News’ View: Prayers for Professor Lalli

On a Wednesday night last March, in the annex of Commons that was the temporary Jonathan Edwards College dining hall for the year, Richard Lalli MUS ’86 was introduced to the JE community as the college’s new master. Someone handed Professor Lalli a scarf in JE’s colors.

“I get to keep it?” he exclaimed. “It wasn’t just for the pictures?”

No, Lalli was told. It’s yours — and so is JE.

“This is a great occasion,” Lalli told the assembled students and fellows. “It’s probably the greatest occasion of my life.”

Speaking to a reporter that night, Lalli said he was in a “state of euphoria.” He said he never dreamed, as a non-ladder faculty member, that he would even be considered for such a position. He described President Levin’s decision to appoint him as “the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me.”

For those who were gathered with Lalli last winter to witness his elevation to master, the news on Monday that the adjunct music professor was confined to a hospital bed after sustaining a brain hemorrhage was uniquely heartbreaking.

We struggle to think of a person at this University who better represents what is special about Yale than Richard Lalli.

Professor Lalli received his artist diploma from the Yale School of Music in 1986, and he never left. Today, Richard Lalli is an institution.

Aside from his teaching, he directs the Yale Baroque Opera Project and led the Yale Collegium Musicum. Of course, he is a legend in the classroom, too. His much-revered course “The Performance of Vocal Music” is known to singers at Yale simply as “Lalli.” Two years ago, he received Yale’s top teaching award in the humanities, the Sidonie Miskimin Clauss Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities.

As a residential college fellow, Lalli was a regular in JE long before he was named master. He served as a resident adviser to a long list of plays and performances. And judging by his giddiness last spring — and his dressing as a teapot for a part in an opera performance in the new JE theater last week — Lalli was delighted to have the opportunity to work with more students. “I’ve always wanted 405 children,” he joked when he was announced as master.

To that, JE Master Gary Haller laughed. “You just wait,” he said.

Lalli’s wait to adopt his college’s worth of children was down to little more than three weeks when he fell ill on Sunday. Right now, his starting date is the last thing on anyone’s mind, and appropriately so. With Master Haller, who already agreed to stay on beyond his term to oversee JE’s re-opening after its renovation this fall, the college is in good hands.

It will be in good hands when Professor Lalli takes his post, too. That is a day to which we continue to look forward. Given his background in the arts and JE’s tradition in that area, Lalli is the perfect man for the job.

In Richard Lalli, we see an example of a person who got much from his education at Yale, and in recognition of that sought to give much back — not only as a faculty member, but also as an artistic adviser, a residential college fellow and a friend.

Virtually every singer to graduate from this school in the last two decades was touched by Richard Lalli’s presence. We hope nothing more than that JE students will soon have the same opportunity.


  • please

    Dear but,

    Thanks for "proving" that J.W. Gibbs wasn't tainted…I'd love to believe it…Your reasoning however is wrong, although I am loath to argue with it. (Hint: He was already a bit older than an undergrad at the birth of the silly place.)

    The reason I focused on science is simply to show that (and you can interpret this as you like) along with extraordinary mathematical prowess and/or instinct and tact for seeing into the secrets of Nature, VERY often comes

    1) A DEEP skepticism of organized religious/political authority and the sanctity/intellectual ability of its practitioners.

    2) A general contempt for honors, congratulations, robes, tassels, universities, clubs, exclusivity, wealth, connections, networking, grades, CV's, new clothing styles,…,the idea that Tony Blair should lecture about piety. I hope you can get the pattern.

    I thought these facts had descended to popular culture and would therefore be "Yale accessible".

    Being remembered, on its own, does not mean anything…I am quite sure that George Bush (a member, no?) will cast a very long shadow on history, as did George Washington. I was simply trying to point out that many truth seekers that we all PRETEND to admire, and whose work forms the backbone of the more difficult classes here, can't/couldn't stand the silly robes and traditions and what they stand for. These secret societies are one (large) step beyond even that.

    Of course if you are able to follow the spirit of my reasoning, you should also be able to see the difference between forming a scientific group whose purpose is to hide from violent religious/political zealots, and secret societies of gregarious rich people. Just in case you still don't get it: I am making a distinction between e.g. 1) the Underground Railroad and 2) Scull and Bones. I'm amazed it confused you.

    I know it’s off the topic a bit…and I'm not sure how to break it to you, but Derrida and Lacan are perpetrators of an enormous intellectual fraud. They and their students copy math formulas (they clearly don't understand) out of books to impress their friends. See A. Sokal for details. Hegel thought he knew that the search for further planets was futile…Kant thought he had proved the impossibility of non-Euclidean geometry.

    More to the point, I agree that universities can have aspects that are much like secret societies. They often make colossal and embarrassing "mistakes" when they take themselves seriously…like (and please see that this is no coincidence) deciding not to "tap" the greatest 20th century mind in theoretical physics. It is because of these episodes and others that, when Grisha Perelman (real thinker) was asked to provide a CV as part of the formality of being employed by a university, he refused, saying, "If you understand my work you don't need a CV; if you need a CV you don't understand my work." His proof of the Poincare conjecture may not be well known to you, but it will form a part of basic human knowledge that your grandchildren might understand.

    I'm not entirely sure why you brought up Marx as having…sort of "incidentally" not been part of a Yale style secret society. Have you read this guy…he would never have stopped vomiting if he knew people pretended to discuss his ideas in such quarters.

    The Pythagoreans were a loopy cult. They killed the fellow that proved the square root of two is irrational. A terrific example of the sterling work of a (it wasn't secret or exclusive) "society". Well played!

    And for you Christians…what do you think Jesus would think about secret societies? Or for that matter, keeping money you made in a hedge fund? Have you ever thought about it?

    You people are hopeless.