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.