In Memoriam: Dr. Arthur Huff

Art conducting a concert

By Dr. Patricia Huff and Benjamin Kirk

Dr. Arthur E. Huff, professor emeritus of Music, passed on January 12, 2023, in Fresno, California. He was 94 years old.

A specialist in vocal performance and conducting, Huff taught at Fresno State from 1964 until his retirement in 1988, where he received emeritus status. He directed the Concert Choir, Madrigal Singers and the Men’s Chorus during that time. 

“The Chamber Singers and I were fortunate to perform a special concert for him during the 2019 holiday season and to present one of his arrangements. I can still see him sitting on the front row of the audience beaming at the students with pride,” said Dr. Cari Earnhart, professor and director of choral activities at Fresno State. “He contributed greatly to the Fresno arts and choral community and Fresno State through the years.”

He taught countless students in his conducting, choral arranging and voice courses and supervised student teachers in music. Many of those students are now teaching the next generation around the country and abroad. 

“Art Huff was a kind, gentle, unassuming, and tolerant mentor,” said Dr. Tony A. Mowrer, professor of choral music education. “When offering suggestions for improvements, his words were prefaced with ‘this is working, but it might work better if…’. He was always excited to point out a new idea he found in a piece of music, and he was excited to reveal his latest edition. He could be just as excited about the accomplishments of a friend. I remember one rehearsal when he trumpeted an article I published in a journal before I had even seen the final product. Art loved life, and he loved the people in his life. He was a good man and will be missed.”

Professional photo of Dr. Arthur Huff in a tuxedo.

Huff was very active in local music circles. At Fresno State, he is credited with starting a long tradition of partnering with others in the local choral community, broadening the student’s horizons while enriching the region’s culture. 

“Dr. Huff continues to inspire Fresno State choral students to achieve new artistic heights when they receive the support of a scholarship in his name,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.

In 1966 he became the director of the Fresno Community Chorus and continued in that position until he retired. He performed as a soloist with the Visalia Philharmonic Orchestra and the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra. Over the years, he served as the choir director for several Fresno churches, including Saint Paul’s Methodist Church, First Methodist Church (now Fresno Metro Ministry), Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church and Saint James Episcopal Cathedral.  As an opera singer, he took lead roles in Fresno, Tucson and Stanford University operas. 

“When I joined the Fresno State music faculty as the new Director of Choral Studies in 1984, Art was always there to assist and advise,” said Dr. Gary L. Unruh, professor emeritus. “He helped me build and develop the Fresno Choral Artists, a professional-level chamber choir, while he continued to direct the large Fresno Community Chorus. The Fresno Community Chorus was brought into the Music Department by Art, and it thrived under his amazing leadership.”

As a professor, Huff never stopped learning. He spent years studying conducting with the President of the International Bach Society, Dr. Helmut Rilling while performing at venues around the western United States. Many of his summers were spent as a member of the Oregon Bach Festival Choir in Eugene, Oregon.

“Whenever the university choirs traveled on overseas tours, Art and Judy rehearsed with them and traveled with us,” said Unruh. “On a tour of the Soviet Union, they were on one of the choir buses that stopped to present a Fresno State sweatshirt to the Soviet leader, Gorbachov. That incident made TV news on all the major U.S. networks that evening.”

Later in life, Huff did a considerable amount of choral music arranging and editing, focusing on prominent Renaissance composers from Spain, Poland, Italy and the Netherlands who had not yet been published in the United States. 

“Art was the consummate choral scholar, not content to simply perform the music available to him,” said Dr. Anna Hamre, professor emerita and former director of choral activities at Fresno State. “To advance the choral art, Art created his own editions, at first in manuscript, but later in early software notation that must have involved a great learning curve. Perhaps most impressive is the music he retrieved from behind the Iron Curtain at a time when strict regulations made such work exceedingly challenging. Documents leaving that part of the world were measured in ounces, which required the teamwork of his friends.”

After his retirement, Huff continued his involvement in the local and regional music community, including his service on the Board of Directors of the American Choral Director’s Association (ACDA) and performing with the Fresno Community Chorus and the Coro Solare daytime performing choir, a master’s ensemble of the Fresno Community Chorus. He would often fill in teaching or conducting when needed.

Among his professional honors, Huff received the Fresno Arts Council Teacher of the Year, Howard S. Swan Award for his lifetime of achievements from the California Choral Director’s Association in 1991 and was inducted into the California Music Educators Association (CMEA) Hall of Fame in 2004.

Dr. Arthur Huff conducts a concert sometime in the 1970's
Dr. Arthur Huff conducts a concert sometime in the 1970s.

Huff was born on January 19, 1928, in Whittier, California. He sang his first public solo at age four and continued to study singing, along with piano and baritone horn, in elementary school and at Burlingame High School. 

During World War II, Huff served in the U.S. Army’s Mountain and Winter Warfare Unit, also known as the ski troops. Upon his return, he enrolled at San Meteo Junior College, majoring in music. Then completed his B.A. and M.A. in musical performance at San José State University.

Arthur Huff U.S. Army photo.

Huff met and married his wife, Judy, in 1950. Together they raised their two daughters and were married for 61 years before Judy’s death in August 2011.

He taught choral music for one year at Santa Cruz Junior High School and The College of Idaho for two years. He then found his way to the Central Valley to teach at Porterville Union High School for eight years. In 1960, Huff took the Porterville Union High School Choir to Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley), where they performed as part of the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games. Before his career at Fresno State, he performed on tour in the United States, including the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  He traveled to Europe and Asia as a singer and conductor, performing in China and Russia, among other countries. 

While at Fresno State, he completed his Doctorate in Music at the University of Arizona in 1971.  

Writing down some of their memories, daughters Patricia Huff and Sandra Giersch recalled his year in residency in Arizona. 

“In 1970, the entire family moved to Tucson, Arizona, for Art’s last year in his Doctoral studies. During the summer of 1970, he was cast in the leading role of Nero in the Coronation of Poppea. Judy, Sandy and Patty had been recruited to sing in the chorus and were in the orchestra pit, so we made faces at Art and threatened to throw tomatoes while he was romancing the young Soprano.  The night before the opening performance, when we arrived at the dinner table, Art announced that ‘No one sits before Nero’ and made us all rise in his presence until he had been seated.”

Huff was an avid sportsman and fisherman – activities he enjoyed sharing with family through long summer camping trips.

Patricia Huff and Sandra Giersch recalled, “With both Art and Judy working as teachers (Judy taught preschool), the family would load all our belongings, food, camping gear and pets into the family VW Bus and take off for a 3-4 week camping trip each summer.  We had a small tent trailer that Art had constructed from a kit available through the Sears catalog.  In the evenings, we would sit around the campfire and sing songs accompanied by Patty on the guitar. Art’s favorite song was one he learned in YMCA camp as a child, King of the Cannibal Islands. Sandy taught the song to all her sons, and they referred to it as the scary song because there is a line that talks about eating ‘little boy pie for the second course.’ Of course, Art always changed it to ‘little girl pie’ for us.  Sandy, Art and Patty sang it for all the guests at his 90th Birthday party.”

Dr. Arthur Huff and friends in Alaska with a huge fish about the size of most of the men around the fish.
The largest halibut (over 300 pounds) that Art and his fishing buddies caught on their last trip to Alaska. Art is just to the left of the fish, and he was 6’3″ tall.

In later years, Huff frequently visited Alaska for fishing trips with good friends.

“Art loved the out-of-doors and had many wonderful stories of his summer fishing adventures in Alaska,” said Unruh. “There was one similar nature adventure on which Art invited me to join him—a weeklong horseback excursion in the Eastern Sierras where we drove pack animals for an entire week to bring them to a departure point for summer backpacking adventures.  Art was a pro on a horse, and I was a victim of inexperience, though riding with him was truly enjoyable.”

“As excited as he was with his musical discoveries, he was just as excited to show his friends pictures of the salmon he caught on his latest fishing trip,” Mowrer said. 

Huff is survived by his first daughter Sandy Giersch and her husband, Mike, of Madera, their three sons; Chris Dillion and his wife, Janet and their three children [Camdyn, Jaxsyn and Novelle]; David Giersch and his fiance Devon and his daughter Presley and Richie and his wife AJ and son Dean.  He is also survived by his second daughter Dr. Patricia Huff of Fresno.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Arthur E. Huff scholarship fund or to Hinds Hospice, 2490 W. Shaw, Suite 101, Fresno, CA 93711. Donations to the Scholarship fund should be made payable to Fresno State Foundation with a notation that it is for the Arthur E. Huff Endowment Fund and sent to California State University, Fresno, Office of Advancement Services, 5241 N Maple, TA 45, Fresno, CA 93740.

A memorial service is being planned for March.

Posted by

Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist

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