A life immersed in music

Rita Fandrich ’66 began her Cornell education years before she actually arrived in Mount Vernon.

Rita Fandrich ’66 21

At age 12 she had the rare opportunity to study with Helen Venn, who after 29 years as professor of piano at Cornell, retired and moved home to the small Ohio community of North Bloomfield where Fandrich lived.  She recalls the day her father took her for an audition to study with Venn.

“She accepted me as a pupil, and over the next six years, she carefully nurtured my development as a pianist,” Fandrich says.

“In typical Cornell tradition, she taught me how to analyze, to think critically, to solve problems, and to work independently.

Now in retirement as I look back, I know it was my good fortune during those formative years to receive from her the technical and musical foundation that I would need for my entire career.”  

Fandrich was accepted at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. By the end of her freshman year, though, she decided to transfer to Cornell to study with Professor Julian Bern, Venn’s successor in the music department. Bern, along with professors Alf Houkom, Robert Thayer, and Wilbur Kent, continued to nurture her passion and love for music.

After leaving the Hilltop, Fandrich went to Indiana University in Bloomington, where she earned a master’s degree in piano performance and literature. In 1968 she joined the faculty at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, where she taught until her retirement in 2011. During her 43-year tenure she taught piano performance majors and courses in music theory, counterpoint, form and analysis, orchestration, and composition. “I designed my courses along the lines of my experiences at Cornell,” she says.

For 17 summers she also taught piano and piano accompaniment to precollege students at a performing arts camp in Shell Lake, Wisconsin.

Since retiring her schedule hasn’t slowed much. In 2013 she served for two months as piano adjudicator in Hawaii, and she continues to perform frequently with music colleagues at Florida Southern in faculty recitals. In June 2017 she is scheduled to perform at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for a Florida Southern gala Frank Lloyd Wright anniversary celebration.

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a musician, to spend my life making music,” she says. “It has brought so much joy, so many opportunities to my life. I cannot imagine not playing piano, not teaching music.”

In memory of her parents, she has chosen to establish an endowed scholarship fund at Cornell. “I hope that in some way I have passed on a love for music to my students and encouraged them. The scholarships are one way to continue that encouragement.”