Friday, January 29, 2010

the wisdom of old men

O dark dark dark.
They all go into the dark

An old college buddy of mine sent me an email that my Music History/Ear Training (We used to call it ear straining) teacher, Dr. Edward Wolf, passed away this past Sunday. I was really saddened by this news.

Dr. Wolf was my professor at West Liberty State (now West Liberty University) when I was a struggling music education major from 1977 to 1980. I knew every little about music then and every week I came up against that hard fact. Wolf was one of those who would not let you off the hook. You learned, baby.

Dr. Wolf could have taught anywhere-Harvard, Yale, you name it. He was that good. Scary smart. Yet, he taught at a state school in WV to a bunch of lunkheads.

Nobody that took a class from him could forget his scholarship, integrity, brilliance and his often eccentric personality. "Wolfie," as we sometimes called him, always dressed in old school suit and tie (I would have guessed a sensible collection of suits from the 50's or 60's). On occasion, he might teach without a jacket, but never ever did I see him without a tie. Never flashy, but always groomed.

He was a very sober and dedicated individual whose personal discipline, to a bunch of lethargic confused stoner college kids, was something beyond comprehension. I once asked him about study habits. He told me about how, when his mind began to lose concentration during the inevitable long study hours, he would run laps around the library to re-energize. "And I never did any work after 11." To this day, because of that one conversation, I often set a time in which I will stop practice. The practical use of time is something that has to be learned. I never came close to it in college.

While one prof joined us for a kegger and one had an affair with a female student, you would never dream that of Dr. Wolf. He didn't want to be your friend, you were his student. The line was very clear and never crossed.

Like most people with a high intellect, his personality was odd. He was at once cheerful and friendly, seemingly interested in your well being and always ready to answer your music queries and another day, it appeared to have pained him to say hello. He would muster up an obligatory and frosty, "Hi" and keep on walking.

In music history, he could be strict and stern, but every student worth their salt respected his knowledge and scholarship. You might get terribly frustrated when you hit the inevitable wall in his class and say you hated the man, but you knew he was going to give the grade that you deserved. His integrity was beyond reproach.

He did drive me mad in Ear Training. He was too cheerful for the morning hours and practically jumped up and down while he would say, "Keep those finger tappers tapping!" We poor music students murdered the rhythms and pitches while we sang in the confounding solfeggio.

My colleague and college friend said it very well:

So the Old Guard passes. And we become the Old Guard, now, I guess (I have students now in Ferrywhose parents were students of mine).

Please spread the news far and wide, to whom it may concern, that one who challenged us greatly--and for whom we rose to the challenge--has passed on.

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