One of the most difficult things about dealing with tragedy is facing the feeling of helplessness. What can I do, we think, what can I do to fix this? And all too often the answer is nothing.

On Tuesday morning, Josh Hudson, one of our voice students, was killed in a car crash. The campus was stunned by the news – literally dumbstruck, as it happened, because Josh was one of the leads in the production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, which was set to open last night and tour the state in the coming weeks. Needless to say, the production and tour have been cancelled, leaving many musicians wandering aimlessly through the final days of the term.

And all of us were left wondering what we could do.

As the details emerged, it appeared likely that Josh had been a victim of his own recklessness, driving his speedy car off the road in the wee hours of the morning. Luckily, there were no other passengers or vehicles involved.

Last night, I began writing a brief (3-minute) elegy for soprano and orchestra. After foraging through various texts that were dismissed for being either inappropriate or vocally awkward, I came up with a simple quatrain of my own:

Oh youth, who sings the night on fire
And drives the hours of darkness through the day,
Now rest your voice and climb behind my steady eyes
To ride the years and mysteries away.

At this point, after about twelve hours of work, the piece is near completion. I expect to have score and parts done by Monday. It is possible that it will be programmed on the final orchestra concert at the end of the month, as a tribute to the departed, with Josh’s teacher, Marilyn Taylor, singing the vocal line. I don’t know, though, what will come of that. It’s just as likely that the piece will never be performed. Regardless, the composition will have served a purpose in me, providing something to do in response to an event for which no response is fully adequate.

As for Josh, he was a remarkably gifted young man whose parents both passed away when he was quite young. It’s difficult to separate the way he died from the energy he brought to performance – he was never afraid to go to the edge, to push himself into uncharted territory. That quality was one of the main reasons he was cast as the lead in the upcoming productions of the Open Dream Ensemble, the multidisciplinary ensemble my wife works for.

One text I considered using is a wonderful verse from Dylan Thomas that suits Josh quite well – and indeed is lovelier than anything I could have come up with, and a suitable close to this brief tribute:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

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