Distinguished Alumni Awards

Established by the School of Music faculty in 2010,this annual award recognizes alumni who have achieved distinguished careers in the field of music on a regional, national, or international level in music performance, education, scholarship, theory and composition,arts management and administration, or music business,or through outstanding service to the musical arts.

Distinguished Music Alumnus for 2015:  Jess Smith '50

Someone had to be the first. The University of Puget Sound has had a music program since 1893, but it was not until the late 1940s that it offered a Bachelor of Music degree in performance. That degree was awarded first, with honors, to Jess Smith in 1950. While that first makes Smith part of Puget Sound’s history, it is what he did with his education that leads to recognizing him as the outstanding music alumnus for 2015–16.

 A Tacoma native, Smith graduated from Lincoln High School in 1942. He served in the Air Force in Europe as a clerk-typist the last two years of World War II, and upon returning to Tacoma he matriculated at Puget Sound, first majoring in English and then switching to music. A pianist, he studied with Leonard Jacobsen, the faculty member for whom the university’s faculty artist series is named. Following graduation Smith went to New York, where he studied one year at Juilliard. Short of funds, he left Juilliard to work for the Irving Trust Company on Wall Street, but continued to study piano privately. In 1957 he completed a master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University.

 In 1967 Smith began his relationship with the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, working in the main office and teaching music theory. He soon was transferred to the Queensboro branch as director, and in short order sextupled enrollment. He was brought back to the Brooklyn campus in 1971 as vice president, rising to executive director in 1977, a position he held until entering retirement in 1988. Smith’s career was marked by decades of outstanding service and leadership. It was a fitting tribute when the president of the borough of Brooklyn proclaimed his last day at the conservatory as “Jess Smith Day.”

Jess Smith is one of a kind. In an interview with Duane Hulbert, distinguished professor of piano at Puget Sound, Smith said, “UPS would be proud of the way I used my Bachelor of Music degree.” 

He’s right. We are.

Distinguished Music Alumna for 2014:  Freda Herseth '77

Freda Herseth ’77 is an alumna who already has enjoyed recognition from her alma mater for outstanding achievements. In 2001 she was awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Humanitarian Service. An alumni award for professional achievement followed in 2007.  In 2014–2015 the School of Music is proud to add a third honor: its Outstanding Alumni award. 

Herseth has traveled far since her student days at Puget Sound, building an international career that continues to this day. After graduation she undertook graduate studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Following her work as a Fulbright Scholar in Munich, Germany, her early professional career was spent as a freelance artist in New York City, and as a participant in summer programs at Tanglewood Music Center, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

 It was at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, after auditioning for conductor Dennis Russell, that Herseth’s career went global. Russell cast her in a number of roles at the Baden-Württemberg State Opera House in Stuttgart, Germany. From there her career expanded to include performances in other European opera houses, as well as with orchestras and chamber ensembles throughout Russia, Israel, and the United States. 

 Herseth’s performing career is not limited to opera. She has been active in oratorio and especially new music, premiering many works with the world’s most renowned conductors and ensembles, such as with conductor Ricardo Muti and the La Scala Opera Orchestra. She can be heard in recordings from CRI, Crystal, Gasparo, MMC, South German Radio/Television, Hessen Radio (Frankfurt), Bavarian Radio (Munich), ORF Austrian Radio/Television, RAI Italian Radio, and Northeastern Records.

 Since 1995 Herseth has been on the faculty at the University of Michigan, where she served as chair of the voice department for eight years and is currently the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Voice. Adding to her accolades as a performer, she recently was honored for her research and excellence in the field of vocal pedagogy with the Van Lawrence Fellowship at the Voice Foundation Annual International Symposium in Philadelphia. We recognize Freda Herseth ’77, exceptional performer and pedagogue, for her leadership, her professional success, and for being a model alumna of the University of Puget Sound. 

Distinguished Music Alumnus for 2013:  Paul B. Fritts

What does it take to be a master organ builder? A marriage of mechanical aptitude and a musical ear? Well-honed skills from years of experience and experimentation? An eye for detail? A quest for perfection? Patience? All of the above, actually, and all are found in Paul Fritts.

Fritts is a Tacoma native, and graduated from Franklin Pierce High School. He entered Puget Sound in 1969, living at the Commencement Bay campus, part of the Weyerhaeuser estate in northwest Tacoma, and taking classes both there and on the main campus. He studied violin with Edward Seferian and played in the orchestra, but he did not envision a career as a violinist. Another opportunity opened, literally, at home. His father, a professor of music for 20 years at Pacific Lutheran University, entered organ building, opening R. Byard Fritts and Company. Four years later Paul joined his father, building his own first organ for the Anchorage Lutheran Church in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1977.

In 1980 Paul took over the business from his father, focusing on historically inspired, mechanical-action instruments. His first completely mechanical-action organ, his Opus 1, was built in 1979 for the Shelton (Washington) United Methodist Church. The Bethel Schneebeck organ in the university's Kilworth Memorial Chapel, built in 1989, was his Opus 8, replacing the organ his father installed 20-some years earlier. Nine years later, his Opus 18 was installed at Pacific Lutheran University, a fitting tribute to the institution where his father had taught.

In 1989 the company adopted its current name: Paul Fritts & Company Organ Builders. A quarter of a century later, Fritts is recognized as one of the leading organ builders in the country. He has installed 42 custom-designed organs in 13 states and Korea, in churches, cathedrals, residences, parishes, and at 10 universities. Fifteen organists have made 20 professional recordings on his instruments. The organs have ranged from modest instruments of two manuals and 10 stops to a current, three-year installation of a four-manual, 70-stop organ underway for the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at University of Notre Dame. Fritts’ meticulous attention to detail, thorough research of organ-building traditions in Europe and North America, and sensitivity to the acoustical properties of spaces for each installation have earned him the highest praise. With the exception of electric blowers and electronic pre-set systems, every detail of each instrument, from design through construction of its thousands of components, is done in the workshop, progressing from raw materials to the finished product.

While organs do not hold the prominence in the musical world they once had, there always will be a demand for high-end instruments like those built by Paul Fritts. His craftsmanship sustains the tradition of organ building. Paul and his instruments are the very models of excellence.

Distinguished Music Alumnus for 2012:  Donald Kirkpatrick ‘81

What does it mean to be a successful musician?  It could be performing on stage in the world’s greatest concert halls or inspiring listeners in one’s own backyard.  It might include winning a major competition or helping to secure funding to start a Children’s’ Concert Series with a local orchestra.  It may show through a glowing review in the New York Times or at a moment when a listener is moved to tears with a performance in a remote concert hall.  A successful life in music can look many different ways.

Donald Kirkpatrick is one of those successful musicians.  He has given himself tirelessly to music in his community as a performer, educator, and advocate.  Currently he serves as the Concertmaster of the Southwest Washington Symphony Orchestra in Longview, Washington, a position he has held for a decade in an ensemble for which he serves on its Board of Trustees.  He founded the Chamber Music Society of Southwest Washington and serves as a Parent-Volunteer Coach for the Student Orchestras of Greater Olympia.  He is a regular performer on the Celebration Concert Series at the St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Longview.  He has helped secure grant funding to start the Children’s Concert Series by the Southwest Washington Symphony and has worked closely with the superintendent in Longview to keep arts in the schools.  All of these activities he does above and beyond his practice as a physician specializing in Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine at St. John’s Medical Center in Longview. 

Don Kirkpatrick’s work has contributed to keeping the Southwest Washington Symphony Orchestra thriving.  His advocacy has helped the arts remain a priority in his community’s schools.  He continues to perform as actively as many professional performing musicians.  His love of music, passionate engagement in supporting the arts, and service to others is an inspiring model for us all.

Distinguished Music Alumna for 2011:  Judith Arron ‘64

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, practice, practice.

When it comes to Judith Arron, this well-known adage needs revision: “Practice, vision, perseverance.” Arron graduated from Puget Sound in 1964 with a performance degree in cello and piano. During her studies she assisted Professor Eduard Seferian, conductor of Tacoma’s then town-and-gown symphony orchestra, taking on managerial duties as his assistant. That experience, combined with her music degree, led to a career of far-reaching influence.

After graduation Arron worked as the manager of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO). During her 15 years at CSO she created an outreach program for schoolchildren that became widely admired in orchestra circles around the country. In 1986 she became the executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall, a position she held until 1998. There she presided over some of the most momentous years of the hall’s history. She oversaw an exhaustive $60 million renovation, the refurbishment of Weill Recital Hall into a vibrant performance space, and the season-long centennial celebration of 1990–91. Under Arron Carnegie Hall promoted and extended educational programs with workshops overseen by musicians such as conductor Robert Shaw and composer/conductor Pierre Boulez. Additionally she helped lead an endowment campaign in 1995 that continues to raise millions of dollars for the hall.

Judith Arron passed away in 1998. An inspiration to many, she is remembered as influential and hardworking, as someone who practiced her craft brilliantly with vision and perseverance.

Distinguished Music Alumnus for 2010:  Leonard Raver ‘51

A native of Wenatchee, Wash., organist Leonard Raver grew up in Tacoma, attended Stadium High School, and graduated from Puget Sound in 1951, majoring in music and minoring in French. His journeys took him many places after finishing his Bachelor of Arts degree, including travels and study as a Fulbright Scholar. He eventually settled in New York City, where he became organist for the New York Philharmonic in the 1970s. Over the next three decades, Raver taught at numerous colleges and conservatories, including Yale University, Pennsylvania State University, and University of Hartford.  Most notably he was a member of the faculty at The Julliard School from 1975 to 1990.

Along with his teaching career at Juilliard and membership in the New York Philharmonic, Raver was a frequent recitalist and a champion of contemporary music.  He built a large repertory of modern American works in a variety of styles and worked hard to win audiences for them. In the 1970s and 1980s he commissioned and premiered dozens of important new works for the organ, and he established a series of “Organizm” concerts, which challenged audiences to confront and appreciate contemporary music. His legacy can be heard in recordings released by Sony, Columbia, Other Minds, New World, and CRI. He passed away in 1992. 

From modest beginnings playing organ at local churches in Tacoma, to becoming a leading organist in one of the music capitals of the world, Leonard Raver enjoyed a successful career worthy of the recognition it earned. We are proud to honor him as a graduate from Puget Sound.