My father, Dr. Simon Anderson, shown here with my mother, Nancy, was a professor of music for over 40 years at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, one of the best music schools in the country. Though he started out instructing future band leaders, he soon found music appreciation to be his true passion. In the early 80’s, I sat at our dining room table stuffing copies of his first book, The Musical Imperative (which he published with his own company, Clifton Hills Press, Inc.), into mailers addressed to music teachers all around the United States. At its peak of popularity, the text was being used in some 50 high schools, colleges, and universities across the country.
The Musical Imperative (now in its 4th edition) was a distillation of Dad’s philosophy of music, which can be summed up in a phrase I heard countless times in my youth: “There’s good classical music and bad classical music, good bluegrass and bad bluegrass.” While this might not seem revolutionary now, in the late 60’s and early 70’s such a statement–along with corollary pronouncements about the worth of all music to be discussed, analyzed, and dissected in the academy–was tantamount to heresy, and Dad was routinely dismissed by colleagues and administrators who couldn’t bear the thought that the three B’s might just as easily be Basie, Brubeck, and “Bird” as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
Yet Dad persevered, taking his egalitarian message to the PBS airwaves in Cincinnati with two TV shows, Man and His Music and Pop Music, U.S.A., both of them simply his classroom lectures brought to a broader audience. (Many of those viewers for their efforts earned college credit via so-called “correspondence courses” decades before the idea of online education.) If Dad was compelling in front of hundreds in his classroom, he was scintillating in front of thousands on the small screen, one-upping himself (one example out of many) by not only donning a wig and strumming a guitar, which he did in class, but also saddling up and riding a horse for the TV audience in order to illustrate Willie Nelson’s populist appeal, rooted in such staples of Americana as the Hollywood western. At every turn, but especially when I sat in his classes when I was a student at UC before I transferred to Judson (now) University, I couldn’t have been prouder to be his son: “That’s my dad!”
That man is gone. Dad’s dementia, gradually more and more pronounced (in hindsight) over a five-year period, took a serious nose dive when he got pneumonia a few years ago. The Ph.D who used to hold college students–including several future NFL and NBA players–in the palm of his hand, regaling them with stories from his vast experiences and convincing them to give classical music a try, even as he made sure to give occasional props to their particular preferred genre of music, now can’t string a sentence together. He is a 37 on a scale of 1-40, where 40 is dead. Now and again, his eyes appear to light up when a family member is present, but–who’s to say?–that could be gas, the same kind of smiles we get from a flatulating baby. My father-in-law is fond of the expression “Once a man, twice a boy.” That’s my dad.
Paul tells us to live is Christ and to die is gain. I believe that wholeheartedly, and, hence, I really wonder why the Lord doesn’t call Dad home, swinging low the chariot for him, helping him cross to the other side of Jordan, granting him passage on the old ship of Zion as it sails into heaven’s port. Et cetera. Dad has lived a good, long, and productive life. He served the Church Universal faithfully, his initial nominal Christianity taking root into a more-vibrant faith along the way. His family is ready to release him to his heavenly reward. I see no earthly reason for him to remain with us.
And yet . . . maybe there’s a heavenly reason that I don’t grasp, limited to seeing through a glass darkly as I am. Right before Christmas, my wife Lea and I wheeled Dad into the large day room where the residents of the nursing home gather, and I played a few Christmas carols on the piano for him. I got the usual blank response for the most part–another discouraging visit, my efforts seemingly in vain.
After we wheeled him back to his regular perch in the hallway and walked away to leave, a couple who appeared to be about our age stepped out from a room where someone was very evidently being ushered into eternity. The husband asked, “Was that you playing?” When I responded in the affirmative, he thanked me, saying, “We’re losing Mom tonight. Your music really comforted us. Thanks.”
And I was reminded once again that we never know when our seemingly random and inconsequential gestures in this life might be used in very purposeful and important ways by our omniscient God, who asks us not to grow weary and to trust Him when we don’t understand. I hope Dad has met his Maker by this time next year, but, if he hasn’t, I will try to trust the Lord more and complain less. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but, if I wanted to, those two wouldn’t be bad places to start.
The Lord be with you!
This one brought me to tears. Powerful words for all of us to ponder. Thank you.
Your Dad has been an inspiration to so many, Warren! Me, included. This is a beautiful tribute amidst a very difficult situation that we cannot comprehend. Though he had a stellar music career, you, Elliott, and Karin are undoubtedly his most treasured legacies. You are each truly amazing people! Love you and praying for God’s timing for that Chariot. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Warren for this timely reflection on your father and on life in general. I appreciated it a lot.
I’ve come by your blog after searching the internet for “Simon Anderson, Pop Music USA.”
This evening (May 16, 2015), my sister texted me to say she had watched the HBO film “Bessie” about the life of Bessie Smith and said it reminded her of a series I produced and directed many years ago at WCET- “Pop Music USA.” I was a senior at CCM at the time and ambitious to make a mark in television and film. After having been a student of your father’s music appreciation class, I was eager to be involved with his second TV series. Probably more than anything, your father and that series encouraged me to make movies and television for the rest of my life. He was complimentary and supportive of me and, with his great knowledge of music-making, gave me, not only a platform to shoot off to do other things, but an incredible understanding and appreciation of all music. Your father was crucial and invaluable to me and in my success in the motion picture industry.
Now, at 62, I’ve had wonderful career in Los Angeles as a motion picture & television editor. Dr. Anderson and I kept in touch for a couple years after I left Cincinnati in 1975, and I’m sorry we didn’t maintain it. But I think of him often, especially while cutting a piece of music into an editors cut of a film. I think of him in his bad Elvis wig pounding on a piano, or explaining sonata allegro form, and I smile. He gave me a lot.
My father, too, suffered from dementia in his waning years before he died. I know he won’t remember me, but, maybe, say hello to your Dad from someone whose life he affected wonderfully.
All the best,
Thanks so much for this wonderful testimony, Michael. I have DVD copies of both Pop Music, USA and Man and His Music that I plan to watch as Dad nears the end of his life. I was a child when he did the shows, but I remember with fondness peers telling me, “I saw your dad on TV last night.”
I will read this letter to Dad next time I visit. Who knows? Maybe it will register somewhere in his soul.