Wayne Conner

Age 79: Peabody vocal teacher, faculty member for 4 decades

May 14, 2008|By Jacques Kelly

Wayne Conner, a much-revered Peabody Institute vocal teacher whose tenure in the classroom lasted nearly 45 years, died of liver cancer Friday at Jefferson Medical Center in Philadelphia. He was 79.

"He was a beloved Peabody figure," said James Harp, the Baltimore Opera Company's artistic administrator, who was a former student. "He was a walking encyclopedia of vocal music. His classes were required for all voice students, but he was such a wonderful teacher, other students would sign up to hear him."

Jesse Wayne Conner was born in Dallas. He received a bachelor's degree in accounting from Southern Methodist University and was working for a law degree when friends suggested he consider singing.

"He had the courage to bypass his early career start and follow the path that he thought was natural to him," said Ernest Ligon, a member of the Peabody faculty and a friend. "He had an insatiable curiosity about music. His interests were broad and his knowledge vast."

Mr. Conner earned a Bachelor of Music degree at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute and a Master of Music degree at the Peabody. He won the 1956 Walter Naumburg Competition, which allowed him to make a New York debut at Town Hall.

He joined the Peabody faculty in 1963 and spent 45 years commuting twice a week to Baltimore from his Philadelphia home. He taught at Peabody until April 15, the day before he went into the hospital for tests.

"He was world-renowned as a scholar and critic," said Phyllis Bryn-Julson, chairwoman of Peabody's voice department. "But he was just as well-known as being a phenomenal mentor to young students. He was devoted to them, and so many say that it was because of him they chose a life in music and teaching."

Mr. Conner was chairman of Peabody's voice department for 11 years. He was also known for his expansive knowledge of French and German art songs.

"The man had an extraordinary knowledge of vocal music," said Ernest Liotti, a former student who is on the Loyola College faculty.

Friends said Mr. Conner was noted for his tenor voice and a familiarity with recordings and the history of singing. He often lectured for the Baltimore Opera Company and was involved with the Johns Hopkins Odyssey program.

He taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and was the host of two NPR programs, Singers' World and Collectors' Corner.

In 1966 he gave a recital at the Peabody that was much praised by newspaper critics. He also sang with the Zagreb Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra under its longtime director, Eugene Ormandy.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

Survivors include a cousin, Carrie McDonald of Dallas.

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