Beloved music professor Davenny dies at 86



Emeritus music professor Ward Davenny ’36 MUS ’37, who taught at the School of Music for over 30 years, died Dec. 10 of a heart attack. He was 86 years old.

Davenny served on the faculty of the music school from 1939 until 1943 and then rejoined Yale in 1960 as chairman of the piano department. He remained at the University until he retired in 1987. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music from the Cleveland Institute of Music at the age of 17, Davenny received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Yale.

In addition to his teaching at Yale, he was also the director of the Hartford School of Music and the Cleveland Institute.

Davenny’s daughter Susan Davenny Wyner said her father “loved teaching.”

“He was a pianist and a musician who believed a musician should be connected to the greater community,” Wyner said. “He loved working with undergraduates and graduates.”

Wyner said Davenny worked to increase the involvement of students at the Yale music school and taught one of the first summers at the Yale Summer School of Music in Norfolk.

Sam Houston State University music professor Clive Swansbourne MUS ’82, who studied under Davenny at Yale, said he remembered Davenny as being constantly generous with his time.

“He was [an] extremely dedicated and energetic teacher,” Swansbourne said. “Sometimes he gave such long lessons that I’d come out absolutely exhausted.”

In addition to teaching, Davenny performed frequently. While he often played piano concertos, Wyner said her father’s real passion was chamber music.

“His true love was that kind of interaction with musicians,” Wyner said. “He loved that kind of collaboration.”

Emeritus music professor Keith Wilson frequently collaborated with Davenny when they both served on the Yale music faculty. He said they played practically every piano and clarinet piece available.

“After rehearsal, he’d say, ‘It’s nice doing business with you,'” Wilson said. “We played together millions of times. It was great to perform with him.”

Davenny’s interests outside music included sports, especially golf. Wyner said her father used to utilize sports analogies in his classes to explain musical concepts.

After his retirement, Davenny remained active, continuing to perform and serving as a visiting professor at the University of Illinois until 1991. In 1997, Davenny performed at the Music School’s Shubert bicentennial.

Music professor Elizabeth Sawyer Parisot MUS ’73, one of Davenny’s former colleagues, said Davenny remained involved in Yale’s musical community even after retirement. As part of this continued connection, Davenny established a Sunday afternoon concert series at his retirement community, the Whitney Center in Hamden, which featured professors and students from the Music School. Davenny had organized concerts until this upcoming March, Parisot said.

“It was a wonderful thing,” Parisot said.

The Davenny family is currently planning a musical tribute to Davenny at the Music School.

In addition to Wyner, Davenny is survived by his son Ward, his daughter Katherine, four grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

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