Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Encounter With a Famous Composer

During my active years as an educator, I taught at both high school and college level simultaneously . My boss in the music department at the high school began his tenure a year before a certain student graduated from this school. That "certain student" became one of the twentieth century's best known musicians, and one of history's most prolific composers, with well over 500 compositions that we know of, taking into account that there was a period during which he destroyed many of his creations by burning them. His name: Alan Hovhaness.
Our department thought that it would be an interesting venture, if we could get him to visit the high school on the 50th anniversary of his graduation. And so he was contacted in Seattle, where he lived. We were delighted to hear from him soon after, and even more delighted to know that he would be happy to come to our town.
So, a two or three day affair(I cannot recall which) was arranged, and during the months preceding his arrival the music department prepared the orchestra, band and chorus for the occasion by learning some of his music to be played for him. I remember having one or two of my piano students also preparing some of his piano music. It was really quite amazing to witness the acceptance of the music of Hovhaness on the part of teenagers - it was certification of the unique quality of universal appeal that one hears in a great deal of his music.
During the Hovhaness Festival, we were delighted when the composer asked if he could conduct one of the works that had been prepared. It goes without saying that it was a time that these high school children would not forget; namely, having a world renowned composer conducting them in one of his own works.
I remember some of us in the music department taking Hovhaness out to a local restaurant, and that he hoped that the cost of the meal could be taken care of, as he had forgotten to bring any money with him. We assured him that the meal was the department's gift of the night, and that we would not have had it any other way. He seemed rather relieved, which surprised me; after all, this man was the center of one of our town's most historic moments. Did he actually think that we would NOT have paid for his meal??
One of Boston's radio stations came out to broadcast an interview with Hovhaness and members of the music department. I have the cassette somewhere in the house, and I should look for it.
How many small towns could have had such an experience?

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