Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Farewell to Paul Thorpe, Extraordinary Teacher

How do you make sense of something like this? From the Asheville, NC, Citizen-Times:
The owner of the Asheville Music School died Saturday after falling and striking his head on a sidewalk while doing yard work at his Montford home, police said... Paul Mark Thorpe, 45, of 176 Tacoma Circle, was doing yard work on a steep bank when he apparently fell and struck his head on the sidewalk, according to Lt. Wallace Welch, a spokesman with the Asheville Police Department. No one saw Thorpe fall, but Welch said “it looks to be an unfortunate accident.” Thorpe was dead at the scene when police arrived about 3 p.m. Saturday. 
Paul was my band teacher for three years, from 1989-92 (7th-9th grade), and besides being a really good teacher -- dedicated, positive, adventurous, going above and beyond, all that gold medal teacher stuff -- he was also a hero and, to a teacher-ish extent, a friend. A tuba player, he encouraged me to switch from trumpet to euphonium, a good move for me, and then brought me along to Tubachristmas, a madcap annual undertaking where a bunch of low brass players get together in a public space and play Christmas carols. (I still do this every once in a while.) From that trip, I most clearly remember our conversation in the car. He played a taped compilation of John Williams film music, and he was an obvious fan, ready with an anecdote for each piece, telling me how he and his college buddies used to watch the end credits of the NBC nightly news just to hear the Williams score in all its glory. Shortly after that excursion, he loaned me "Super Mario Brothers 3" -- the man was only 11 years older than me -- to enjoy during Christmas break.

Paul encouraged my love of music and pushed it; if you enjoy this blog, he's partly to thank. For one of our high school concerts he taught us Dan Bukvich's "Voodoo", a gimmicky-but-cool crowd pleaser that's memorized and played in the dark -- he covered up all the windows in the gym where we performed -- featuring eerie singing, flashlights, and lots of percussion. Selling this to a small-town Missouri crowd was a neat trick, but in Paul's mind it was a gateway drug. During one rehearsal he told us that "Voodoo" might seem weird, but it was nothing compared to true avant-garde composition, mentioning an aleatoric piece whose notes were determined by the silhouette of a swimming goldfish projected against a score. (Is that a John Cage piece? Help me out.) 14-year-old me thought that was the coolest, and that attitude stuck with me through college up until now. One of these days you'll see me raving about Reinhold Freidl's completely insane Inside Piano album; thank Paul.

But more than that, he was incredibly positive. Once as I left a lesson, he looked at me with a smirk and said something like, "What's up today? You just seem really happy." Well, if I wasn't before, I got happy then! And after he left town to get his Masters Degree, whenever he came back to visit and I caught sight of him -- randomly walking past him outside the high school, or bussing his table at the local fancy restaurant -- it made my day. I dunno how many people he affected in this way, but he radiated confident happiness.

He maintained this positivity and musical curiosity to the end. Just a couple weeks ago he messaged me on Facebook to see if there was any way of importing this blog to his music school's posts. (Alas, there wasn't.) I was obviously flattered, but skeptical -- "Do the patrons of Asheville Music School really want to read about Gucci Mane or whoever?" He admitted, "Personally, I didn't take the time to read about Gucci!", but was otherwise complimentary. From the look of things, he lived a rich life in Asheville with his partner and the musical community that formed around his school. Losing one of my favorite teachers might seem insensible to me, but to his friends and family, his loss is something far worse. Prayers.

Another great Paul Thorpe field trip: the summer of '91 (I think), he drove me and several other brass players to a drum and bugle corps competition. (Paul: "Do you have any idea what you're going to see at this thing?" Me: "Drums and bugles?") The contest was loud, obnoxious, thrilling, and it prepared me for marching band, which pretty much centered my studies and social life throughout high school. I have to think he would have enjoyed this live version of "Take On Me", from one of my favorite singles of 2011, by the NO BS! Brass Band:

Paul taught me how to play music and how to love music and, along with that, how to love life. What a treasure.

1 comment:

Anthony said...

i heard the gold fish as a cage peice, but it might be just something people thought was cageian?