On Saturday I learned that David Griggs-Janower, the professor with whom I most associate my college years—indeed, the professor most responsible for my remaining somewhat engaged and motivated at school, at least enough to graduate—is, by a sudden, cruel and horrific concatenation of medical events, gravely ill and on life support.
He is only sixty.
I found this out by chance. I’m not in touch with anyone from my college days, not really. And I don’t log on to Facebook every day, and I don’t really interact with it because I don’t have much to share. But yesterday I did, and happened to notice one close friend from college and one former college acquaintance had shared a photo of a candle. The close friend is Jessica, who—along with Dr. Janower (as I knew him then, prior to his marriage)—are pretty much the only reasons I graduated.
Curious, I clicked on the person who’d originally shared this candle image, and I saw a couple of others who’d done the same thing. All of them had one thing in common: Albany Pro Musica, a choral group founded by Dr. Griggs-Janower. Another thing they had in common: no one was saying a bloody thing along with the candle—just the photo. In retrospect I realize this was probably to preserve the family’s privacy and perhaps also because words may have just felt wrong, somehow. But it made it damn frustrating for someone on the periphery to know what was going on.
So I immediately messaged Jessica and tentatively asked her about the candle photo, whether someone involved with APM was ill. Yeah: “someone.” I think that’s how I put it. Even in a message, my mind didn’t want to take the inevitable journey, didn’t want to make the obvious connection. Not yet. But when Jessica didn’t answer me directly, but instead asked for my phone number and said she’d call me, I knew. She wouldn’t need to speak to me in person about anyone else related to this group. I was never in APM and had no real connection to it except Jessica and, of course, its founder/conductor.
I kept my phone by my side as I paced around my apartment waiting for Jessica’s call. Then it came, and after she apologized for not being in touch for a while—that’s Jessica’s way, apologizing, even though I’m just as guilty for not staying in touch if not more so—she broke down and told me about David. Aka DJ, or Dr. Janower, as I still think of him, though I’m now older than he was when he first taught me nearly thirty years ago.
Time basically stopped when Jessica gave me the news. Not just in the way that it stops whenever you’re given bad news, where your body freezes and your mind shuts out everything but the person’s voice telling you these awful things. But the whole current status of my life winked out. I wasn’t 46 anymore. I was 18. Or 19, or 20 or 21 or 22… Any of the years where DJ was part of my life, and his guidance and kindness made me feel like a human being instead of a void of worthlessness. All I could think was:
I wish I’d told him.
* * *
I didn’t want to go to college at all. I had almost never been away from home, had never found it easy to make friends, had no real thought of my future except the nebulous desire to perform, to sing, because being on stage was the only place I ever felt alive and whole. Maybe even worthwhile.
But because I was born into a middle class Long Island Jewish family, of course I was going to college. I dutifully picked three schools to apply to, including one not-even-in-my-wildest-dreams school and two fallbacks. The second of the latter was SUNY Albany, chosen mainly because my friend Leslie was attending. So when I got in, that’s where I went.
I immediately gravitated toward the music department, because that was all I cared about. (Considering my current career it’s ironic that I never once gave a thought to English as a major or even a minor, though I’d been writing all my life. That’s how much music meant to me: it obliterated every other interest I once had.) Voice lessons, check. University Chorale, check. And then there was Chamber Singers, the “elite” group for which one had to audition. I attended the auditions that Wednesday afternoon, with my staggeringly inappropriate choice for audition song (an aria from Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, in which I’d had a lead role earlier that year as a senior in high school). I walked in and there was DJ, who would be judging me as well as accompanying me. I can only imagine how pretentious I must have seemed with this crazy hard, overblown aria, considering this group would focus on madrigals and the whole raison d’être of a chamber group is to blend with the other singers. And here I was blasting away full voice.
After I finished, DJ smiled and said very good… but, he wondered, could I try a different song? Well, I was embarrassed. I had no other song. Having auditioned a kabillion singers before me, DJ naturally suggested one of the infamous 24 Italian Songs & Arias, which pretty much everyone who’s ever studied classical singing has memorized backwards and forward. He suggested “Amarilli, mia bella,” one of the prettiest of the 24, which I knew. In other words, he gave me another shot, because obviously despite my bad audition song choice, I guess he heard something that might work out for his group. And being a teacher who was all about nurturing the best in his students, DJ picked something that would show my ability to sing, y’know, not like a diva trying to break every glass in the Met’s chandeliers.
So I got a second chance, and he played, and I sang, this time—watching his face, which was conducting me just via his expressions as he played the piano—making my voice soft and delicate. He smiled again. I knew this time I’d gotten it right. He’d steered me right.
The next part was the one I’d dreaded: a sightreading test. (For those who don’t know: sight-singing means reading music one’s never seen or heard before and to sing or play it, purely by reading the notes. Many singers find this a difficult skill to master, if they don’t have perfect pitch—and most of us don’t—because unlike, say, a pianist, we can’t look at an “A” and just pick it out on the keyboard. We have to both identify the notes (easy) and replicate them using our own vocal cords (hard), which sad to say don’t have little marks on them to differentiate which note is which.)
I was terrified of this test. Truth was, I was actually a pretty good sightreader even then, which is rather odd since my sense of pitch in those days was, um, not ideal. But I’d never had to do so on cue, for an audition, in an unknown environment. And as usual, I assumed I was going to fail.
He handed me the music—this silly German madrigal called Der Gutzgauch, which I’m sure he chose specifically for its obscurity—and gave me a moment to look it over before starting to sing. I looked down and ignored the unfamiliar lyrics, of course, just staring somewhat wild-eyed at the sheet music trembling in my fingers. And then the sun rose and the weight lifted off my shoulders and trumpets blared and every other cliché you can think of: Holy crap, I thought: This is “The Cuckoo!” Yep, it was a song I’d already sung back in high school chorus… twice! What were the odds?! Inwardly I blessed my ambitious high school music teacher Mrs. Martindale (she also being responsible for shoving a 17-year-old me into the lead of Susannah, an absurd role for someone that age).
“Are you ready?” DJ asked gently, the twinkle in his eye that was pretty much omnipresent unless you really were on his bad side for doing something incredibly stupid like continually not knowing your music. “I guess so,” I said, affecting a weak shrug. And I sang. Oh, I started appropriately tentatively, as if I were indeed sightreading, but with growing confidence, of course, as I (or my character) “got the hang of it.” It was my first (and pretty much only) acting role at Albany. Now, the song isn’t hugely difficult, but there are some relatively challenging rhythms to the melody and a few intervals that might cause a singer to hesitate. Me? I sailed through, of course, chirping the cuckoo lines with gusto. And when I finished, DJ said something like “Wow, great!” and I said not a single word to him about being a lousy little cheat.
Years later, as a senior, when I knew his sense of humor, I bet I could have repeated this story and let him know what had really gone down. By then I already had a rep as a solid sightreader and there was no question that I belonged in the group. But I didn’t say anything because I was still afraid of him. Of everyone, really, but especially of him. Not because he was intimidating, though I guess he was at times. He was intelligent and could be very compassionate, but also had a sarcastic, sharp-tongued side. And because I liked him so much, because he meant so much to me by then, I desperately wanted him to like me. I didn’t believe he did, because he was cool and smart and funny and everyone gravitated toward him and besides why would anyone like me?
So even though I knew he thought I was a decent musician, I didn’t reveal this silly little gag because I felt he’d be angry with me for the deception. I always felt—always feel—that it’s very easy for people to go from just barely tolerating me (I think it’d be presumptuous to assume actual friendship) to despising me. The line seems very easy to cross. I don’t think I engender that much loyalty or affection that a deviation from ideal behavior will be, well, tolerated.
But now, as an adult, I know DJ would have found this story amusing. Not funny ha-ha, just a bit of a chuckle. Yet even getting a simple “LOL” from him in a Facebook message would have still, twenty-four years after I graduated, felt like a victory.
I wish I’d told him.
* * *
I should really get to the heart of why I feel the way I do about David Janower. I mean, besides his generally being affable and charming and witty and smart and an excellent educator / musician.
In the middle of my sophomore year of college, my mother was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer. I was shocked, of course, but I never really considered the possibility—in retrospect, the pretty obvious likelihood—that she was going to die. I was quite frankly, forgive my language, fucking oblivious. Denial and cluelessness don’t make a good combination when it comes with dealing with dire truths like this. I don’t remember saying much to my teachers about it at the time, though I probably did. By then I was ensconced in the music department (this being SUNY Albany, it was an extremely small department) and spending most of my time there as a voice major on the path to what I presumed would be either a musical theater or classical performance career. It was telling one girl about it—Jessica, who rather amusingly had previous never liked me starting with that stupid audition of mine mentioned above—that opened me up to a whole new realm of understanding. Jessica had lost her mom at a terribly young age, only 14. And she was really the only person I felt I could really talk to. She was kind and compassionate and way more knowledgeable than someone our age should be about parental loss. And she probably saw the writing on the wall better than I did, although it strikes me now that I’ve never asked her about that.
But with my voice teacher–a role that usually or at least ideally becomes someone whom a singer considers her closest ally both professionally and, quite often, personally (since things in your real life often affect your vocal performances)… I don’t think I ever really opened up. She was a good teacher and a nice woman and seemed to think I was talented, but I don’t think she really warmed to me, and I think she already suspected I wasn’t a very good worker and probably wouldn’t go the distance as a performer. For whatever reason, shyness, self-protection, the aforementioned denial, I didn’t talk to her about my mom. Nor did I talk to my faculty advisor at the time, Dr. Gottschalk, who was a gentle enough man and a talented orchestra conductor but someone with whom I think I had maybe one counseling session.
Instead, most of my adult mentorship, such as it was, came from DJ.
I didn’t talk to him yet either, not about my mom, but I tried to ingratiate myself with him by learning my music fast (which was easy for me), auditioning for solos, doing behind-the-scenes work, that sort of thing. I so wanted his approval it aches to think about it. And he gave me some solos, he praised my work, he called me the nickname “Kee-la” for no particular reason, and he was amused by how ridiculously unbreakable my bond had become with Jessica—whenever we stood next to each other in Chamber Singers we made this sucking sound and bumped shoulders with each other, as if we were magnetically drawn together. It was fun and silly and very much needed in what I didn’t realize was the final semester of my childhood.
Because that summer, my mother died.
When I returned to school as a junior, my world had changed. Just when I needed some measure of stability, my voice teacher had abandoned me—well, no, that’s not fair, that’s only what it felt like; she just went on sabbatical as planned. In her place was this secondary teacher who, not to put too fine a point on it, was an uncompassionate bitch.
Singing was not exactly uppermost in my mind two months after my mom died. And the replacement voice teacher did everything but tell me to “get over it.” I remember during a vocal performance class I took with about six other singers including Jessica, this teacher suddenly decided to tell a story about Marilyn Horne’s parents dying and how she went on stage that very night, because that’s what professionals do, they don’t wallow, they don’t let their feelings get in the way of their art, yadda yadda. I was so shamed and furious—I mean for chrissake, she wasn’t talking to the class as a whole, she might as well have pointed a finger straight at me and said J’accuse! You are a bad singer for being in mourning!—that I up and left the room. Which is not something I did lightly, since making a scene was hardly my style. (Unless I was on stage, I preferred invisibility, thankyouverymuch.)
Anyway, this isn’t about that insensitive moron. (Why no, I don’t hold grudges thirty years later, that would be ridiculous!) This is about the man who did show me kindness. Jessica, you see, had told David about my mom—at least that’s how I remember it; I know he knew before I got back up to school without my having to tell him. Suddenly DJ was now my faculty adviser. Unlike all the other adults in my life—even including my father—DJ let me talk. And rather astonishingly and atypically, I did, in my stumbling, awkward way. I also listened. I learned that DJ had lost his father at a very young age, possibly younger than I was at that point, I don’t remember. He took the time to tell me how he’d felt, and how he could see I was struggling, and that I was somewhat bitter at my voice teacher (unfair though that was) and my replacement voice teacher (very justified). He showed empathy and gentleness and humor and, when it came to my work in Chamber Singers or in Music Theory (which he also taught), some necessary nudging when I slacked off… but never insensitivity to what I was going through.
I volunteered more and showed some more aptitude than I would have thought possible when I took conducting (again under his tutelage). I’d watched him like a hawk with great admiration as a singer in both Chorale and Chamber Singers, and I tried to emulate his sensitivity and musicality when, for one of his assignments, he had me conducting Mozart’s stunningly beautiful Ave Verum Corpus in Chorale.
Despite being a performer who was completely at home on stage in front of an audience, I found the idea of getting up in class and conducting other students terrifying. But DJ gave me the confidence, and when he gave me his written critique, I cherished every word of it. I still have it. It was funny, it was educational, it was supportive. It was a little snarky, too; he did make fun of my Latin pronunciation, which was great when singing but when I was instructing the other students it was, as he put it in a masterpiece of litotes, “not entirely exemplary.” But he also praised my instincts, ear and ideas as “great,” though he warned me that I wasn’t forcing the chorus members to pay attention to me. And then he added, apparently a little later in the session, “Wait, you’re getting better and better with this as the rehearsal progresses. Good!!” Such a small thing, a compliment here, a gentle bit of snark there, but always, always respect. Something that I never ever felt I deserved. There’s a reason I kept this evaluation so many years later. It meant the world to me and lifted my spirits when everything else around me was a miasma of dark clouds. He couldn’t know how much it mattered, this scribbled critique on the back of a used piece of notebook paper, or that I would keep it for twenty-six years.
I wish I’d told him.
* * *
By the end of junior year and throughout my senior year, I had volunteered (with Jessica) to be his assistant for Chorale and Chamber Singers. By now, older and marginally more secure in my position as one of the more prominent singers in the school, I also felt more able to joke with DJ and not be a nervous little twit around him. Hell, I sorta helped set him up on a date with my older sister, who by some freak of coincidence was close friends with one of DJ’s old classmates Nancy, who also urged the two on a date. (By this point, however, I think he was already seeing the lovely woman who’s been his wife for 25+ years now. I’m not entirely sure why he went on the date with Karen, but maybe it was just being polite. In any event, it didn’t go anywhere, needless to say!)
Singing-wise, my career trajectory was that of a foundering plane with a broken propeller. My original voice teacher was back, but by then I still resented her for leaving—again, I know this wasn’t fair, but I was in mourning and, well, can you say projection? (Psychologically, I wasn’t nearly ready for the ‘anger’ part of grief, not aimed at my mother, anyway; but I could certainly target my voice teacher with it intsead.) And I didn’t listen to her. I also just didn’t have a brain for singing properly. I never got the technique right. A singer, like a dancer or athlete, needs to know her body and how to use each muscle to get the job done. But I hated my body, my physical presence, and didn’t want to remember that I had one. So using my muscles was anathema to me. Luckily I was gifted with a natural voice, one that had kept me in good stead since sixth grade.
Yeah, well, you can only get by on your “natural voice” for so long. A singer has to prop up that voice with her entire body, and back it up with her brain, too. I couldn’t. And it was showing. My vocal range narrowed and I started pushing to make up for it, and that only hurt my voice more. Also, I really never fully recovered my joy of singing without my mother’s presence in my life, and without that joy, there really wasn’t much left for me except the work, which I was never very good at, and the hopes of getting DJ’s approval, which I felt was probably hopeless. Not through anything he did, I don’t think. I just would never have felt good enough to earn his approbation. I worked hard as his assistant and enjoyed that distinction, having the keys to his office, having his trust to work on arrangements of a choral work and to catalogue various pieces of music on his ancient KayPro computer after hours. That did make me feel special, but it wasn’t enough, because I was crumbling. The love of music and performing that had been the center of my being, my solid core, had been shored up by my mom. The loss was eroding me away; I was hollow inside.
And DJ saw it. My voice teacher, who might have seen it, and who might have said something warm and supportive in order to save my voice—which, despite all my self-deprecation and self-loathing, I can honestly say was extraordinary in those days (I don’t feel too braggy in acknowledging this, mainly because I feel as if I’m talking about a different person)—well, she didn’t say a thing. But DJ did. I didn’t even remember that until yesterday, but he did.
Yesterday, when I was looking for that evaluation I mentioned above—I wanted to read it again and remember his “voice,” which was as clear as a bell in his writing as if it were his speech—I came across a letter he’d written to me. Not something he’d sent to me in the mail; I believe he left it for me in his office one afternoon. I barely remember it. I certainly don’t remember reading it since, though now that I’ve reread it I know I’d never have thrown it away.
It was typewritten (yes, despite that KayPro, we had typewriters in those days and those were probably more natural for him to use), single-spaced, on three sides of paper. I won’t type all of it, because God knows this is long enough, but here is what David Janower said to me, tried to do for me, how he tried to reach me:
We need to talk sometime, face to face, I think, but perhaps this will suffice for now, and be less embarrassing to you. And anyway, maybe it’s all none of my business to talk about. It is my business, however, to tell you what I think of your work and thank you for how much you contribute to the choral program here and to my sanity.
So first of all, thank you. Thank you for knowing your notes always—well, almost always—you balked slightly at singing an alto line!) and so much in advance of everyone else. And thank you for singing so well always. It is so comforting to absolutely know that I can always find someone to sing a soprano part beautifully if necessary. I feel I have to give everyone enough time to learn solo lines and try out with them. Sometmes it’s never clear whether anyone will ever learn these lines or not, but I always know you not only know them but can perform them, and if not for the educational objective of letting several people have solos, I’d give them all to you (well, not the bass ones, perhaps…). What a difference when you sing! There are other good sopranos and spreading the work around isn’t as much a problem with sopranos as it is with, say, tenors. Still, it’s nice to know you are there, always ready.
Secondly, thank you for taking on so much backstage work this fall. “Auditioning” for the role of choral assistant turned into working regularly for over a month, for which I am grateful. I am excited that you will be working back there. I have usually had assistants who are very dedicated and hard-working, who care and try their best (although some have gotten burned out and given up). I haven’t always had someone who really knew their stuff, though. Some weren’t familiar enough with music to be able to do everything there. Some weren’t familiar enough with grammar and spelling. Some just weren’t the brightest people in the world. I think now I have someone who combines an interest and dedication with superior musicianship and real smarts! I mean, you can write! And spell! And think! I have more confidence that when I give something to you it will be done correctly than I have ever had in an assistant.
That doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes, of course (even I do that! Rarely, of course…). Some things you will be doing for the first time, and you will have to ask lots of questions, because I am terrible about explaining things well enough. I often assume that everyone understands what I understand, and so I don’t explain enough. So I don’t expect you to be perfect, though that would be nice. I do think, however, that you will be better at that job than anyone has been because you are good in all the areas required for that job (except selling candy bars). And so if occasionally you make a mistake or break a coffeepot, I think we can live with it. I seem to be able to live with it more easily than you can. (…)
I am concerned, however, with your perception (as I perceive it) that I don’t think you’re good enough, or that YOU don’t think you are good enough. I don’t know you well enough to know where this comes from, although I know a little from Jessica and a little from Karen to know that you are shy and insecure. I also know a lot from you, that you are damned good at what you do and could be the best we’ve ever had, if you’d get beyond the things that are holding you back within yourself. You know, I was once shy and insecure, and was considered arrogant and aloof. Now I am blustery and insecure, and am considered arrogant and aloof. (I AM arrogant, perhaps not aloof, and still shy outside of familiar circles.) Probably conducting was the best thing for my shyness (but I still stand in the corner at parties).
As for my insecurities, never a day goes by when I don’t question what I am doing, or how I’m conducting a rehearsal, or how classes are going. On the other hand, I have been doing this long enough and getting enough positive feedback to be convinced that I AM a good conductor and do good work with the choruses (although I am still too nasty and sarcastic and moody and so forth, and my jokes are usually terrible). But then here I am applying for a conducting competition, feeling I have no right to be even thinking about such a thing. And I read those evaluations and might get fifty positive ones and I will remember the three negative ones forever because of insecurities. And yet one must persist and strive and all of those important things, not for success, but just to do what we want to do and feel is important for us and for the world. So somehow I was able to get past the insecurities and shyness and go out and DO. A lot of that, I’m sure, is that I have always been able to remind myself of what I am good at, and though the insecurities bother me always, at least I know that I can do certain things. I can analyze music, I can conduct some of it. But I won’t hardly ever sing in public because I have no confidence in my ability to do that. (…)
So what’s with you? My impression is that you are fearful of much, but, more than that, not at all confident in your abilities. I must say that you can’t have much respect for me as a professor and my opinions if you disagree with me so greatly! I think you are tremendously talented, as a singer, as a musician, as an intelligent person. I’ve never known anyone to learn everything so quickly and so well and so carefully. But I also think you are not making the kind of progress you really are capable of making here, and I wish I knew why and how I could help, or how we as a department could help. If you really feel you aren’t very good, you are just plain wrong. If I had a Chamber Singers of all people at your level of both singing and musicianship, we would be touring the world and performing all sorts of repertory and probably making a fortune doing it! (Well, maybe not, but at least we could stop with the M&Ms!) And at your young age that’s amazing.
You are not only one of the two best singers at SUNY, you are probably one of the best in Albany. You are capable of singing with any chorus in this town, and probably could do solos with any chorus in this town, so why do you feel less good about yourself than you should? I consider myself a pretty damned good judge of singing and of musicianship, and you should try to believe me when I tell you you are good. You ain’t yet perfect, though, and I think your singing could be better, more consistent, more even. But that will come with age and experience and hard work (to be hindered only by spending too much time working for me). Remember, you are only a child vocally; your voice is only beginning to mature, equivalent to your body ten years ago. Don’t expect your voice to do things as if it’s twenty years old, because in this sense it isn’t. It’s about ten or twelve, it’s an adolescent. It has to catch up to the rest of you. I think that’s great! So many singers have voices ahead of their brains, and so all they do is make nice sounds. How wonderful that you have the brains and musicianship ahead of your voice, because that will mature. (…)
Don’t be impatient with yourself. You are very gifted, and if you can convince yourself of that, you can do much with that gift, I’m convinced.
Time to teach (music theory). I’d better get out my whip and chair.
Reading this letter yesterday, perhaps not surprisingly, left me in tears. Since I didn’t even remember having received the letter in the first place, I don’t know how I felt when I first read it. Like so many good things, I’ve blocked it from my mind. (I have absolute total recall for all things miserable and depressing, but positive memories fade almost immediately.) Honestly, I can’t even imagine how I felt, and I certainly don’t know what I said to him at the time. I don’t know what I could have said to him after reading such an unbelievably generous, supportive, crazily over-complimentary but much-needed letter. His sharing his own insecurities in a way to reach me was so like him, it was so like the way he’d always treated me: with affection and respect. As someone he thought well of. As someone he… I can almost hardly type it now… liked. Someone whose future he cared about as a teacher and mentor, and whom he sincerely wanted to do well. Someone he actually thought could do well.
I can see that now as an adult. I couldn’t as a blinkered, self-hating 20-year-old.
So I keep asking myself now: how did I react to this considered, honest, gentle, funny, forthright letter?
As I said, I just don’t know. I genuinely don’t. I am sure, whatever I did at the time, his beautiful message didn’t sink in. I would never have believed him. I know I couldn’t have accepted these words, so painstakingly written and carefully chosen so as not to embarrass me (and how well he knew me, to know how much shame weighed on me that anyone trying to peek into my soul would find a shield blocking their path and me running far, far away).
And I did nothing with my voice after college. I always thought I’d go back to singing, it was always my most desired wish, but time passed and so did my window of opportunity. Depression and anxiety increased my misery and decreased my chances of ever being able to find that blessed home, that hard-won peace, in front of an audience. These days I’m a writer, and I do love writing, but it’s not the same. It’s just not the same.
I wish I had found that letter two months ago. With my ability to express myself through writing, with years of therapy behind me, and with an openness and daring I never possessed as a young person, I think I would have been able to respond to David’s extraordinary acts of kindness toward me during school. I wish I had read that letter, and remembered all this, and expressed my gratitude for making those horrible years bearable, giving me something to look forward to, something to aspire to, if only just his approval.
I never saw at the time that I already had it.
I couldn’t accept that approval because I hated myself too much to see the friendliness and concern in his eyes: the eyes of a supportive advisor, a remarkable conductor, an admiring fellow musician, a sensitive person who shared loss with a mourning student when she felt so achingly alone, a humorous and joyful person who wanted to share this side of himself, too, because he wanted to reach out to someone in pain.
An extraordinary teacher. An extraordinary person.
I wish I’d told him.
Thank you, David.
David discussing the Berlioz Requiem.
Because a tribute to David should include music…
The following is “And I Saw a New Heaven,” by British composer Edgar Bainton, performed by the choir of Christ Church Southgate in North London.
It’s from the New Testament and perhaps it’s not appropriate considering the Christian aspect, but something so beautiful, with such touching words, goes beyond religion to me. I include it simply as one who loves beauty in music and in words, to another who helped shape my musical taste. Bless you David, and thank you. And to David’s family, in the unlikely event they see this, please take comfort in knowing how cherished, admired and inspirational your husband and father has been to so many. As the final section says:
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
Deirdre Michael says
Thank you, Kira. I was a freshman (I was Deirdre McShane back then) when you and Jessica were juniors and I remember well your beautiful voice. Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for putting into words what so many of DJ’s former students feel. Thank you so much.
Hi Deidre! I remember you too! Thanks so much for reading this and offering such warm feedback. Actually I think yours was one of the earliest FB posts I read about David after I found out. It’s wonderful to hear from you, though of course, I wish it weren’t under these circumstances (to put it mildly). I still have a few of my Chamber Singers concert cassettes, including madrigal dinners and spring concerts. If I can figure out how to upload some of the music I really should! Anyway thank you very much again.
Wow, what a beautiful tribute. I’m sure his family will appreciate reading such a heartfelt letter, showing the compassion and dedication of the man they love so dearly. I do not know him, but it is clear he is loved and cherished by many.
And I know this is about him, but I just have to add, my heart just ached for you the whole time I read this post. Just ached for this young girl who was clearly so talented, but was so plagued by feelings of worthlessness. I’m so sorry for whatever led up to that, and I just hope, hope, hope that things are better now. (And I’m so sorry if it was inappropriate for me to say any of that.)
Oh wow, thank you Janet, I’m really touched by that. No, of course it wasn’t inappropriate at all. I went back and forth regarding whether I should really bare this painful period to the public, if it would seem self-indulgent to do so, but I realized I really couldn’t adequately express why David’s role in my life was so important without explaining just what a mass of insecurity and depression I was, and how one professor’s remarkable attempt to reach through all those gnarled-up feelings were enough to see me through college years. Unfortunately it’s something I only realize now, as an adult, with the greater objectivity of hindsight (and, let’s face it, age!). These days I can look back and feel sympathy toward my younger self in a way I never could back then.
As far as now… well, I can’t say I’m a bucket of happiness and contentment — depression is a lifelong battle for me — but I am more sure of myself, thank heavens, and at least I do try to battle the depression, rather than letting it win by default as I did when young. Actually back then I didn’t even realize it was depression; I just assumed I was unhappy and lonely because I was intrinsically toxic. As if I had an invisible label with a skull and crosses on me saying “Warning! Do Not Touch!” Re-reading that letter from David really helps remind me that what I thought about myself then wasn’t necessarily shared by others.
I’m really humbled and grateful to receive such amazing compassion toward a stranger; thank you so very much for your lovely response.