1937 - 2000
1937 - 2000
William Ferris preferred to be known as a composer who conducts rather than as a conductor who composes. He directed a professional chorus, but he was also delighted to be known as the director of music for Mt. Carmel Church in Chicago. He loved choral music, but he also served as organist at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago and at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester, NY. He was a performing musician who taught composition and choral music at the American Conservatory of Music from 1973 until his death. He was the first American composer to teach at the Vatican and to receive a papal knighthood granted by Pope John Paul II in 1989. He collapsed with a massive heart attack and died during a rehearsal of the Verdi Requiem with the William Ferris Chorale on May 16, 2000. His funeral was celebrated at Mt. Carmel on Saturday, May 20.
Educated in Chicago schools, William Ferris sang in a boy's choir and began to write his own motets while he was still in grade school. He studied piano and organ at DePaul University and the American Conservatory, taking private voice lessons with Leo Sowerby, who became his mentor. He was inspired by the Robert Shaw Choral to found his own chorus, which he did in 1971. He used the Chorale to champion the works of living composers, including Ned Rorem, Dominick Argento, Stephen Paulus, William Matthias, the Chicago priest-composer Edward McKenna, Vincent Persichetti, and William Schuman.
William Ferris's published compositions include two operas, a dozen orchestral works, fifteen chamber compositions, and more than sixty choral pieces.
Mr. Ferris's connection to NPM goes back to the 1993 National Convention in St. Louis, MO, for which he conducted the premiére performance of Carl Johengen's Veni Creator Spiritus. After that performance he became a sought-after workshop leader, sharing his skills in choral conducting with members of the Association. His final appearance at an NPM Convention was in Indianapolis in 1997, when he conducted the William Ferris Chorale in the Quartet "Riches Ancient and New" at the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul.
Tribute prepared by NPM staff, published in Pastoral Music, August-September, 2000, pg. 11. Reprinted with permission.