and in this case working on something written for such a memorable occasion,” he says. —By Jordan Scharaga ’17