Kenneth Jennings, conductor & composer, died at 90

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Kenneth Jennings, born on May 13, 1925 and died August 20, 2015, he was the Harry R. and Thora Helseth Tosdal Professor of Music Emeritus and Director Emeritus of the St. Olaf Choir.

Jennings was a published arranger, composer, and choral music educator.

He was an alumnus of St. Olaf College and sang as a member of the St. Olaf Choir. He received his master’s degree from Oberlin College and his doctorate from the University of Illinois.

Jennings was appointed to the faculty of St. Olaf College in 1953, and became the third director of the internationally renowned St. Olaf Choir in 1968, succeeding founder F. Melius Christiansen and his son-successor, Olaf C. Christiansen.

He retired from St. Olaf College in 1990, turning over the podium to his former student, Anton Armstrong.

His wife, Carolyn Jennings, is also an emeritus professor of music at St. Olaf. Among three children, his son, Mark Jennings, is currently director of Choral Activities at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.

Jennings became noted for guiding and maturing the St. Olaf Choir from an ensemble rooted substantially in its early twentieth century formation to ascend as ranking among the world’s most highly respected choral ensembles.

A former student and colleague of Olaf C. Christiansen, Jennings understood and respected the choir’s distinct Lutheran tradition in his programming.

However, as the third director of the ensemble, he also modified the tradition of programming exclusively unaccompanied music.

Jennings prepared the choir to record Ravel’s [Daphnis and Chloe] with the Minnesota Orchestra under the direction of Stanisław Skrowaczewski, and during his tenure, he arranged for several notable conductors to rehearse and lead the St. Olaf Choir in concert, including Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, Bach specialist Helmuth Rilling, British organist Simon Preston, and Robert Shaw.

Jennings led the choir on twelve international tours, most notably to France (where he led the St. Olaf Choir, Strasbourg Philharmonic and International Soloists in Bach’s B Minor Mass for the Opening Concert of the 1972 Strasbourg International Music Festival), Norway (for the Bergen International Festival), and to Seoul, Korea (1988 Summer Olympics Arts Festival).

Since his retirement from St. Olaf in 1990, he has served as a visiting professor and choral conductor at Gustavus Adolphus College and The University of Arizona in Tucson.

Jennings served as the guest conductor at anniversary concerts in honor of F. Melius Christiansen (the 125th in 1996 and the 135th in 2006).

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