He was a timpanist born in Brooklyn, New York, who was raised in the D.C. area from the time he was eight years of age. He was intrigued by an instrument one of his classmates had cobbled together, and the student made one for him to. It was just a board with cans attached to it, but it was a start. He asked his parents if he could take lessons, and they consented.
In 1951, he graduated from Juilliard and joined the National Symphony Orchestra as their principal timpanist. Robert Parris wrote his “Concerto for Five Kettledrums and Orchestra” for Fred and he premiered it in 1958. In 1962, the NSO released a double album entitled Instruments of the Orchestra. Fred premiered “Concierto para Cinco Timbales y Orquesta” by Jorge Alvaro Sarmientos a the Inter-American Festival in 1965. In 1968, he did the same for Blas Emilio Atehortua’s “Concertante for Timpani and Chamber Orchestra”.
In April 1980, he was interviewed in Modern Drummer magazine. Meredith Music published his Twenty One Etudes for Timpani in 1981. It has become required reading for percussionists all over the globe. In 1988, he gave a masterclass/symposium at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
He appeared on the David Brubeck album, To Hope! A Celebration in 1996. On 10th April 1999, he gave the first performance of John Stephens’ “Three Symphonic Etudes for Timpani and Orchestra” as part of the NSO’s program, Drums Across the Potomac.
He performed at Washington National Cathedral on The Sunday of the Resurrection in 2005. On 17th December 2005, he delivered the world premiere of “Eja! Eja!” by James Grant at Kennedy Center. He performed Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem with the New Dominion Chorale on 19th April 2006.
On 25th July 2006, the University of Maryland School of Music honoured him for his contributions to their percussion workshop. He participated in similar workshops in 2007 in Columbus, Ohio, at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and UMD. In 2008, he returned to IU for their Summer Percussion Workshop.
On 18th October 2009, he performed in a faculty spotlight concert at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda, Maryland. He was back at IU for another masterclass on 7th April 2010. On 9th September 2010, he returned to Westmoreland for Welcome Back Sunday! and some selections from George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. He served on the host committee of A Salute to Choral Music in Washington, D.C., which was held at La Maison Francaise on 9th November 2010. On 20thNovember 2010, he was back in church for A Celebration of Music Faculty Concert at Westmoreland.
On 26th February 2011, he was a guest soloist at Thomas Circle for a Washington Sinfonietta concert that included Francis Poulenc’s “Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani”, with Dr. Charles Miller at the keys.
Fred also served on the board of directors of interPLAY, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the NSO Circles Council.
He passed away in Washington after having had a single-car accident in September 2012 when he was 84 years old.
Here is a tribute video to Fred which includes his memories of working with Slava Rostropovich …
Paul Hill Chorale recordings
O Come All Ye Faithful (Frederick Oakeley/John Francis Wade)
Arranger – Jackson Berkey
Conductor – Paul Hill
Organist – Sondra Proctor
National Capital Brass and Percussion Ensemble