The Ferris Fellows

John Raymond FerrisJohn Raymond Ferris, University Organist and Choirmaster (1958-1990), in rehearsal with the Harvard University Choir. Photo courtesy of Nancy Wilson. 

In Honor of John Raymond Ferris

By Edward Elwyn Jones
Gund University Organist and Choirmaster

Harvard’s oldest living tradition, its daily service of Morning Prayers signaling the beginning of each academic day, features music by the Choral Fellows of Harvard University (whose singing the New York Times called “otherworldly and unforgettable”). These sixteen singers provide the music five mornings a week as well as leading the Harvard University Choir in its schedule of services, concerts, and recordings. While a body of singers has always sung the University’s daily services (the Morning Choir), the idea of a more formalized group was instituted by Dr. Murray Forbes Somerville, Gund University Organist and Choirmaster 1990–2003.

Murray SommervilleDr. Somerville writes, “During my sabbatical term, in the spring of 1998, spent studying three noted US choirs and three choirs in the other Cambridge, I noticed that special attention was placed on vocal training, several of the choirs requiring private study with approved teachers. Upon my return, I worked on a plan to move in this direction, building on the institution of Morning Choir as the backbone of the Harvard University Choir. We decided on a scheme of choral fellowships, appointed in the spring for the following year, with option to renew on both sides, with an enhanced stipend and mandatory voice lessons paid for by the church. A generous gift from HBS alumnus Buzz McCoy enabled funding for the first three years, and the inaugural class of Choral Fellows took office in the fall or 2001.”

In the fall of 2017, Dr. Somerville proposed that we honor our distinguished predecessor, John Raymond Ferris — whose work with the Harvard University Choir is legendaryJohn Raymond Ferris— by naming the group in his honor (the Ferris Fellows). Dr. Somerville announced our intention to do so at the Uchoir reunion that fall, and he kicked off the campaign with a very generous lead donation. We are now very close to the target of $200,000 which, alongside funds already amassed, will reach the threshold to enable the group’s naming in John’s honor.

As Chairman of the Harvard University Choir Alumni Committee, and long-time Choir Secretary, Jim Farmer writes, “It is fitting to remember John Ferris by naming this fund in his honor to supplement the Ferris plaque outside Appleton Chapel. During his lengthy tenure as University Organist and Choirmaster (1958–1990), John built an extraordinary community of singers (over 750 Uchoir alums), all of whom counted him as mentor, teacher, confidant, and friend.”

It is our hope to complete this campaign by the fall of 2021 when, at the start of October, another Uchoir reunion will be held. In a building whose very stones are a living memorial to Harvard’s dead, and a guardian of its memories and hopes, I can think of no more fitting tribute to our distinguished predecessor, whose extraordinary legacy continues to resonate around our hallowed walls.

For more information about the Choral Fellows and the Harvard University Choir read Choir & Organ's An Uncommon Leap of Faith, published in 2002.