In the MySpace forum for my high school, I just found out that my high school band director died in June. I’m totally heartbroken about it. I searched a little on the web, and found a Legacy.com guest book for him. I left the following message there:
I just found out about Mr. Cross’ death, and I’m deeply saddened.
In the years I was in his bands, Mr. Cross did what few teachers ever do: he tried to let the students teach themselves. Where he saw talent, he gave opportunity.
I last saw Mr. Cross a year or so ago, while visiting my family when my dad was dying from cancer. I ran into him at Kinko’s, of all places, where I’d stopped in to fax something back to my office. He recognized me right away and must have known a little about my dad’s condition because he asked how my dad was. I told him things weren’t looking good, and he seemed genuinely sympathetic. He then asked what I was up to, and I very happily told him I’d moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a songwriter. He seemed pleased, and I may have only imagined it, but I thought he actually looked proud. I hope he did feel proud. I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that I pursued a career in songwriting partly because of his influence. Moreover, he remains one of the best teachers — of any kind — I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have studied with.
My deepest sympathies go out to his family and other loved ones.
I should add, for those who may not realize, that I was a most devoted band geek, which means that, by my senior year, I was spending about half of every day in the band room with Bob Cross (well, with Mr. Cross. Sorry, but even though he asked me to call him Bob after I graduated, he’ll always be Mr. Cross to me). We knew each other well; we definitely had our conflicts — as is bound to happen when anybody spends so much time together — but more than almost anyone else in my life, he really knew how to push me to make me excel. He had me working on new instruments whenever I started to get complacent (although he always supported my continued growth on my primary instrument, which was clarinet); he had me arrange my own parts for the jazz band; he had me conduct the band from time to time; he encouraged me to participate in solo and ensemble competitions; he pushed me to expand my musical vocabulary; and so on and so on and so on.
When I got to UIC and tried out for the concert band, I landed third chair. The conductor told me, “I would’ve placed you higher, but I think the other two would be upset. You’re welcome to challenge for their seats, though.” I quit after two rehearsals. The university band couldn’t hold a candle to our high school band; the credit goes entirely to Mr. Cross.
In retrospect, he was almost like a manager to me rather than a teacher, and I mean that in a very positive way — that he oversaw my own efforts to grow and learn. I wish I’d thought to call him up at some point last year while I was spending so much time in town and taken him out for a coffee to let him know how much I gained from him. I wish I’d ever properly thanked him for all the ways he discovered how to get me to grow as a musician and — seriously — as a person. I can think of quite a few examples off the top of my head when he taught me life lessons I may not have really wanted to learn, but am now glad I did. I’m truly a better person because of Bob Cross. How many people can say they helped make someone a better person?
Rest in peace, Mr. Cross.