Melinda Wagner on Richard Wernick

c-wagnerReaders of this blog will know how very strongly I believe in the music of Melinda Wagner – if you haven’t read it, here is my post on her Trombone Concerto. Mindy and I followed a somewhat similar path in that we followed a Penn Master’s degree with a doctorate elsewhere – Columbia for me, U Chicago for Mindy. We were not at Penn at the same time, and only got to know each other later. I consider myself lucky to count her as a friend, and I look forward to every new piece from her.

Here is Mindy’s reflection on Dick Wernick in connection with this Thursday’s concert that will include her Pan Journal:

I have known Dick Wernick since the inaugural year of the Delaware County Youth Orchestra—1971. Dick was a creator and conductor of this orchestra, and I sat somewhere near the back of the cello section for most of my high school years.

It was around this time that I began to drive my mother and all of my teachers to utter desperation: I was constantly at the piano composing (well, it was improvising really), yet I refused to practice traditional keyboard skills and didnʼt know how to read music properly. My schoolwork was mediocre at best. Perhaps as a favor to my poor mother, Dick generously allowed me to perform several of my compositions for him, among them a little blues number entitled, “Iʼm an Unwanted Woman in the Gutter of Love.” Dick took me on as a student regardless, and the experience changed my life completely. I say this without exaggeration.

Years later, as a graduate student at Penn, I had the wonderful opportunity to study with Dick again. We discussed the key elements of great music—clarity, strength of design, dramatic pacing, compelling voice leading, counterpoint, and yes, integrity—elements that ring loud and clear in Dickʼs own music. While it rarely makes my work easier, I carry these discussions into my own studio every single day. Dick always knew what I was trying to say musically, no matter how tangled up I became in my attempts to be a COMPOSER. He was encouraging when praise was warranted, yet had no tolerance for either “fudging” or “schmeer.” Ultimately, I found our lessons to be inspiring, exhilarating; indeed, I always left the building on 34th Street with the determination to do better. Dick still has the uncanny ability to step into a composerʼs shoes, simply by looking at the score. And I show him every new piece to this day.

Dick continues to be one of the most important people in my life—someone who has changed my life. He has been my dear, dear friend for all these years, and I owe him so much. I love you Dick.

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