David Fenton

A message from Margaret Panofsky to Chris Ambidge, who inquired about rumors that our friend David W. Fenton had died:

Alas, David’s death is not a rumor. He was my dear, close friend and colleague, and a member of the viol consort The Teares of the Muses [the NYU Collegium Viol Consort] that I direct. He died last night; he had been in poor health in recent months, but the cause of his death has not been determined. I’m comforted that he saw the release [on October 12] of the Teares of the Muses’ CD, “Ein Lämmlein,” something that he can be proud of. [The album can be downloaded from iTunes here] He was a driving force behind the project; he performed on the CD, and also created the edition that we used from the facsimile of the Capricornus work of the same title. I will miss him more than even I can know at this moment.

David (back right) in the Teares of the Muses:

A short bio: David received a B.Mus. in piano performance (with a minor in music history) from Oberlin Conservatory in 1984 and an M.A. in musicology at NYU in 1991. He worked for some time on a Ph.D. dissertation at NYU (on the piano quartet and quintet in Vienna, 1780-1810) and contributed two articles, “Piano Quartet” and “Piano Quintet”, to the The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (7th ed., 2000). Meanwhile, he worked as a computer consultant and programmer (see the David Fenton Associates site here).

(In David’s memory I’m listening to Mozart piano quartets and quintets and to music for the viola by Anton Hoffmeister.)

For many years David was a fixture of the Usenet newsgroup soc.motss (for lgbt people and their friends), which is how Chris Ambidge and I came to know him. Sometimes prickly, sometimes fussy, he was also entertaining and knowledgeable about many things.

That brings me to a sort of collaboration between me and David. It all started on May 11th, 2004, when I posted:

spring continues, things are in bloom, and pests abound.  there are deer everywhere, mountain lions on the hills above stanford, and now this, reported plaintively on ba.gardens…

I have an opossum eating all my oranges at night right off the tree. I just found out last night.

What can I do to stop this?

rice what would james thurber reply? highland, supposing that a cast-iron lawn dog wouldn’t deter opossums

(Rice Highland is one of my pseudonyms. The Thurber reference is to this item from the Pet Department section of Thurber’s The Owl in the Attic and Other Perplexities (1931):

This piece has given me pleasure since I first read it as a teenager.)

At this point, the discussion diverged in many directions, as newsgroup discussions tended to do. Terrible puns on possum ensued. People mused on cast-iron lawn dogs as anti-possum weapons. Chris Hansen combined Thurber and opossums in one remark, “All right — have it your way, you heard an opossum burp”, an allusion to Thurber’s famous cartoon caption “All right — have it your way, you heard a seal bark”. Jess Anderson suggested an actual anti-possum remedy, namely fox urine. And Mike Thomas moved from possums to possible raccoons:

We have a similar problem with something eating the peels only off lemons on our lemon tree. We suspect that it’s a raccoon, but it sure is bizarre in any case.

And I replied:

good grief.  i have blue jays that snip off the tops of my orchids, squirrels that uproot potted plants to bury their precious nuts, and the occasional exploratory roof rat in the ivy, but you possum-raccoon folks are in another league entirely.

zotling, reminding you all that when confronted by a mountain lion you’re supposed to make yourself look as large as possible

(Zotling is another pseudonym of mine.)

This led, of course, to postings on mountain lions, depredations by rats of several species (on two continents), lemon twists vs. olives as garnishes in martinis, and lemon twists enlivening espressos — and from David Fenton, a comment on the body of my possum/raccoon posting:

This would make a great art song.

Being David, he then went on to write one, treating my posting as poetry (my original intention, in fact), using the line division:

i have blue jays that snip off the tops of my orchids,

squirrels that uproot potted plants to bury their precious nuts,

and the occasional exploratory roof rat in the ivy,

but you possum-raccoon folks are in another league entirely.

Here’s the score (for baritone and piano) for opossum music. And a midi file for a synthesized version of the piece. (Not a great synthesizer, and “the possum/raccoon song” was never recorded with a human voice. But there’s the score, plus indications of how David heard the music, so if you’re moved to perform it, go for it.)

Our only collaboration. But we exchanged mail, met once (in San Francisco, at Mike Thomas’s house, in fact), and David occasionally commented on my postings, for instance on this one from last December, where he noted a syntactic point and went on to say:

I’m enjoying the images of these thongs and jock straps in particular because of the severe “genital grooming” of the models. That is, I have a fetish for shaved pubes, and note that all of these items of undergear that are so skimpy in the pouch are modelled by guys with no visible pubes. Seems like an issue that you might profitably address in your consideration of gay imagery (i.e., hair vs. hairlessness vs. obviously groomed/shaved bodies).

A nice combination of the intimate and the analytic.

18 Responses to “David Fenton”

  1. Ned Deily Says:

    It was so sad to hear of David’s death. With a nod to his “sometimes prickly, sometimes fussy” side, Mike Thomas noted elsewhere that David died too young and “should have replaced Andy Rooney”. But he also had a whimsical, creative side to go with his work as a respected musician and musical scholar, as evidenced by the art song story. Thanks for retelling it.

  2. Scott Safier Says:

    Thanks Arnold. Champ and I saw Michael Thomas’s post and had been looking for confirmation. David was a special person and I liked him a lot. We’ll miss him.

  3. More found poetry « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] (here), and an earlier one (here), and a link to the “roof rats in the ivy” poem (here): two earlier finds: Hermaphrodite Frogs Found In Suburban Ponds (NYT Science Times 4/10/08, […]

  4. Bruce Dodds Says:

    I feel slightly odd posting here. I did not know David personally except through the Microsoft Access newsgroup. For decades he has a highly respected contributor, always ready to help (and critique if the thought it was warranted). He was extremely knowledgeable about Access. I shall miss his highly distinctive, “sometimes prickly, sometimes fussy” voice.

    You may read a tribute to him

  5. Margaret Panofsky Says:

    Thank you for remembering David in your post. I saw your blog only today, two months after his death. As director of the Teares of the Muses (the viol consort) and David’s close friend, I was the one who wrote the obituary. Since then, the cause of death has been determined; David died of peritonitis. The Teares continue to miss him.

    Margaret Panofsky

  6. david dunkle Says:

    I found out about David’s death just today, 5 months late! I am in total shock!
    I first met David in Cleveland, freshly minted from Oberlin, where I also attended undergrad. school. He quickly joined a Latin Polyphonic Choir that I conducted at a Sunday Latin High Mass, near Severance Hall. And, a valued member he was, as we worked very fast and had a huge repertory (hundreds of difficult polyphonic and melismatic Gregorian pieces, even up to the Stravinsky Mass!), by the time David joined. We sang more music on a given Sunday than most churches do in an entire month, and he was up to it and THEN some!
    I wrote a stellar recommendation for him to Robert Bailey at NYU (my favorite Wagner-scholar friend from Yale), where he was enthusiastically accepted, *naturally*. He made straight A’s, naturally.
    He sang for me in my church jobs in Manhattan as well: always reliable to sing the right notes, and in tune (what more could a choirmaster ask?!)
    I still can’t believe this has happened.
    I got the real details from Rena Mueller at the mus. dep’t. of NYU this morning, in a *very long* conversation, for which I thank her.
    This is heartbreaking news to me.
    There are things Rena said to me which I will not repeat, as to why this happened, but that doesn’t lessen the sense of loss, perhaps, needless loss.
    Medical things need to be looked at periodically, no matter who you are: Queen of England, or homeless bum on the street; otherwise, they catch up to you and the grim reaper will come looking for you.
    RIP, David
    Great to have known and worked with you, to put it mildly!
    David Dunkle

  7. Margaret Panofsky Says:

    David D., our David of The Teares of the Muses talked about you and the Latin Polyphonic Choir constantly. Indeed, his participation was one of the highlights of his younger years. I continue to miss David every day. We are holding a memorial concert (O Traurigkeit) on March 30 at 7:30 pm at St. Michael’s Church (Amsterdam Ave, and 99th St.). The music is from the CD “Ein Lammlein.” The CD was David’s last great contribution. We’d love to see you there.
    Margaret Panofsky

    • david dunkle Says:

      Heavens, this reply is almost bringing me to “teares”!
      Alas, due to financial penury, I doubt that I could fly to NY.
      I played an organ concert at St Michael’s when I was nineteen years old and the magnificent Beckerath organ was two years old.
      My last NY apartment was three blocks away from the church, where I entertained sundry Oberlin people with complicated Gujurati & Punjabi dishes!
      Thank you so much!

    • david dunkle Says:

      Margaret, et al.: I made an “executive” decision to come to NY for the March 30th concert in memory of David, if I had to walk there on foot, to be present! An angel (in the disguise of my mother!) has graciously given me the green light to fly to NY for this. Her nod of approval is better than any Xmas gift I have ever received!
      So, I will be there with my ears wide open, to memorialize our mutual friend, whom we’ve lost, at a far too early age.
      Looking forward to this with eager anticipation.
      David Dunkle

      • Margaret Panofsky Says:

        David, how grand that you will be at our dear David Fenton’s memorial concert! And many thanks to your angelic mother (my mother fits that description too). I’m worried that David’s friends don’t know about the event; many have moved, and David became more isolated as his health worsened. Please tell everyone you know to attend along with you. This will also make up for the fact that his family won’t be there.


      • david dunkle Says:

        I spoke at length with Judy Nadelson, whom I introduced David to, ca. early nineties.
        David set up her computer systems at that time.
        Judy told me even more tragic things about this occurrence.
        She has rearranged concert tix for that Fri, to be able to attend the concert at St Michael’s.
        She lives at West End and Ninetieth St.
        People from Boston and New Haven are coming to the concert and to see me.
        This will be a reunion like no other!

      • Margaret Panofsky Says:

        Dear David D,,

        I’m very relieved that the concert will become a reunion for your friends and David F’s. Now we will have a real farewell event. (It will be so very sad, I know.) I’d hoped to put together a little reception following the concert, but the church charges for the space; the Teares cannot afford that, I’m afraid. I’m still trying to light a fire under the music department to get a few professors who knew David to attend. We’ll see…


      • david dunkle Says:

        It sounds like you and many other people, far and wide, are making Herculean efforts to bring together as many of us in this web that we call life, to do our duty to this mutual friend, and thank you!

      • Margaret Panofsky Says:

        Dear David,
        I’m so pleased that you were at the memorial concert! I would have enjoyed talking more with you about our dear David F. I was surprised that the chair of the NYU music department gave such a compelling talk about him.
        Thanks again!

  8. arnold zwicky Says:

    A note about comments: normally I’m a demon about not having comment threads diverted into other threads, but in this case it seems to me that by accident I’ve provided a place where David Fenton’s friends could get together (and I can’t see where else they could have). That pleases me.

    • david dunkle Says:

      Yes, Margaret, perfect in every way.
      His remarks were most welcome, both in content, and in length and sincerity!

  9. Thurber cartoons « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Other Thurber drawings: the cast-iron lawn dog (link) […]

  10. Jason Says:

    As a software developer I often wondered what happened to David. I learned a lot from him about Microsoft Access. This is sad.

    I, too, was very sick for a couple of years (during the time of David’s death) and my involvement with software development pretty much ceased during this time. Mine was diverticulitis and it nearly took me.

    I would like to know more about how and what David might have felt, health-wise. After learning of the cause, I have read about peritonitis on Wikipedia but it seems to be that the symptoms are shared with many common ailments that people can experience.

    It might be helpful to those who find this and who may be experiencing pains and discomforts to read. I made the mistake of ignoring my pain and discomfort in my abdomen. I speak from experience, go for a check up. The worst thing is you lose some time and an office visit cost. The best – you could save your life!

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