Remembering Dean Drummond

It’s been a year, but I still have a hard time describing just how much Dean Drummond meant to me.  A year later, and his passing still touches me deeply.

Dean Drummond was just another one of my teachers in college.  I had taken classes with him, and I had been in his ensembles, and that may not sound like much.   But to me and to a good handful of students like me, he was so much more than just a teacher.

Dean was in charge of the Harry Partch instruments, and beginning in the fall of 1999 (just like me) Dean and his unique group of instruments came to Montclair State University.  Yes, we called them the Dr. Seuss instruments (go ahead and google the insane genius Harry Partch, I’ll wait), but those of us who got to know the instruments developed a strong love for both the instruments, the legend of Harry Partch and Dean himself.

When I tell you that Dean is the main reason why I remained at Montclair, it is not a lie or a stretch of the truth.  I could have studied music theory anywhere; there is only one college where a student could study on the Harry Partch instruments, and that’s at Montclair State University.  I didn’t go there with Partch in mind, but this is one happy accident that I am most thankful for.

Even after I left Montclair, I was still happy to hear about the program flourishing.   Dean once even assured me that the “Partch students continue to be the coolest students in the music school” (yes, that’s a direct quote from an email he once sent me).

To honor Dean’s memory, the university has so kindly decided to kick the instruments off campus.  Well, I guess I should be a little clearer.  It’s not like whomever makes these kinds of decisions sat down and said, “what’s the most insulting thing that we can do for a faculty member who has passed away?”  but that’s essentially what they have done, and I know I’m not the only one who is livid about this decision.

However.  I’m not going to dwell.  At least, I’m not going to dwell on the negative.  Instead, here is a roundup of articles written about Dean, leading off with my favorite.  The author, Elizabeth Brown, is a composer who wrote a few pieces for the Partch instruments.  It is my favorite of all the articles written in the last year because of her close ties with Dean.  They had a long and great working relationship, and the article is peppered with email correspondence between she and Dean.  I miss his humor.

You could, of course, read his obituary in the New York Times, or in the LA Times, or jump right to his wikipedia page. You could also have a listen to an episode of New Sounds that aired the Thursday after Dean passed last year.

One last thing I’m going to do, and I hope you will do as well, is visit this fundraiser on Indiegogo.  It’s not specifically for anything directly Dean related, but it’s for Partch, and Partch is what Dean devoted much of his musical career to.  There is a production of one of Partch’s bigger pieces, The Wayward, planned for Carnegie Hall, and they additionally are filming a documentary on the production as well.  It is my hope – and probably the hopes of many others – that this documentary will have a positive impact on the music education world, and the Partch instruments will find a new home where students can continue to learn about and explore the magical world of Partch.

It’s what Dean would have wanted.

Who I’m Thankful For

There are many things I am thankful for, both personally and musically.  I have spent a lot of waking hours so far this year, thinking about who I am thankful for, musically, and today, on Thanksgiving 2013, I want to tell you about a really awesome person in my life, who unfortunately, is never going to know the impact he has had on me.

I started college in the fall of 1999 at Montclair State University.  I was a music therapy major at the time (something that lasted only about a year).  Our freshman class was split into two sections for Theory I and Aural Skills I.  I just so happened to get the class with Dean Drummond, who was also new to Montclair State University that semester.  If me-from-now told me-from-then that this guy would become the most influential person in my college career, I probably would have laughed at you.  At the time, I think I wasn’t even sure if he was going to give me a passing grade in those two classes.

On a whim, I decided to try out the ensemble he ran, on the instruments invented by himself and by Harry Partch (another story, for another time).  The students in the music department mostly referred to them as the Dr. Seuss instruments.  Of course I was interested.

Over time, the instruments, and Dean, became the true constant of my college career.  Through deaths in my family, through a personal health scare, through FOUR changes of major (one of which Dean personally helped to make possible), there was always Partch ensemble.  It wasn’t just an ensemble for me (and for many of the students who participated over the years), it was my main form of socialization (Partch kids became some of my closest friends), it was a place for me to hang out, it was a place for, sometimes, hiding from the world.  Through the Partch ensemble, I got to premiere a few awesome works of music, and I got to perform off-campus (which was, and is, still a big deal for any ensemble).   I got to learn about a teeny, yet infinitely awesome niche in American music history.   The kind of thing where some people say, “You play the Cloud Chamber what?” and other people say, “OHMIGOSHYOUPLAYTHECLOUDCHAMBERBOWLS!?”

Dean wasn’t just a musician who also happened to be a teacher, he was the kind of person from whom you  could learn something every time he opened his mouth or just did.. anything. I have been thinking a lot this year about him.  From my dedication to practicing, to the way I run rehearsals with my students, I have learned a lot, musically, from Dean.

I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from Dean, too.  I’ve learned it’s never too late to learn something new.  I’ve learned that you just don’t have to iron your shirts if you don’t want to.  I’ve learned that if you truly love what you’re doing, you will never dread going to work a day in your life.  I’ve learned to keep a great sense of humor about everything and all things.  How did I learn these things?

Because one afternoon, Dean asked me to show him how to do a pirouette (also, he was just getting into karate).  Because Dean Drummond plays a kithara, and in his mind that means he doesn’t have to iron his shirts if he doesn’t feel like it, and I play kithara so I’m not ironing my shirts, either.  I witnessed the fact that Dean Drummond had dedicated his life to pursuing new music, and exploring all the possibilities of sounds to create, and I saw how that took him all over the world, and to my little corner of it, and how, no matter what the university threw at him (and anyone from MSU can tell you that Montclair can throw it’s fair share of curve balls and put up road blocks), he was living a life to be proud of, to be satisfied with, to be happy with.  I’ve also witnessed Dean leap like a frog across the room, attempt to walk through walls.  I’ve seen him wear ridiculous hats and make silly faces, all in the name of music.

I’ve been thinking about Dean a lot because Dean had been sick, and Dean finally succumbed to his illness in April of this year.  I, like many students, was actually pretty devastated.  I think I still am.  With the tears welling up in my eyes as I type this right now, I think I was under the impression that Dean was going to live forever.  I mean, hey, he could walk through walls, so it was absolutely possible.  Until, of course, it wasn’t.

But I am thankful that my life’s path crossed with that of Dean Drummond.  I won’t get too existential about it, but the only reason I came to Montclair was for a major I completely lost interest in, and in many ways, if it weren’t for Dean, I may not even have eventually become a musician.  If he hadn’t ended up at Montclair, I don’t know where I would have ended up.  So for that, and for so much more, Mean Dean the Theory Machine, I say thank you so very much, wherever you are.