The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) community is mourning the loss of Benjamin F. Ward Jr., a beloved member of its Board of Visitors.
Ward, an adjunct associate professor of philosophy and associate dean for the faculty program at Duke University, was 65 when he died last month at Duke University Hospital in Durham.
“The School of the Arts and all who love music have lost a great friend,” said UNCSA Interim Chancellor James Moeser.
A concert pianist, Ward performed for the last time in UNCSA’s Watson Hall in October 2013, said Music Dean Wade Weast.
“I invited him to perform with our string faculty in an open reading of the Brahms F minor Piano Quintet and the Mozart G minor Piano Quartet for an invited audience of friends and students,” Weast said.
Ward began playing piano at the age of six, performing regularly at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., where Martin Luther King Jr. was the minister. In 1964, at the age of 10, he performed at a dinner honoring King as recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He also played at King’s funeral in 1968.
Ward began teaching at Duke in 1980. He taught various courses in philosophy, Arabic language and German studies at Duke University. In addition, he was extraordinarily active in many aspects of undergraduate life.
He was Duke’s first faculty-member-in-residence and continued to nurture and expand the program over the years. He directed and performed with The Pitchforks, Duke’s oldest a cappella group. Ward became an active supporter of several varsity athletic teams at Duke, including men’s and women’s cross country, track and field and soccer, and he served as a volunteer faculty athletic associate. Beyond Duke, he was a passionate fan of the Durham Bulls Baseball Club and the Wake Forest University baseball program.
A graduate of Yale University, Ward participated in many aspects of musical life in New Haven, Conn. He was often called upon to collaborate with string students at the Yale School of Music in their degree recitals, participated in master classes with Pierre Fournier, Joseph Silverstein, Janos Starker, Donald Weilerstein, and Mstislav Rostropovich, and performed on several occasions with the legendary Yale Quartet. He also founded the Berkeley Chamber Players in Berkeley College at Yale. Through the Chamber Players, he worked with many undergraduate musicians whose careers have subsequently placed them in major positions in orchestras and chamber ensembles throughout the world. Among his protégés are the music director of the Baltimore Symphony, members (including principal players) of the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
For the past 20 years, Ward worked with members of the homeless community by organizing and preparing evening meals at what is now Urban Ministries of Durham. For nearly a dozen years he was active with Rites of Passage, a mentoring group for African-American boys in Durham. He has received several awards for his involvement in community service.
Ward spoke of his love for music in a 1998 article in the Duke Chronicle: “Music is probably the one thing I could not live without. If I could no longer play or hear others, it would remove a substantial incentive for living. Music is at the very core of who I am.”
A Service of Remembrance is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18 in Duke Chapel, with a reception following at the Penn Pavilion. Both are located on Duke University’s West Campus in Durham. Written memorials and photographs can be posted to www.benwardtribute.com.