The tour with the MIT Concert Band started early in the week.I left the family in Montreal and flew to Boston. The Band off from Logan in Boston and landed in Tampa-St Pete. It was an extremely crowded flight, uncomfortable. Touring with a bunch of engineers going to MIT and playing music in the Concert Band and going on a tour every year on a Charter 20 years ago.
I was asked to be soloist in the first peformances of the Concerto for Clarinet and Concert Band by the Berklee Composer John Bavicchi, who was an old friend and a respected composer who writes as hard for clarinet as it gets. He glories in writing craziness, exults in it actually. Contrapuntal dissonance. I have recorded 3 works he wrote for me and I do not think I am comfortable with any of the three. The string quintet for A clarinet and string Quartet, the First Sonata for Clarinet and Piano and the Canto #1 for clarinet alone. I have about 40 works written for or commissioned by me and certainly I value his, regardless of difficulty with enormous respect .
There was a concert in Tampa that very afternoon, however the Concerto was to be performed initially in Titusville(as it was called then)the next evening.. In the morning of the 28th there had been a hard freeze and they had had to spray to orange groves with water in order to attempt to save the crop from frost and ruination.
So the morning sun on that clear day was blinding as it came through the frozen groves.
We all knew that the Shuttle was flying that day but we were thinking about the evening concert at Astronaught High School and I was thinking of that difficult concerto.
As we drove down the highway we began to see many cars parked along the side of the road and we too stopped. We had been listening to the car radio and they had lost contact with the launch.
Pulling up on the shoulder I took out my Minox (a constant companion) and pointed it to the sky to try to get a picture of what was happening.( I still have them, grainy as they are.)
There were three large columns of white smoke and many minute shards of smoke flying away from the three.
At that moment, the radio cam back on and announced that the Shuttle had “broken up”
Nobody understood those words, but looking up, it began to seep in that there had been a tragedy up there sudden and horrible and that all the members were most probably gone.
After a while we continued on out way toward Titusville and Astronaught High School. When we entered the school there were students walking aimlessly through the halls. Everyone was in shock of some kind and few had accepted the loss.
It was decided that the concert be performed and we rehearsed. I think that John Corley, the Director and the Band Members and myself were in shock.
That evening there was a large audience very very quiet, their attention seemingly locked on something else.
After the perhormance, someone in the audience mentioned that “we had all lost people that day”
It is strange to me that this was a similar feeling to the weekend of John Kennedys assassination when the Milwaukee Symphony had a concert on Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I was principal clarinet in that orchestra. The program included the Last Four Songs of Strauss, Don Jaun and we played the Adagio from the Orchestral Suite in D of Bach, The air on The G String.The world had the weekend for the shock of November 22, 1963 to sink in, and it was actually palpable. He had been such a popular president, available and aware.I had gone into a drug store in Milwaukee and saw Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald on the television set in the drugstore. A totally packed audience, all in some kind of strange shock that remains fixed in the memory. Both of these concerts have remained always with me and the events that occured around them will be part of my andn all our history. I can think of no other two tragedies that so affected so many of the world.