Digital History at Ursinus

French Installed in Heefner Chair

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French Installed in Heefner Chair


Dr. John French, associate music professor at Ursinus College, inaugurated into the William F. Heefner chair position


Debra Kamens, Director of Communications


Ursinusiana, Ursinus Bulletin, 1967-1987, January 1987, p 7.






UC Bulletin, 1967-1987, January 1987

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"A conductor is the most unusual of all musicians," said John French as he was inaugurated into the newly endowed William F. Heefner chair of Music on Founders' Day. "Conducting--the gestures, hand movements, facial expressions--produce no sound. It is a great act of faith that by a wave of a hand, people will respond and produce the sounds the conductor interprets."
John French conducts three choirs at Ursinus, and all of them respond by producing sounds that receive full aclaim[sic]. Mr. French is chair of the music department, and in his eight years here he has dramatically increased the level of participation in music, both in academic courses and the choral program.
"The choirs are an extracurricular activity," said Mr. French. "But to me, they're more than that. They provide an educational experience--one that does not occur in the classroom. Students don't write term papers here; they don't do research necessarily, but they learn something about performance and music through the centuries."
Upon receiving the chair during the Founders' Day convocation, Mr. French stressed that teaching was the objective of his work. And although students may only minor, not major, in music at Ursinus, he says he is "truly amazed at how much one can do with students who are not majoring in the field."
John French believes it is important for students--whether they are majoring in physics or economics or English--to open themselves up to the arts. Likewise, he feels teaching at a liberal arts college, as opposed to a music conservatory, provides a unique and stimulating environment.
"I think the warning to the 20th century arts is to be leery of isolationism--that as artists, we don't put ourselves in a corner where we no longer communicate to people. I find it personally exciting just to come to the College and have colleagues who are not associated professionally with the arts--to have good friends whose disciplines are in the humanities or the sciences. After all, ideas are communicated in music, so one must be aware about what others are thinking, what others are doing."
Amember of the Ursinus faculty since 1979, Mr. French received his bachelor of music degree at the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts in 1977 and his masters degree at Westminster Choir College in 1979. He is working towards his doctorate at the University of Concinnati. In 1982, Mr. French was the recipient of the Lindback Award for teaching excellence and a 1978 finalist in the Stokowski Memorial Conducting Fellowship sponsored by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
During the summer of 1986, Mr. French was selected to attend a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Seminar entitled "The Culture of Mass Society."

Three dedicatory concerts were held last November in celebration of the completion of the new Heefner Memorial Organ. Its first public performance was by William F. Heefner, '42, who endowed the Heefner Chair of Music, and whose mother, Lydia V. Heefner, gave the instrument to the College. He played Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fuge in D Minor at the end of the Founders' Day convocation. Later that afternoon, Douglas Tester, organist and choir director at St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Abington, Pa., gave the first full dedicatory recital, along with the Ursinus College Choir, the Claredon Brass Ensemble, and four vocal soloists.
Finally on Nov. 19, internationally-known organist John Weaver gave a brilliant solo recital on the organ, which was recorded by WHYY-91 FM, the Public Broadcasting System's station in Wilmington, Del. The concert will be broadcast at 9:00p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11. Mr. Weaver played two encores, took eight curtain calls and received two standing ovations at the conclusion of the recital. He is director of music at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, and head of the organ department at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Original Format

Ursinus Bulletin article


French installed as chair.jpg


Debra Kamens, Director of Communications, “French Installed in Heefner Chair,” Digital History at Ursinus, accessed April 16, 2021,