Jennings, Kenneth L. former Conductor of the St. Olaf Choir, passed away in his home on August 20, 2015, at the age of 90. Born May 13, 1925, he grew up in Fairfield and Westport, Connecticut. His first job, at age ten, was as pianist for Sunday school worship, and by age fourteen he was in demand as an accompanist who was both quick and musical. From 1944 to 1946 he served in the U. S. Army and was a member of the Fifth Infantry Soldier Chorus, which toured in Europe following the end of World War II. Inspired by its director Luther Onerheim, a St. Olaf College graduate, he enrolled at St. Olaf and graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree in 1950. He earned a Master's degree in composition from Oberlin Conservatory in 1951, and in 1966 a doctorate in choral conducting from the University of Illinois. In 1953, after serving two years on the faculty of Mitchell College, Statesville, N.C., he joined the faculty of St. Olaf College. With the Chapel Choir, which he conducted from 1954 to 1968, he initiated the yearly performance of a major choral-orchestral work, including the first St. Olaf performances of the Bach Passions. In 1968 he was appointed Conductor of the St. Olaf Choir, succeeding Olaf C. Christiansen, and in 1983 was named the first Tosdal Professor of Music. Kenneth Jennings was a gentle man with a warm heart and a generous spirit; a poetic, insightful musician who infused music with humanity. With his singers he encouraged a vibrant, natural style of singing and helped them discover the interactions of music, text, phrasing and sonority, in order to convey to the listener all that was inherent in the music. Bold and innovative in his programming, he expanded the repertoire to include more contemporary music, more cultural diversity, and music that combined voices and instruments. Under his direction, the St. Olaf Choir performed in all the major performing centers of the United States and many in Europe and Asia. A special invitation from the Vatican brought the choir to Rome in 1975 to participate in the Week of Christian Unity. Singular honors came in 1972 when he was invited to conduct the opening concert of the Strasbourg International Music Festival, with the St. Olaf Choir, the Strasbourg Philharmonic and international soloists performing Bach's Mass in B minor; and in 1988, when the choir was one of five choirs in the world, and the only U. S. choir, invited to present a concert in the Seoul Olympic Arts Festival. A rewarding collaboration with the Minnesota Orchestra began in 1970. Over a period of two decades Jennings prepared the choir for performances of twelve major works under the baton of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and Neville Marriner. The first national telecasts of the Christmas Festival, which he oversaw in 1976, 1983, and 1989, further increased St. Olaf's visibility, and international tours of Europe (1970, 1972, 1975, and 1980) and Asia (1986 and 1988) extended the college's global perspective. In retirement Jennings held posts as Visiting Professor of Music at the University of Arizona (1992-93) and Gustavus Adolphus College (1994-95), and composed what he considered some of his best works. St. Olaf College honored him with a Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2004. Kenneth cherished his family with pride and a deep abiding love. He is survived by his wife Carolyn and their children: Steven, Lisa, and Mark, with their spouses Pauline Jennings, Timothy Malchow, and Susan Knox; grandchildren Christopher Pahr, Samantha Pahr, Nathaniel Malchow, Jonathan Malchow, Patrick Jennings, and Elliot Jennings; nephews Joseph Jennings and David Jennings; and grandnephew Ryan Jennings. Services at 2 pm Friday, Sept. 18, at St. John's Lutheran Church in Northfield. Visitation 4-7 pm Sept. 17 at Benson Langehough Funeral Home and at the church one hour before the service. The family suggests memorials to St. Olaf College, St. John's Lutheran Church, or Northfield Community Action Food Shelf. northfieldfuneral.com

Published on September 13, 2015


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