The department mourns the passing of beloved Associate Professor Emeritus Francis “Fritz” Whang. Professor Whang passed away peacefully on May 11, 2022.
During his 27 years at Carolina from 1976 to 2003, Professor Whang gained a reputation for his incredible teaching and his kindness to all. He was a mentor to younger faculty and students alike. His love for music was infectious and showed in all he did.
Well into their retirements, Professor Whang and his wife Barbara, also a pianist and former music department faculty member, enjoyed playing together, as demonstrated in the clip below from 2009.
Tributes from faculty and alumni have poured in since his passing. Below are a few of those kind words and memories.
“Fritz was a wonderful pianist and beloved teacher. I’ll never forget his stunning Chopin, his dazzling technique, beautiful phrasing, and exquisite sound. He had a late-in-life romance/marriage with Barbara Rowan, his piano colleague down the hall in Person, which was lovely for the whole department. He had a gentle warmth and an easy laugh. My son Nick studied piano with him during his high school years and Fritz became a wonderful mentor and friend to him along with Richard and me. He moved to Croasdale some years ago and took extraordinary care of Barbara during her long and difficult battle with Alzheimer’s. I am sad that he is gone and will miss him.”
-Distinguished Professor Susan Klebanow
“I am so sad to hear this. I knew him well and played with him several times. Fritz attended UC-Berkeley as an undergraduate, and received an MM in piano from Juilliard. His first teaching position was in the School of Music at Yale, quite a place to start. I recall that Don [Oehler], who started in the Dept in 1971, tells a story about being invited into the office of William S. Newman to hear a recording of a wonderful young pianist they were about to hire. That turned out to be Francis Whang. When he retired in 2003, I took over his office in Person Hall, where I still teach.
I played the Shostakovich Cello Sonata with Fritz back in October 1983, and a number of chamber music concerts with him, including works of Brahms, Schumann, and Copland. He also played the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on Paganini and the Beethoven Concerto #4 with the UNC Symphony Orchestra.
There is so much to say about our old friend, who was a wonderful teacher and mentor. He was helpful to me as I came through as a young faculty member, and was loved by many who he assisted with piano playing at Croasdail while caring for Barbara. I know he will be missed by his daughter Maia. I played cello at her wedding in 1997.”
-Professor Brent Wissick
“During my time conducting the UNC Symphony Orchestra, he indeed played the Beethoven 4th concerto in 1990. He and Barbara formed the Janus Duo for four-hand and two-piano music, and they played the Milhaud Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra with us in 1992, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Milhaud’s birth, with whom Barbara had studied at Mills College. In their last concert appearance as faculty members, they gave a brilliant performance of the wonderful Poulenc Two-Piano Concerto with us in 2003.
In later years I would run into Fritz occasionally at concerts we attended, particularly chamber music and piano recitals at Duke. I remember both Fritz and Barbara fondly as human beings and artists.”
-Professor Tonu Kalam
“I’m so sorry to hear of Fritz Whang’s passing. I knew him very well because he was my piano teacher for my undergraduate years here in the 1990s. I echo my colleagues’ comments about his warm, gentle personality, outstanding technique and intellect, and sense of humor – what I remember most about being in his piano studio was how much we all laughed. He was so supportive of me as a pianist even when it became clear that singing would be my primary focus in the future. And his romance and marriage to Barbara Rowan delighted all of us students.
I remember that when our Department got the Graf fortepiano that is now in Person Recital Hall, it initially went to Fritz’s office, and he was so proud and happy that we had it. I was working on a Beethoven sonata at the time, and because the Graf fit my small fingers so well, he gave me a key to his studio for the summer so I could practice on it whenever I wanted.
He had retired by the time I was hired to teach here, but he came to almost all of my concerts in my first few years as a faculty member. And with his perfect pitch, he always commented very specifically on which notes he thought I hit particularly well. I am so grateful for all he taught me, and I will miss him very much.”
-Teaching Professor Jeanne Fischer
“I too remember Fritz and Barbara from my undergraduate days in the mid-1980s. I had the pleasure of working with Barbara in preparing for and passing the piano proficiency requirement in the curriculum at that time. In addition to her brilliance as a performer, she was a patient and kind teacher to our class of keyboard beginners.
Although I admired Fritz in my undergraduate days, I got to know him well after his retirement when he would attend my performances. He loved vocal music and opera, always enjoying soaring climatic moments in familiar arias. Fritz and Barbara were a wonderful couple on stage and off…their performances always exciting and inspiring.
Among the greats, the legacy of Fritz and Barbara will live on through the music they shared and the students they taught. Bless his memory.”
-Lecturer Timothy Sparks
“I am so sorry to hear of the passing of Fritz Whang. He was a wonderful colleague, kind and supportive, a willing partner in music-making, and dedicated to the success of his students whatever their interests. I got to know him during the years that we shared leadership of the UNC Music Workshop (then the HS Music Camp). He was open to anything that best served the students who enrolled, dazzling them with his performances even as he was humble and approachable as a person. He was a good sport- participating willingly in Cabaret hijinks and handling difficulties (in the few instances in which they arose) calmly and with an even temperament.”
-Professor Emeritus Dan Huff
“Fritz was such a wonderful presence in the department. His playing was elegant and he was an iconic teacher. Our friendship began in 1977 when I joined the department and continued well beyond his retirement. All who knew him will remember his modesty, his often unexpected sense of humor, his warmth, and his passionate engagement with life. I deeply cherish our friendship.”
-Distinguished Professor Emeritus Brooks de Wetter-Smith
“I am very sorry to hear this news as well. I remember Fritz more from his Janus Duo days with Barbara and was impressed by the energy and artistic connection they enjoyed as they performed together. The times I saw him at Croasdaile he was always gracious and spoke fondly of his days in the department.
Fritz donated much of his score collection to the Music Library and the size of our two-piano and 4-hand piano collection is due in large part to the addition of his and Barbara’s scores.
May he rest in peace.”
-Diane Steinhaus, former music librarian
A memorial concert by family, friends, colleagues, and former students for Fall 2022 is in the early stages of planning. The department will share details and updates when available.
UPDATE: The family has chosen Carol Woods Retirement Community for a memorial concert. It will be held on October 30th at 2:00 pm. They hope to have a reception following but must adhere to their covid protocols. Hopefully, it could be held outside under a tent if indoors isn’t an option at that time. Please spread the word to others. If you are interested in performing or speaking at this event, please email email@example.com.