JB had his music playing way too loud this afternoon. But when I opened my studio door to ask him to lower it a bit, I realized it was Doc’s music that was playing. I stopped and sat on the floor right where I was.
I worked with Doc many years ago at the Chicago Academy for the Arts. He was a soulful and humble man who helped to build the music department at the school. He got both his undergraduate degree and PhD in music and music composition at the University of Chicago (hence the nickname “Doc”), studying with Shulamit Ran and Ralph Shapey.
Doc, Bruce Horst, died at the age of 37 from AIDS in 1992. He taught a Humanities and comparative arts program at the school and was a teacher like no other. He worked to keep the students engaged with his high energy, his creative and out of the box intellect. Sometimes they stayed with his cerebral musings, though class management was not his strong suit. In his explanation of the creative process and the structural arc of music and art, he often connected it to lovemaking, broadening terms like climax and denoument, which made the administration crazy when they needed to defend him.
Doc’s apartment was where the annual Academy Awards party was held (which used to be broadcast on Monday nights) where all the teachers at the school shared snarky and sarcastic banter about the actors and directors and their movies and imbibed plentiful amounts of adult beverages. And all of us showed up for work the next day on time.
Doc was a thread which held the heart of the school together. He wrote music for the theater productions, for the dance performances, and vocal and chamber pieces for his own music students. He also wrote music for the faculty who were practicing artists themselves. He worked collaboratively with passion for and with commitment to the community that was the Chicago Academy for the Arts.
In the year (maybe it was several years) before he died, he was rehearsing for a dance concert, supplying the music as was usual. IB who was about 3 or 4, sat down next to him as he played the piano. When we left and IB clambered off the piano bench, Doc looked up at us with tears in his eyes.
I’m thinking about Doc today. I’m thinking about how young he was when he died. I’m thinking about what we all lost in his passing. I’m thinking about his passion and his spirit and all the permission to take risks and to create he gave to his students, his colleagues, and friends. I’m thinking about his kindness and his generosity, his gentle sense of humor and his beautiful and powerful music.
Listen to some of it. You’ll understand.