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Word of Jack Beeson’s death reached me yesterday;  very, very sad  news– and also shocking.  Not just because  I’d studied with Jack at Columbia  in my last year there and he’d been my thesis advisor , but because  after decades   he and I had just reconnected  in the last  3 weeks or so:  I’d sent  a note of congratulations following his award given at the AMC meeting , including in it  warm memories of the effects of his comment and advice,  instrumental  in  shaping my own approach to students  over the years;  the note was sent on to him from the Ditson Fund because I didn’t know his home address.

Jack  called  (surprisingly) on May 15th.  We talked for a quarter hour, during which time he mentioned his recent group of recent CDs released by Albany.  Not really knowing his choral music, I ordered the Gregg Smith  disc, which  arrived  5 days later –  in the same mail with a hand-written letter from Jack (another surprise).

After  listening I wrote directly to Jack about my renewed pleasure in the clarity  and immediacy of his music,  its fineness of craft, and  such refreshing   surprise in  how he shaped  the harmonic rhythm.    Because we both had set the same poem, I  sent him   a CD with that setting,  plus the  2 discs of orchestra  music he’d asked to hear.

The final surprise came on  June 1st : another long letter from Jack –  he’d  really listened to everything  (and wrote many  kind comments), and  concluded  the letter  with his “pleasure at our re-meeting”.

Understandingly,  the shock  of  his death  was almost overwhelming.   I  immediately sat down  and  as a tribute wrote Cortège for Jack;  it  was  almost like   automatic writing – the music was done inside  2 hours.    Only  after  finishing did  I recognize  that “Beeson”  is  the governing  rhythm.

Jack Beeson was  really memorable.  Laconic at times, careful  and caring with words – as with notes.   The joy, exuberance  and  passion in his music  come forward fully  because  of  his  innate discretion and  artistic good  taste.   In some respects  he was a musical ‘father’ to me – certainly one of only two composers with whom I ever had formal study in composition.    As a model, as a  thinking musician and  a citizen of the musical world,  he was  significant and  important to me.   I will miss him.

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This weekend at U of Alabama Huntsville there was to have been a two-day symposium built around my second piano trio, ZONES. (The piece would  be performed on Friday evening, paired with the Ravel Trio in a  concert by Trio Appassionato.)  But  Friday afternoon,  just as I was driving in from the airport, came the terrible  murders on campus, shocking  the city to its core.

I was emotionally dumbstruck by  this tragedy – and  the campus was  closed after   an hour-long lockdown.

What to do? … Concert organizer Dr. Royce Boyer and the performers  decided to hold a truncated concert at a local church.  I agreed to participate  if  it were possible for me to speak with the audience first  — and to add a   ‘musical offering’ to open the program, music very  different from the dramatic works  already scheduled.

After a rushed run-through of my  five-minute Serenade with violinist  Marta Szlubowska,  I spoke to the audience about how the University’s fabric of cordiality had been so horribly torn apart four hours earlier,  and  how  wrenching it was for us to compose ourselves to play that night — but also how key it is for a creative artist to take on one of our most essential  roles, that of providing the emotional documents through which  societies register  moments of  shared  high emotion.    And that such  ‘emotional documents’ can — in addition to providing an outlet for extreme feeling — begin the communal process of regaining balance.     What the University community needed, I believed,  was a way to express great sadness  and yet  get beyond the shock  by entering  a ‘zone of serenity’ as a step towards understanding and acceptance.

Serenade turned out to be  essential to this evening on this day.  Over and over at the reception  people spoke of how helpful this music  was  (and the words), and how powerful the piece was to them, hearing it at this moment.   While  they admired and responded to the trios,  what they talked about as essential was Serenade.

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m back home –  still in shock about the campus shootings, and the well of out-of-control emotion that prompted them.   I will not write any music today.

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