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.

3 thoughts on “Remembering Jack Beeson”
  1. Lovely Tribute + so many memories flooding back about growing up friends with Miranda and visits to Nora and Jack’s apt on the Westside.

    Hope to reconnect as I might be in NYC next fall for a consulting job from Portland Oregon and would love to come to the Concert.

    Cynthia Guyer
    Portland Oregon

  2. This is a moving and intelligent tribute to a composer whose opera “Lizzie Borden” deserves a permanent place in the American repertoire. Nicely done.

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