Kenneth Schermerhorn was conducting the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; they were performing the Largo of Antonin Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony. Although I didn’t yet know I would become a composer (it took my family’s gift to me of the score of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd a few years later to seal my fate), I did decide that day, at the age of seven, in 1968, to become a musician.
Thirty-five years after that beautiful English Horn solo (the melody of which I sing to my son when I rock him to sleep) changed my life, Kenneth and I enjoyed a lovely lunch together prior to his conducting my cinematic blow-out for orchestra Much Ado with his Nashville Symphony. I related to him how I had been taken on a school trip to hear him conduct the Milwaukee Symphony and how I had determined then and there to become a musician. He smiled as I thanked him, and then shared with me the moment he had first decided to become one. We reminisced about Phi Beta Studio at the MacDowell Colony, in which we had both toiled as composers, and about Bernstein, with whom we had both worked — both experiences exactly thirty years apart — at Tanglewood.
’How like coming home it feels to finally work together,’ he mused.
’And how ironic, under the circumstances,’ I replied, ‘that the Largo was adapted into a song by Harry Burleigh called Going Home.’
‘Indeed,’ he agreed, smiling.
Did he remember the fan letter from the dazzled child who couldn't find a word big enough to describe how moved he had been by the experience? He laughed and said no. I told him what I had written: ‘Dear Maestro, your performance last week was just superfluous!’
He exploded in grainy, slightly rueful laughter. What a wonderful man he was to me that day. I worked hard to keep him laughing; and we both did, until there were tears in our eyes.
’I am neither a young nor a healthy man,’ he sighed, ‘but I am glad that we are finally sitting together now at this table.’
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