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.

A great loss from my past

7 thoughts on “A great loss from my past

  • September 1, 2006 at 8:48 pm
    Permalink

    That’s a lovely tribute. Every student should be lucky enough to have a teacher like that at some point.

    Reply
  • September 1, 2006 at 9:40 pm
    Permalink

    Oh, no…. *saddened*

    Reply
  • September 1, 2006 at 10:49 pm
    Permalink

    Oh, how sad. And how lovely that you got to say those things about him.

    My favourite teacher–and good friend–died in 2002, and it was such a sad thing. I hope these people knew how many lives they’d touched.

    -J

    Reply
  • September 2, 2006 at 2:40 pm
    Permalink

    Well said throughout. Thinking of you.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2006 at 11:48 am
    Permalink

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. I wondered several times while writing this if you knew already, and even had weird false deja vu that we’d already discussed Mr. Cross’ death, but I couldn’t find any evidence anywhere that that was the case.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2006 at 11:50 am
    Permalink

    I think maybe it’s the kind of thing most people only realize after they’re not students anymore, and so the likelihood of them going back and communicating the importance of the teacher to the teacher seems slim indeed, unless they still live in the same town or keep in contact. Which is really too bad.

    Reply
  • September 4, 2006 at 11:57 am
    Permalink

    Oh, wow.

    I’m so happy for him that he had someone to say this sort of thing for him when he was gone. That’s a life well lived, all right.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.