Faculty & Staff
Music Office: (610) 896-1012
Music Fax: (610) 896-4902
Visiting Assistant Professor of Music
Office: Roberts 001
Office: Union 115
Music Performance Coordinator
Office: Union 223
William Heartt Reese (1910 – 2006)
The recent passing of Bill Reese gives us an opportunity to look back a little further than usual in the history of our college. Living until the age of 95, Bill spent about a third of his life at Haverford and enjoyed equally as long a retirement – long enough to see a plaque dedicated in his honor while he was still alive, on the door downstairs you’ll pass through at the end of this meeting. While I did have the good fortune of meeting Bill Reese and his wife Dora on a number of occasions during the relatively brief ten years I’ve been here at Haverford, I am indebted to several alumni, some of whom live locally and still sing in the bi-college Chorale for parts of this remembrance, especially Truman Bullard, class of 1960, who gave his own dedication to Bill at the recent Chorale performance of the Verdi Requiem in his honor.
William Heartt Reese was professor of music
and director of musical ensembles at Haverford for 28 years,
from 1947 to 1975. He died Wednesday, March 22, 2006, at
St. Mary Home in West Hartford, Connecticut. He was 95 years
old and is survived by his wife of 40 years, Dora (Fischer)
Reese. Just a year ago this May, on alumni weekend, Bill
visited Haverford for what would be his last choral reunion,
where with characteristic vigor and acerbic wit he conducted
a choir of 50 of his former students.
Bill Reese was a graduate of Amherst College, and later earned a Masters Degree in Music from Columbia University, a Doctorate in Music from the University of Berlin and a Degree in Conducting from its Hochshule für Musik. While living in Haverford he founded and conducted the Philadelphia Chamber Chorus, also directed the Bethlehem Bach Choir in Bethlehem, PA for several years, and served as choirmaster at the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr. After retiring in 1976, he moved to Grandview-On-Hudson, NY, where he founded the Rockland Camerata. After moving to West Hartford in 2001, he continued serving as a substitute organist at local churches.
To really appreciate the importance of Bill Reese to the music curriculum here, you have to understand how far music had to come at a historically Quaker institution like this Haverford. As an example, there is a story discovered by John Anderies for a recent library exhibit on music at Haverford. In 1876 a young Haverford student with musical enthusiasms was reprimanded by a faculty member for bringing his zither to campus. The chastened young man decided to furtively store his zither away at the Haverford train station, where he would regularly steal off to practice. As it turned out, this stern prohibition against music on campus had the opposite effect with this particular student, named David Bispham, who went on to become the leading Wagnerian baritone of his day at Covent Garden and the Met. However, I use this story only to highlight that the reason we have come a long way since that time is the longevity and devotion of the early Haverford music faculty and friends such as Bill Reese, Alfred Swan, Henry Drinker, Temple Painter, Harold Boatrite, John Davison, Sylvia Glickman, and others.
Bill inherited one of the earliest vestiges
of music at Haverford, the Glee Club, which had been going
since the late 19th century after the prohibition against
music-making on campus had been lifted. He transformed it
from a primarily social institution into a choir that included
the great classics in its repertoire. During his time the
glee club grew to an average of 85 members, along with a
freshmen chorus of 70. He also directed the student orchestra,
and combined forces with ensembles at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore
to perform many of the great masterworks of the repertoire,
including a performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra under
Eugene Ormandy. He was especially devoted to the music of
the early Baroque master Heinrich Schütz. He organized
two festivals devoted to the music of Schütz, which
was at the time rarely performed, even catching the notice
of Time magazine for one of them. Boxes full of his handwritten
Schütz choral and orchestral parts still sit in the
choral library upstairs in Union.
According to alums from his time, it wasn’t always easy at Haverford for a demanding taskmaster like Bill Reese. He found himself and his artistic and educational values out of sympathy with the changes that occurred in the '60s as students became more assertive and less obedient to the dictates of his volatile temperament and moral convictions. He struggled to maintain his standards in a climate of student assertiveness and unpredictability which he neither understood nor liked. However, these alums report that in his last years on the faculty he was respected anew for the consistency of his ideals and persistence, and, with a gradual mellowing in leadership style, he enjoyed a number of very successful seasons with the Haverford Glee Club and the Haverford Bryn Mawr Orchestra, concluding with a grand performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.
Greg Kannerstein loves to relate how as an entering freshman at Haverford himself, he submitted with some trepidation to his required singing audition for Bill Reese. I won’t conjecture what the reaction to such a requirement would be today. But it stands as a small symbol of the basic educational ideals that Bill helped establish at Haverford that continue to inspire us at a time when we are re-examining the role of the performing arts in our curriculum. Namely, that music is more than idle diversion or a hobby for the extraordinarily gifted – rather, it is an essential element of human thought, creativity, and culture, whose disciplines and cultural monuments can enrich the intellectual life of any student. -
presented at faculty meeting, May 11, 2006
A remembrance of William Heart Reese, read by Truman Bullard, HC ‘60 before a performance of the Verdi Requiem by the Haverford / Bryn Mawr Chorale in Marshall Auditorium, April 21, 2006
Fifty years ago this September I walked into the classroom in the Haverford Union to take a voice audition, as did every other member of our class of about 100 students. Seated at the piano was a distinguished, white-haired gentleman with a piercing gaze and an acute sense of the importance of time. Within a week of that day Dr. William H. Reese had formed the Haverford Freshman Glee Club of 1956-1957, drawing more than half the class into the ensemble. For the rest of the year we rehearsed and gave modest occasional performances while we watched with salivating appetite the departures of the "varsity" Haverford Glee Club for concert collaborations with Smith, Wellesley, Cedar Crest, and other womens' colleges. Dr. Reese was already famous in collegiate music for his mastery of the mens' chorus, its tone and repertoire, and its traditions in music education. For decades he led these ensembles, which later evolved into the Haverford Chorale of mixed voices, as well as the Haverford-Bryn Mawr Orchestra.
Reese was a true maestro, equally at home on the podium of chorus or orchestra. He taught excellent classes within the curriculum, but he really came into his own in rehearsal and concerts. Reese loved the music of Schütz, Bach, Beethoven, and Schubert, and he took a missionary zeal in performing the great masterpieces of these and other composers. As his accompanist, and, for one year, assistant conductor, I came to know the "agony and the ecstasy" of serving him and his implacable will in making music. Reese's own idol was Arturo Toscanini, and he shared the Italian conductor's fiery temper and the verbal fluency to give it full expression. Over the last five decades I have been amused to hear from other alumni who had seen Reese more recently than I the following statement or variations thereof: "I have seen Dr. Reese. I'm sure he's the same great musician, but he has mellowed." Then I would collaborate with the man once again, bringing together the Haverford and Dickinson College choruses, and I'd see that he had not mellowed by much!
Reese retired from Haverford after serving the college for over thirty years, but he continued to conduct choruses for almost thirty years. Just three years ago I was preparing to conduct a professional chorus and orchestra in Haydn's "Creation," and I called Dr. Reese at his retirement home in Connecticut and asked for a coaching session with him. We met in the living room of the "assisted living" facility. Reese had donated his grand piano to the home, and he sat down at ninety-two to give me two hours of priceless insight and score study. He played from the orchestral score flawlessly, pausing to make all kinds of suggestions: "Rehearse the strings alone here before you put it all together... they hate all these flats!" "Do not indulge your soprano soloist here, she must keep the tempo. If not, your flutist will despise you!" At the end of my last lesson with him we were both exhausted, and we made our way through a lounge of sleepy crowds of fellow residents back to his apartment for a beautiful lunch (with German beer of great distinction) prepared by Dora Reese. Reese said to me, "God took seven days to create the heavens and the earth, and Haydn took just weeks to create his oratorio. You and I have taken years and years to understand and lead this kind of music, but we have all been creating, haven't we?"
Well, we can reckon that Bill Reese has had about a month now to recruit and discipline his angelic glee club. I rather envy those angels, though I am sure that they know better today than ever before that "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord." William Reese was the real thing in the realm of interpretative art, an ardent zealot for great music and ethical living, and a faithful teacher to generations. May he, with all the faithful departed, rest in peace, and may light perpetual shine upon him...
Truman Bullard '60
Professor Emeritus of Music, Dickinson College
Conductor Emeritus of the Dickinson College Choir and Chamber Choir
Conductor Emeritus of the Harrisburg Choral Society