All I can do is play Schoenberg

You probably didn’t know Nathan Brock. The composer not the conductor. He died on Monday and I just found out about an hour ago.

I met Nathan when I was doing my masters at University of Louisville. Nathan was an undergrad – the only triple major I’d ever met (Composition, English, and Math, I think). Nathan was one of those guys that you distinctly remember meeting. In my case, he was in a composition forum, sitting in the back, knitting. He had long, stringy hair that went down to his butt. We were in just about every music class together and he was also active in the early music scene there (like many of the right thinking composers were).

Nathan and I ran in the same circles of friends and usually had a blast together. We’d talk/debate about damned near anything. He was opinionated (frustratingly so, at times), articulate, and whip smart. Even though he was an undergrad and I was working on my second masters, we were operating at the same intellectual level (and that is boosting my ego a bit). I was honored to be best man at his wedding.

When I moved from Louisville, Nathan moved to San Diego to do his masters and then doctorate there. He could write such Romantic stuff but then also turn around with the most thorny, dissonant, atonal stuff with a rigor that rivaled Robert Morris. He was a heady guy but also capable of tremendous goofiness. Back in 2004, we ended up at the composer conference at Wellesly College, a total fluke. It was there that I found out Kris was pregnant. Nathan was the first person I told.

My greatest memory of Nathan come from sitting in a Schoenberg seminar at U of L. We had high hopes for the class but due to the demographics of the students in the course, the seminar turned into a rather cursory event. Basically we did a simple set-theory analysis of Pierrot and talked in generalities about Schoenberg. Nathan and I had our own conversations going (not always on topic) and kept each other engaged. Nathan was convinced he could pull off the voice part to Pierrot. I thought he was crazy. He was probably right, though. If he ever would have done it, he would have done it well.

I was hoping to see him and his wife when I went to San Diego for the CMS conference this fall.

I told my U of L friends who probably hadn’t heard. We are all in shock. We are also still surprised that now, Thursday, the doctors don’t seem to know what happened. And all I can think to do is play Schoenberg. So Christine Schaefer is doing Pierrot right now and doing it pretty darned well. I’m sipping a bourbon that is probably below Nathan’s standards, but I didn’t put any ice in it. He’d be okay with that.

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  1. Christian
    Posted July 19, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink


    Why don’t you post this on the homepage as well? I’m sure some of our readers haven’t heard this sad news and would appreciate your remembrance.

  2. Posted July 19, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Sorry Jay . . .

    My friend Christian Carey posted this link on FaceBook. Your friend reminds me a lot of myself. I so get what you mean about Schoenberg and being let down by having a class filled full of amateurs, tourists, whereas you two wanted to delve in and have some real fun looking into such things as maybe the Trio, Op. 45, or whatever.

    Sorry for your loss. I hope that someone would say such lovely things about me when I’m gone.

    Best wishes, Philip

  3. Daniel
    Posted July 19, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t know Nathan, but I feel like I should. Way took effing soon. Damn.

  4. Posted July 20, 2012 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Chris linked to this via facebook — the first time I’ve visited this blog. It was heartening to read your account. I saw Nathan last in June, and the two of us engaged in a truly silly stream of consciousness riff on a topic I can’t remember but am sure has an obscure point of origin.

  5. Posted July 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I knew Nathan when I arrived to start my Doctorate in Contemporary Performance at U.C.S.D. My first two weeks there and already I was recording. His professionalism and witty banter was refreshing. Another example was a concert Harvey Sollberger and I did in Studio A. Not only was he manning the recording, but after our performance of Babbitt’s Soli e Duetinni Nathan counted perfectly a tricky 11 against 3 measure. I also had the pleasure of working with him on his guitar piece, Resonance Cycle. I then recorded the work that summer in France, subsequently performing the previous March in Darmstadt at the Tage der Neuen Musik Festival at the Akademie fuer Tonkunst. We talked about publishing the work, but alas. Anyone interested can e-mail me and I can send a file of the recording.

  6. Posted July 23, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the beautiful words. Nathan will be dearly missed. I knew him as a research engineer, another of Nathan’s many talents. He could easily move between the intense rigor of audio engineering and artistry.

  7. Tina Gibson
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I remember Nathan as the most brilliant classmate I knew at U of Louisville. But, I also remember him in Richmond, KY where we grew up. Nathan was always operating on a faster and higher level than everyone else. As a child he was reading graduate material and considering lofty ideas while everyone else was caught in tween issues. It was always refreshing and edgy to talk with Nathan. I always figured he’d cure cancer in his spare time between composer. He was that brilliant.

  8. Sean Curtice
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Dear Jay,
    We’ve never met, but I’ve been studying composition with Dr. Brock for over three years now. I’m obsessed with writing in the style of Mozart, so he thought it would be a good idea for me to study the same stuff Mozart did, namely Fux. We’ve both been working through it and consulting your “Summer ad Parnassum” posts religiously along the way. I really don’t know what to say – I still feel that I have so much to learn from him. Thanks for the post, and know that my thoughts are with him too.

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