In Memoriam: Don O. Franklin

The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Music is deeply saddened by the passing of Don O. Franklin, Professor Emeritus. Don joined the Music Department in 1970, served two six-year terms as Chair, and was a pillar of the Music Department and the musicology concentration at the University of Pittsburgh until his retirement in 2009. A leading Bach scholar, Don Franklin was President of the American Bach Society for four years and was a founding editor for Bach Perspectives. He was beloved by his undergraduate and graduate students who, along with Bach scholars from around the country, published Compositional Choices and Meaning in the Vocal Music of J.S. Bach in 2018, a volume of essays collected as a tribute to Don’s half-century as a “prominent leader in American Bach studies.” In 1991, Don Franklin co-founded the department’s very popular Bach and the Baroque series which ran for sixteen years and featured a period instrument ensemble. He also led the Heinz Chapel Choir for five years, greatly expanding their repertoire and taking them on their first international tour.

Don Franklin’s warmth, intelligence, leadership, and wit will be sorely missed by those of us who were privileged to work with him.   

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A memorial service will be held at a later date. Donations can be made in his honor to the Don O. Franklin Prize in Musicology at the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Music. Please make the checks out to the University of Pittsburgh and make a particular note of the specific fund with all donations, on the check or in the "other" category online.

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A Personal Remembrance from Mathew Rosenblum, Former Chair

Don Franklin’s lasting impact on the University of Pittsburgh’s Music Department is vast and very hard to measure. For me, Don set the tone for what it meant to be a professor and a responsible colleague in the department. He set the standards for teaching and scholarship hrough example and his students and colleagues loved him. Don hired me in 1991, and since that time, served as a mentor and role model as I progressed in my teaching and creative work. During Don’s two terms as chair, twelve years in total, he led the department through difficult times and did so with integrity and fairness. He was persuasive and ultimately convinced me to take on the role of Chair of the department at an informal coffee meeting on his front porch. I fondly remember looking forward to the many performances he led at Heinz Chapel as conductor and co-director of the stellar Bach and the Baroque series. I am forever grateful for the way he and Joan greeted me and my family when we arrived in Pittsburgh, including visits to our home when our children were born. I will miss his smile, insights, and sense of humor.  I am very grateful for the enduring scholarship he has left us, and for the many ways in which he inspired our students, faculty and staff. He helped to create the solid foundation on which our department rests today. His legacy will live on.

A Personal Remembrance from Deane Root, Former Chair

Don Franklin contacted me at the University of Illinois in 1979 to ask if I could help the University of Pittsburgh assess its Stephen Foster collection’s potential for academic teaching and research.  The collection reported to the Secretary of the University, along with Heinz Chapel and the Nationality Rooms. I travelled to Pittsburgh, spent two days in the collection, wrote my report, and two years later was again contacted by him asking if I would be interested in applying for the curator’s position.  The job description charged the curator with bringing the collection into the mainstream of the University’s teaching and research, and with making it a center for national focus on music of the United States.  I was one of three candidates interviewed in 1982, and my interview included a presentation to the faculty of Music on the role of American-music studies in higher education.  Besides Don, other members of the search committee included Maxine Bruhns, director of the Nationality Rooms Program, and John Robert Quatroche, Secretary of the University, who chaired the search.  Early on, I was impressed that a music department was reaching out to other parts of the University for collaborative opportunities.

When I joined the Pitt staff that year, Don offered me one adjunct course per term, and I developed the department’s courses in American-music sociology and history.  He also invited me to sit in on all the music faculty meetings, which seemed to me a bit extraordinary and also completely bewildering, since I was unfamiliar with the longstanding academic, administrative, and physical-plant issues being discussed.  The next spring I was also made Administrator of Heinz Chapel, and so I began working with Don—and professor Robert Lord, University Organist, as well as a succession of Heinz Chapel Choir directors—in new ways. 

Through it all, Don quietly encouraged initiative.  I found myself somewhere in between—and thus able to get along with—the faculty in our different degree programs and specialties within musicology, ethnomusicology, jazz, composition and theory.  I was particularly encouraged to think about the core graduate curriculum, by Wayne Slawson (Theory) and Kwabena Nketia (Mellon Professor in Ethnomusicology), and had many a lunch-time discussion especially with Kwabena about how to organize it.  We presented our proposal to Don as chair, and it became the foundation for the integrated approach for which the Pitt graduate program has been known for generations. 

Don could tell fascinating stories of how the Music Department functioned when it was housed in the Cathedral of Learning, and the challenges of moving to the Holland residence, the renovated oldest building on campus (which it still occupies).  He worked hard on attracting a diverse series of Mellon Professors to work with Pitt’s students.  He contributed his services when I chaired and Pitt hosted national scholarly conferences (IASPM and SAM in 1987; AMS in 1992), and he was particularly active in the University Bicentennial celebrations (1987) when, as chair of the Bicentennial Cultural Committee, I scheduled performances of Monteverdi’s Vespers with original instruments in Heinz Chapel. 

Don was quiet, reserved, and deeply committed to furthering the careers of his students and junior colleagues.  Through his Bach and Baroque series he gave them opportunities to engage in public musicology by writing program notes, presenting on public radio, editing music and lyrics for performance, and performing on period instruments and with vocal ensembles.  He extended that work beyond campus—still involving Music Department students—through engagements with early-music groups in Pittsburgh and the Calvary Episcopal Church in Squirrel Hill, not far from his Northumberland Street home. 

In many ways, Don’s persona set the tone for the Music Department as a whole.  His work was based on solid research, applied not only in scholarly communication media but to a wide range of public activities.  He was understated, modest in acknowledging his own accomplishments, but excitedly enthusiastic about the successes of his associates.  He spoke with a sort of self-deprecation about his “Lake Wobegon” background, shied from discussing his own health or needs, but in every conversation with me turned the topic to how I was doing (with research, life, administration, courses…).  He was discreet, a gentleman of old-school morals and values, and a devoted champion of those around him.  We who have spent years with the Music Department at the University of Pittsburgh owe him more than we can ever know or acknowledge.