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One Last Thing...

Musical Memories

Alumni pay homage to longtime music director Joel Dolven


Music director Joel Dolven (fourth from left) inspired generations of music-lovers at Rensselaer.

In October, Rensselaer hosted the first-ever Alumni MusicFest, which brought nearly 75 former members of music groups back to campus (see "Gathering Hits High Notes"). Some who attended, and many others who did not, penned memories of their musical experiences, and in particular, their devotion to the man who inspired their lifelong love of music — Joel Dolven, who led campus music groups, notably the Glee Club, from the ’40s until he retired in 1970.

“I think all of us who sang for Joel Dolven in the Glee Club had the same experience, namely, that he was one who helped lay the foundation of our whole person. Of all my activities at RPI, I think my four years in the Glee Club are probably my fondest memories.”

Tom Donnelly ’50
Western Springs, Ill.


“Joel Dolven was my greatest musical influence. I learned a great deal from him especially about the great classical works we played…The Tuesday night session was the highlight of my busy week. To immerse in music was a great relief from the pressures that an RPI education requires.”

Allan Sperber ’64
Bethpage, N.Y.


“He made the music very personal for all members of the music organizations, and this provided a helpful balance for the technical studies of us engineering types.”

J. David Benedict ’49
Holland, Mich.


“Professor Joel Dolven was my mentor, friend, and counselor. By a wide margin, he influenced my young life more than anyone else on campus during those four years. From him I learned not only about music, but also about integrity and maturity — areas where undergraduates need plenty of help. I mastered Kirchoff’s Laws, Laplace Transforms, and Celestial Navigation with the help of the rest of the faculty, but Joel helped me with the foundation of my whole person. I’m now retired from a satisfying career in computer research, product design, and manufacturing, which was central to my life. But ever since graduation in 1951 I have also been involved, in some capacity (singer, director, accompanist, manager, etc.) in choral music, right up to the present, and perhaps that is Joel’s final — and most abiding — gift to me.”

Jim McCallister ’51
Johns Island, S.C.


“Campus Carols was a community tradition in early to mid-December on a Sunday night. It was more than a campus event since the Field House was filled. It was darkened as we filed onto the ice toward the stage singing Adeste Fidelis in Latin, unaccompanied. We made our way to the stage and when everyone was there we went to four-part harmony in English and filled that barn!”

Howard Henze ’69
Arden, N.C.


“My longest-lasting relationship from RPI (outside of a great education) is as a founding member, along with Jim Moore ’50, of the Four Horsemen Quartet. With Joel Dolven’s blessing, we put together the group to augment the Glee Club programs. During the next 50-plus years, the Four Horsemen sang on and off at various functions. I also learned my choral conducting ‘skills’ at Joel Dolven’s elbow.”

Bob Wassung ’50
East Lyme, Conn.


“At RPI, Joel further expanded my musical horizons and equally important my growth as a person.”

John Foehl ’53
Medway, Mass.


“Joel Dolven was magnificent! He’s the faculty member who made the greatest impression on me.”

Steve Smith ’50
Camden, Maine


“Without Joel Dolven, I never would have graduated from RPI. When my GI Bill ran out, he paid my tuition out of his own pocket in exchange for teaching some of his Music Appreciation classes. Without Joel Dolven, I never would have met my wife of 57 years. Joel encouraged the Russell Sage girls to come up and play in the RPI orchestra and she was one of them. (Joel sang at our wedding.) Without Joel Dolven, I would never have tried to live my life by his example of kindness, high standards, and great musicality. Without Joel Dolven, the Four Horsemen would not have maintained their close relationships, and we continued to sing and promote RPI for over 56 years.”

Chuck Kelly ’50
Lake Placid, N.Y.

Editor’s Note: Chuck Kelly ’50 contributed time, recordings, images, and much enthusiasm to the inaugural Alumni MusicFest, and was helping to spearhead the fund-raising effort to name the Conductor’s Suite in the new performing arts center for Joel Dolven. Chuck passed away suddenly Dec. 15, 2006.

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