Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Father, Maurice Finnell, 1916-2010

Favorite beverage at his favorite place, The 3 Guys Coffee Shop

My dear father passed away on January 5, 2010 at age 93. He was a rare human being, a witty and erudite gentleman from another era and a Teacher of Music for over 50 years in New York City. He taught Sight-Singing and Musicianship and was a vocal coach to over 9,000 students, was on staff at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), Turtle Bay Music School, The American Theatre Wing and at NYU's Gallatin Division, and also taught at Guild Studios at the Ansonia Hotel and at his private studio at home. He was still teaching until a few weeks before his death, and had planned to start again in January after recovering from a fall.

Born in Trenton, New Jersey to parents who immigrated from Eastern Europe and Russia, and the youngest of 8, he was musically precocious, and sang at age 16 in local vaudeville theaters. A baritone, he studied to be an opera singer, and sang in regional opera in his home town, but World War 2 interrupted his studies and he went off to serve at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. At the end of the War he resumed his musical training through the G.I. Bill by studying at the American Theater Wing in New York City. To supplement his singing career, he taught Sight-Singing, and was such a success that he abandoned his singing for teaching, and built an illustrious career. His students perform on Broadway, Television, Films and Opera, and include many famous names as well as others who continue to teach his methods. Dad was also active in choral work, conducting many High Holiday Services, in which I occasionally sang soprano. (I was tolerated by the other singers.) I grew up listening to solfeggio as I did my homework, and got a thrill seeing Broadway shows with my Dad that his students were appearing in. Later, as a costume designer, I had the pleasure of working with some of his former students as a professional in my own career.

Over the last five years I have been Dad's caregiver as his health issues mounted, and as any caregiver knows, it's a very demanding job, and not for everyone. Dad made it easier for me by remaining his gracious self, never wanting a fuss and spending too much time thanking me for things that he needn't have. It was a pleasure to do for you, Dad, and I only wish that we'd had a little more time together.

His funeral was this past Friday, and he is dearly missed and lovingly remembered by all, but probably most by me, as he was my best friend and advisor, in addition to being a loving and wise parent. Be at peace, Dad, you have earned your rest.

MTA: A memorial service celebrating his musical life was held on April 10 at the Friars Club in New York City.


Annette said...

I'm so sorry to hear of your loss, Jan. Your father sounds as if he was a remarkable man whose life touched many others.

Susan said...

My sincere sympathy to you, Jan. Your love and respect for your father shine through so clearly in your description of him - and I think he was fortunate to have you as a daughter and caregiver as well.

You must have so many wonderful memories.

OvertheTop said...

Thank you both for taking the time to comment. He was a very special man who was also my very best friend, so I feel quite rudderless at the moment.

TOM said...

Dear Jan,

I have just heard of your father's passing and although I am saddened, I am grateful to have met him. My daughter, Christina Skleros, began studying sight-singing with your father at the age of 14. She spent two years as a member and soloist fo the NJ All-State Jazz Choir, two and a half years at Manhattan School of Music as a Classical Voice major and is now a Senior at William Paterson in the Vocal Jazz Program. We have always known that the teachings and guidance your father offered her had the single most effect on vocal performance future.
She could walk into an audition and sight read 'anything' thanks to his teachings.
What I especially liked about your father was his understanding of how much time and effort as a family we were putting in.
We traveled from Barnegat, NJ to NYC twice a month for lessons that now seem priceless.
I thought of your father yesterday and searched his name on the web and learned of his passing. Over the past three or so years we were overwhelmed with two kids in college, family health issues and the like and lost touch with a number of what I called Christina's 'Dream Team' of music teachers. She was stunned yesterday when I told her and surprised at his age. She never knew that and always felt he was younger by the elegant way he carried himself.
We are so sorry for not getting to say good-bye but again, thrilled that we spent many an afternoon in his Studio. Please accept our sincere sympathy to you and your family.

Tom and Christina Skleros and Family

OvertheTop said...

Thank you, Tom, for this lovely comment. I called and left a message for you and hope to talk with you soon.

Carolyn said...

Dear Jan,
I'm Heather's mom. She was with you yesterday to celebrate Maurice's life. What a wonderful life he had to pass his teachings along to his students. He was a wonderful mentor who gave my daughter so much enrichment and culture to add to her life. He gave one a feeling of a safe harbor. I remember the day we went out together shopping for him to give him something special and we chose these beautiful rainbow colored wine glasses. He loved them and placed them on his mantel. He was all the beautiful colors of life. Heather and I will remember him as his teachings and gentle heart will remain with us.
I myself as a mother can see that he has given my daughter the ability to see life in a special way and continue to learn and grow. God Bless him and your family.

OvertheTop said...

Dear Carolyn,
Thank you for your wonderful, heartfelt comment. I had the pleasure of meeting Heather yesterday and only wish that I had had the time to really have a good chat, but I was running around making sure that the show went on as planned. I know those glasses well, admired them, and have them here - it was a lovely gift that he really enjoyed. We even used them, you'll be glad to know. The memorial yesterday was truly special and I have been receiving some amazing messages. Heather brought love and energy and that helped make it the kind of day it was. Please tell her how happy I am that she was there. :) Jan

Heather Wilkey said...

Dear Jan,

I was so happy to meet you and Ian at the memorial service. Thank you for your kind words.

It’s difficult finding the words to describe your Dad, because he gave so much as a teacher and friend. I miss him very much. Every Wednesday night prior to class,
I would look up to his window, and I could feel a guiding light. I loved his philosophy and wit. Much of the way I think today is due to his wonderful teachings. That will stay with me forever.

Maurice gave his students a vision. He was a true gentleman with a fine mind. There will never be another who inspired the way he did, so I can only compare him to a rare diamond.

God bless you. And I hope to become good friends just like your Dad.


OvertheTop said...

Hi Heather,
I only just checked this entry on my blog and am sorry that I didn't sooner. I'm so glad that you were part of Dad's memorial We will be having a farewell to 86th street gathering and I will be in touch!

I feel the same way that you do about looking up to the window and seeing the light on. It seems so wring that he isn't at his desk, in the studio that he loved so much,but his presence definitely is felt.

Lady-Light said...

I found your blog from someone else's (he followed yours). What a heartfelt tribute to your father, may his memory be a blessing.
Reminds me of my father, who passed away suddenly many, many years ago, when he was just 64.
He, too, was a teacher (of Hebrew and Jewish studies, not music)and scholar in his field for many years, and a Hebrew poet as well.

Even after all these years, I miss him still...

OvertheTop said...

Welcome, Lady-Light, and thank you for your kind comment. It's amazing where internet travels can lead, isn't it? I am so sorry about your father, who passed on too young. I can well imagine how much you miss him. I am thinking about him especially often during this holiday season - A Happy New Year to you and yours!

Eugene Ruffolo said...

hi jan
My name is Eugene Ruffolo..I am a singer here in NYC..55 years old....and when i first moved to new York and began my career as a performer and session singer..studied for a few years with your wonderful dad.
I was doing an interview today when someone asked me how important it was for a young singer to read music. "well" I told them -"not as important as it was years ago for sure....but my REAL advice is for all singers to become better musician in general, and to study rhythm".. I went on to talk about this wonderful teacher I had when I was a young musician in NY..and how much he helped me with his book (which I remember SO well (Rythmical Articulation) we used to work with that book, and i still remember vividly the JOY your father would have on his face as I made progress,,and every time i mastered a new rythmical figure..That book --and his teachins helped me SO much in my career as a singer (and continue to do so) He was a wonderful man/teacher... As I was walking home i thought to myself: "I wonder if Maurice is still alive and in NY"
I googled him--and your blog answered my question... His legacy lives on....what a wonderful man who left a lasting, indelible impression

OvertheTop said...

Eugene, thank you for taking the time to write such an evocative and kind comment about Dad. I love it when people let me know that they are thinking about him and share their memories. He thought that he was meant to be a performer, but his true calling was teaching, as your story shows. How proud he would be to know that you are still making beautiful music!

Nanette Norwood said...

Hi Jan,
I was a student of your father's and I want to tell you how sorry I am to learn of his passing.
There was one thing that your father taught me when I was studying with him.
While I picked up very quickly. there was one story he told me about, and that was the one about "The Tortoise and the Hare", he told me that story for a reason as not to let speed get in the way of accuracy. because when you go fast, you tend to make errors like the hare did, when you take your time, you achieve the accuracy that is required to sight read properly.
I will never forget that.
Your father was recommended to me by a voice teacher named, Lynn Starling who admired and respected Maurice very much.
Your father will be missed.

OvertheTop said...

Thank you so much, Nanette, for thinking of Dad and for taking the time to leave your comment. It means a lot to see that people still think of him and read that his teaching left an imprint on their lives. I remember Ms. Starling - he spoke of her often, and I hope that she is well. :)