Interlude 8: Life (mostly) without guitar

A condition of my assistantship at Temple University was that I major in music history as well as guitar performance. Given the nature of the financial support offered—full tuition as well as a living stipend—I would have majored in horticulture. But I was happy to add music history, as it was a subject I really enjoyed as an undergraduate, and the assistantship gave me the opportunity to teach music appreciation. I had no way of knowing at the time how important that teaching experience would be in my eventual profession editing and publishing college music textbooks.

A couple of my graduate history courses at Temple were taught by a young man named David Brodbeck, who was finishing his musicology PhD at Penn. David was a wonderful teacher, full of enthusiasm and insights about music of the Romantic era, and through him I fell in love with the music of Schumann and Brahms. David suggested that I consider doctoral studies in musicology and, having concluded that I didn’t have the makings of a professional guitarist, I decided to pursue that course. I’d get a PhD and become a college professor. In the fall of 1984 that led me to Cornell, to marriage (eventually), and to a career in publishing. It did not lead to a PhD.

I kept up with the guitar for a while, teaching a few private students in Ithaca and giving a solo recital; a decision which was actively frowned upon since it took me away from the library. I accompanied a singer at Ithaca College in a program of lute songs (on the lute, no less). There was a walk-on role in a production of Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” where I accompanied a singer in Schubert’s “Who is Sylvia” while dressed in Venetian carnival costume and wearing a mask. But once I started in publishing, first as a sales representative in Buffalo and later a marketing manager based in New Jersey, I went through longer and longer periods of not playing. When I did pick up the guitar, I played poorly…and so I would put it away again. Even so, being a guitarist remained a part of my identity; I know that because I always kept my nails at playing length.

When my first job as an editor took us to Madison, Wisconsin in 1993 I began singing with the Symphony Chorus. That led to a wonderful, and unexpected, opportunity when the the conductor, Roland Johnson, asked me if I would accompany a mezzo-soprano from Madison named Kitt Reuter-Foss in “I Wonder As I Wander” as part of the 1993 Christmas Concert.  I made an arrangement of the piece for voice, guitar, and strings and we performed it twice in front of audiences of 1800 people—by far the largest audiences I ever played for. I wish I had a better recording of the piece (and that Roland had rehearsed it a little more), but I am still very proud of the work:

I put aside the guitar again after that as my work life became more demanding and life in general became more complicated. In 2001 the publishing operation in Madison shut down and we prepared for a move to New York. On my birthday, September 4, I flew to LaGuardia, took a taxi into Manhattan, and checked in to an executive housing apartment on West 57th Street so that I could start my new job and continue house hunting.

That’s how I came to be in the city on 9/11.

In the aftermath of those horrific events, far from home, alone and lonely, what I wanted was a guitar. I rented an instrument, bought a foot stool, and started playing again. I didn’t care how I sounded; the embrace of the guitar and the feel of strings beneath my fingers were great comfort.

That September in New York was particularly lovely, with day after day of clear blue skies and pleasant temperatures. I kept the windows open in the apartment in the evenings while I played, and the pungent smell from Ground Zero drifted north and mingled with the sounds of Sor and Bach in the dry autumn air.

2 thoughts on “Interlude 8: Life (mostly) without guitar

  1. Interesting! I had never connected you with 9/11. I was working at home that day. Got a call from Phil about something after the first plane hit (before the second one). He had no idea what had happened–everyone was initially puzzled. Thinking about that brought back another memory that I don’t think I’ve ever told you about. I’ll send you an e-mail about it. Not sure who is able to read these comments!

    Like

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