This is a letter written from one of the people my father influenced their lives. My Dad will never die, because he will always be remembered.
Thanks for being patient. My musical life continues to fill up with recitals, auditions and rehearsals. Last week began with a performance by ‘my' piano quartet (violin, viola, cello and piano). We played a large work by Louise Heritte-Viardot, her first quartet called In Summer. The year before we had discovered her Spanish quartet which is better known and also really nice. For the other recitals that week, I was accompanying – one for students and one for colleagues – singers and a violist with music ranging from Bach to William Bolcom – everything by composers whose last names began with ‘B'.
This Sunday it's a short recital by another scholarship-winning student and then three different days of accompanying auditions - a concerto competition, NYS School Music Association and another organization's scholarship auditions and all the rehearsals and practice time leading up to those events.
A little over a year ago I retired after 29 years as Executive Director of the Community Music School of Buffalo, a place for people from 6 months to 86 years and beyond (as our tagline says). Before that I had taught at several colleges and universities in various places and, of course, played in lots of situations, as time permitted. The ED job was 24/7 so I felt as though I really didn't have a life outside of the school. My husband had already been retired for 9 years (he was a professor of music – low brass, composition, conducting, etc.) and had been diagnosed with early dementia so I needed to devote some time to him.
I think the best way to share my thoughts and memories of your father will be in installments, starting at the beginning.
I arrived at Drake in the fall of 1965 as a sophomore – I had spent one year at a junior/community college in Mason City, expecting to major in math but soon realizing that I couldn't give up music (math was boring). At that time, all performance majors were assigned to the chairman of the piano department, Elvin Schmidt. I believe, according to the obituary, that that must have been your father's first year at Drake. That year I knew him only as one of the piano faculty who listened to our exams – they all did.
Mr. Schmidt retired in the spring of 1966 and, when I returned after working in Mason City for the summer, found that your father was now my teacher. We, the students, were never told how those decisions were made. I think we all assumed we would be passed on to the new department chair, Kenneth Drake. We were certainly never asked with whom we would like to study. Perhaps the teachers selected or requested students – who knows. As I remember, at least for the first year or so, I was his only performance major.
Of course, your father looked like the early photos you have – tall, red haired, rather teddy-bear-like (that's a good thing). His teaching style was totally different from that of Mr. Schmidt and I soon realized that I was very fortunate to have become his student.
I was a very hardworking student, practicing at least 4 hours a day in the beginning and much more later – always eager to learn and, I think, to prove that I could make it as a performance major. In retrospect, one of the most important things for me was your father's matter-of-factness with regard to that – he seemed to expect me to succeed so it was never discussed. (Because I lived in the dorms and did all my practicing in the “old” Howard Hall, he certainly was well aware of how much I practiced.)
I also eagerly attended recitals and concerts. One year, the secretaries (who kept the records of that – because we had requirements) made up a certificate for me because I had gone to more concerts over a couple of years than anyone else – I may have been to every one, I don't exactly remember the details.
The second most important thing about your father's teaching was the variety of techniques that he introduced in lessons. He demonstrated different approaches, had me practice them and then let me choose what worked for me in a particular piece or spot. I have drawn on that wealth of info throughout my entire career and have had many very interesting discussions about approaches with the man who was the chairman of the piano department at my school the entire time I was there. (He has always said that I have a natural approach – again, because of your father.) This was such a contrast to Mr. Schmidt's approach – for him, there was only one way (weight) and it didn't really work for me.
I'm a small person and can only comfortably reach a ninth but I never was limited in the size of the sound I could make. It's totally because of what I was describing about approaches/techniques. One of the nicest compliments I ever received came when the chairman of the fine arts department at Doane College (my first teaching job) said that he always thought a man was playing when he walked by my studio.
Your father had a great sense of humor – a wonderful laugh.