Jeff, the bassoonist, sent me an email, saying that John Strassburger had died. It was three months earlier, almost to the day, that Jeffrey Centafont, accompanied by John French on the piano, helped to celebrate Strassburger’s retirement as President of Ursinus College, with my piece commissioned for the occasion, This Broad Land.
It was a surprising and touching honor to be commissioned to compose this for his retirement banquet in June. Surprising because I have no connection to Ursinus, and touching because Jackie and I were overwhelmed by the feeling of love from all segments of the college community for this man. Here is someone, we learned, who made a big difference—in the college, and in people’s lives. But we learned only then what Ursinus has known for some time. How often things happen—big, important things happen—because of one person. How wonderful when that person is recognized. It was a thrill to see that.
I was struck by his civility, gentleness, and curiosity. He and I exchanged a note or two afterward, and he surprised me again by sending me an edition of the Charles Ives Essays Before a Sonata, the foreword of which had been written by his uncle, Howard Boatwright.