I still remember that early morning as if it were yesterday.
The phone rang at around 6:00 am PDT or so, just after United flight 175 hit the second tower. It was our friend Denise, who was in the Ethos Quartet with us, who was calling. She left a voice mail which simply said “Turn on the tv, something’s happening”. Around 7:00 am, my clock radio alarm went off. NPR was my station of choice. I heard some mention of a catastrophe in New York City. I listened to my friend’s voice mail, then went in and turned on the tv. The second tower had collapsed moments before. Seeing the huge, incredibly huge, plume of smoke and dust over lower Manhattan, I was sure that an extremely powerful bomb had gone off in the city. I remember my knees giving way, just falling to a seat on the sofa, as I saw the unspeakable, the horrific, the unimaginable – right there before me. I gathered myself and ran into the bedroom to wake my wife. The horrible day had begun.
I think of that day often, especially in the first part of September, before the anniversary arrives. The days in Portland are so bright, clear, and perfect. Just like in NYC that fateful day. As my friend, the composer Daniel Ott said in his Facebook post this morning:
This isn’t really a 9/11 post. It’s an every day post: for many of us who lived in New York on that day, certain things will never be the same. I’m not alone when I step outside at a certain time of year, with the light just so, and the sky clear as can be, and not think of that day. Nor can I walk along the West Side, look upwards to see a plane coursing south over the Hudson, routine as can be, and not remember. Not even a glance at the distant skyline comes without these feelings as an unbidden accompaniment….
I remember the Oregon Symphony had a runout concert in Salem that night. James DePreist was adamant that the concert go on as scheduled. He thought it would provide solace for people. We played the elegiac Nimrod variation from Elgar’s Enigma Variations that night as a prelude to the concert. It was one of the most heart-wrenching moments of performing that I’ve ever experienced.
It was with great sadness that I learned today of the death of the Oregon Symphony’s Laureate Assistant Conductor Norman Leyden at the age of 96. Norman initiated the Oregon Symphony’s pops series in 1970, and led it successfully for the next 34 years. Many credit Norman with keeping the Oregon Symphony afloat during many lean years through the success of his pops concerts, and it’s hard to argue with that assertion. I don’t know what I can really say about this huge loss to the musical world, but I can reprint what I wrote back in 2012:
I have more than one hero in my life – some are heroes of the personal order, some professional. And some are both. Perhaps nearest to my heart is a man who began his upward trajectory in his career after being discovered playing with a band in Atlantic City in 1942 by none other than the great Glen Miller, who said “For a Yale man you don’t play bad tenor [sax]“. That Yale man was (and is) Norman Leyden. Norm is 94 years old this year (and will turn 95 in October), and still practices the clarinet pretty much every day. Last night, he did a show in Eugene with Pink Martini, and pretty much stole the show after being received with an incredibly warm standing ovation by the crowd. If there is a warmer or more generous soul in the music business, I don’t know of one. If there is a more thoroughly professional and disciplined musician, I don’t know of one. Norman just lives his life the way all of us want to, but few of us are able to accomplish. Bravo, Norman!
Here’s a photo snapped by OSO principal violist Joël Belgique at that same Pink Martini show:
And here’s Norman in July 2013 with Pink Martini at the Hollywood Bowl: