Dear Jim,

I didn’t know you well. That isn’t quite true; I knew you better than many other composers I know. I didn’t know you as well as I would’ve liked. Yes. That is true.

It’s a hazard of the profession, not knowing other composers. We don’t hang out with each other. We don’t go to work together, like violinists. We see each other, pretty much, only at concerts, where we exchange greetings, and if there’s time we ask what we’re working on. If we have a piece on the concert, we congratulate each other. You had much to be congratulated for, from composing Holy the Firm for Dawn Upshaw, to your works for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to awards, to your Carthage CD with The Crossing, which included your Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus, which left me shaking my head and grateful, again, at your brilliance and deep and true honesty.

But at some point one or the other of us said we should get together. And wonder of wonders, we did. We had beers, twice. Just to get together. We talked about our wives and how proud we are of them, about our children and how proud we are of them, about our houses and how humble our house project adventures were, the normal things. We talked about our churches and about church music and about bad church music. And about our church music and how we try to make it work. About our Christian faith and how we try to make our way with that profession in our profession.

We talked a lot about composer stuff, like counterpoint, successive leaps, tessituras, real voice ranges. Like the embarrassing beauty of the first inversion, and why we’re suckers for the subdominant, and how we’re so over the submediant (“Well, I’m not!” [laughter] [We laughed often. We were never far from laughing]). Nerdy stuff. We confessed to composers we didn’t get. We confessed to composers we got after we were sure we wouldn’t. We were born in the same year and what we regarded as our own idiosyncratic musical likes were remarkably alike.

Mostly, we talked about the things that would bore most anyone else. We knew that, we wallowed in that for a while, and then, when we talked about what we were working on, it sounded too much like concert-talk so we knew it was almost time to go home. We talked a little more about our families, and then we went home.

Now I remember why the getting together started. I knew you to be filled with humor and good will. That was evident in the briefest encounter. We both knew, by complete coincidence, Richard, and loved him. He went to your church, and he lived next-door to us. He was ever raving about you. Jackie sang music of yours at a concert and you accompanied her. You came to the house to rehearse and were as emotionally and artistically intelligent as could be. A compleat musician.

So I knew you some, but it was when my Vespers happened. I was worried about how this crazy, ungainly piece would hit people, regular people and also people in the biz. At the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill the reaction was loud but these were, many of them, friends, were Piffaro fans, were Crossing fans. You stood back as people talked to me in the aisle. I was still in the end of the pew, I remember, and I was kind of teetering, actually, couldn’t turn my body completely over my feet. Then you came up. I didn’t know what you might say, and I was a bit nervous. But you came up and, Jim, you didn’t say a word but your eyes, I could see now, were wet, and without artifice you threw your arms around me and you held me tight and because I was already a little off-balance I leaned into you, fell into you actually, and I held you and your arms were stronger than I expected. We hugged for some seconds. When we separated, your eyes were still wet, and now mine were, and you looked in my eyes as if to say Yes, and then you walked away, back into the crowd. And I felt like I had done something good.

It was after this that one or the other of us said we should get together.

May Christ enfold you in his arms and in his love, Jim. You have done something good, you have done a lifetime of good, and now you get to go home.


%d bloggers like this: