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About this Piece

In its 105-year history, the Yale Glee Club has been the musical home to numbers of distinguished composers, singers, educators, and amateurs. For almost 40 of those years, there was hardly a more perfect representative than its distinguished conductor, Fenno Heath (1926-2008). A native of Virginia, Heath graduated from Yale with the Class of 1950, his undergraduate schooling having been interrupted by a stint in the Army in World War II. The following year he received his Bachelor of Music degree and the year after that, a Master’s degree from the Yale School of Music. Never venturing far from his adopted home of New Haven, Heath conducted the Yale Glee Club from 1953 until his retirement in 1992.

Heath’s choice of texts generally leaned toward Holy Scripture, poems from New England poets such as Emily Dickinson, or English folksongs. With a work as famous as What Child Is This?, the good professor was careful not to assault the listeners’ ears too frequently with strange chord progressions or quirky rhythmic twists. It could be said that Heath’s arrangement, for four-part male chorus and a baritone solo, actually sticks close to its very old-English roots. The one or two surprising modulations encourage us to listen with fresh ears to one of the most truly familiar carols of all time.