To Linda Rosenthal:
I was saddened to learn that your husband of many years and my All-Boro band conductor, David Rosenthal, has passed away into New York City music history.
When I was in 8th grade I had been playing for a year and my school band director, Geroge Modrow, informed the band that there were auditions being held for the NYC All-Boro Band and Orchestra program. I was immediately interested and auditioned. I got in. In fact, I was placed in Orchestra. Camille C Taylor was the conductor.
After I sat down, I was discouraged to hear the fledgling string players struggling through sight-reading. It was a sound I was not used to hearing, having come up through band. I went to Mr. Taylor and asked if I could be in Band instead. He looked at me curiously, eyes knit in amazement, and asked me whether I was sure. I told him I felt I was more “band material”.
He consented and I was relocated to Band and I was happier among the sounds of flutes, trumpets, and saxophones.
The conductor was a bald man with blond-brown hair at the sides and blue eyes, whose presence was strong without being intimidating. There was a sharpness to his beat once he began to conduct and a clarity of purpose that made me watch with interest because I knew that if I watched, if I listened, I would learn.
Learn I did. He saw to it personally and was not above doing whatever it took to get me to understand that there were notes, rhythms, and spirit wrapped together on the pages in front of me. If I didn’t produce enough sound he would stare right at me and scream until my sound poked through the texture as he needed me to. He even used a few choice Spanish phrases to get me to play out.
I learned the importance of warming up. I learned to use my third valve slide to play in tune on low Ds and C#s. I learned to listen carefully to the oboe when I tuned, not as obvious a skill as it would seem to be. I learned to love the Leidzen band transcription of the “New World” Symphony.
I learned to love classical music before I knew what it was.
At the end of the season, before our big Spring concert, Mr. Rosenthal made an announcement. It seemed that the public schools of the City of New York would award something called a “scholarship”, whatever that was. That scholarship was a big deal, whatever it was. Mr. Rosenthal spoke for a moment and then announced that I won this scholarship along with another student.
I won that scholarship because it was his decision to identify a couple of students with talent and need that could use the money to become better musicians. I didn’t know I fit either description as I had no friends that were particularly more well-off than my family was and, as far as talent was concerned, I just did what I did as naturally as I did anything else. I didn’t quite get the notion of talent or that I was anymore special than my other friends whom I respected. I just felt like we were all good.
Nevertheless, Mr. Rosenthal saw something worth pursuing in me. I spent the next year studying with a member of the New York Philharmonic at the 92nd Street Y and playing another year in Boro-Wide. When I was placed in Orchestra I did not resist, especially after having heard their portion at the prior year’s concert.
Here’s what I want you to know, Linda: that act of providing me with that chance to study led to an improvement in my playing that took me to the High School of Music and Art, the Juilliard School of Music, the position of 1st trumpet in the Seattle Symphony and later the Minnesota Orchestra, and most apropos, the co-directorship of the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, which I have served in for the last 30 years.
What I want you to know is that because of people like David Rosenthal and George Modrow, my aim in life was first to become a teacher of music. My good friends all knew that’s what I wanted to be. The reason was simple: I wanted to be like those men. I wanted to stand on a podium and wave my arms and make beautiful things happen. They were magicians and they made me want to make magic, too. It was that simple.
But you know that man plans and God smiles. He had other ideas first for me before I would get to stand in front of young people and make them love classical music as much as I do. Your husband was a finger in God’s hand insofar as the path my life took.
Finally, I want to remind you that many years ago I was playing a concert at Avery Fisher Hall with the MO under Edo deWaart. I was backstage chatting with a colleague when another colleague grabbed my elbow and said, “Hey, Manny… there’s a guy who says he gave you a scholarship when you were a kid. He’s at the front of the stage.”
My eyes opened up and I said, “Mr. Rosenthal?”
“I don’t know who he is but…”
I was already gone and basically ran to the front of the stage and saw a bald man with greying hair standing with a group of folks. I literally jumped off the stage and hugged him, my eyes stinging, us asking each other how we were doing and him closing the brief chat telling me how proud he was of me and the work I had done since I last saw him when I was a boy.
Linda, that was the last time I saw him and I remember the big smile he wore the whole time we talked. He was proud of me. One of my favorite teachers was proud of me.
I hope he still is.