Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Music and Memory: For Andrew

I spent the last two days playing with Orchestra Kentucky, sitting in my 4th horn seat.  This is a great regional orchestra in Bowling Green, drawing musicians from Lexington, Louisville, Owensboro, Nashville, and Evansville (and more places, I'm sure).  Among other fun works, last night's performance included Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.  This is the third time I've performed this work in my young musical career, and the second time while sitting in the 4th seat.  There are a lot of great moments in the 4th part; the only unfortunate aspect about it is that there are several movements in a row where only one, two or three horns are needed, eliminating the fourth horn for several minutes of music.  It was during this tacet section that I remembered.

This is the piece my orchestra at CCM was playing when Andrew died.

Andrew Austin Howell was an amazing person, who also happened to be a fantastic horn player.  He has just begun his junior year at CCM when he died in the early hours of Saturday, October 23rd, 2010.  He was 20 years old.  I think about Andrew every day, but it's been a while since I've thought about when the event occurred, and the painful days, weeks and months that followed.  Sitting in the orchestra two days ago, it was like I had turned back the clock almost three years.

I remember the text I got from Stephanie late Saturday morning.  I remember calling all of the graduate studio members, telling them all to sit down first.  I remember everyone gathering at Emily's apartment, including CCM director of wind studies Rod Winther, and Randy Gardner's lovely wife Barbara (Mr. Gardner happened to be in Philadelphia, and was frantically returning back to Cincinnati).  I remember Eric putting on several pots of Highlander Grog from Seven Hills Coffee, and Mr. Winther (a coffee enthusiast) saying it was the best coffee he'd ever tasted.  I remember ordering pizza and making french fries, and joking about how this was appropriate mourning food.  I remember us all taking turns laughing and crying.

I remember Sunday when we all gathered at the Gardner's home.  Anni happened to be in town that weekend, and recent graduate Danielle joined us too.  Usually, convocations at the Gardner's home involved bowls of ice cream and games of cornhole.  This was no such occasion.  We all tried to make it a supportive environment, and a time to share happy stories and fond memories.  We did our best, but the tears still flowed freely.

And then, I remember Monday, when we all had to show up at CCM.  I don't think any of us walked in alone that day.  Professors were extremely lenient with us, understanding if we just couldn't make it through class.  At 4PM, it was time for orchestra.  I remember sitting in the section with Austin, Robert, Jeremy and Eric.  I remember Annunziata's kind words.  I remember the rest of the orchestra's compassionate glances.  I remember Pictures at an Exhibition.

I remember Tuesday morning, when we had studio class for the first time since Andrew died.  I do not envy being Mr. Gardner in this situation.  How on earth do you hold a horn studio class when a member of your studio just fell off of a roof and died?  Not surprisingly, he made a great choice.  We listened to music for an hour.  Arkady Shilkloper, among other artists.  The class ended with an impromptu conga line.  The following hour was a grief counseling session, which the Wind Studies Department was hosting all day during normal rehearsal hours.  After that, Emily, Cecilia, Eric and I decided we couldn't handle the rest of the day at CCM.  We went and got giant burritos (again, appropriate mourning food) from Haba├▒ero, brought them back to Cecilia's and my house, opened up the futon, and stayed there for the rest of the day.

For the rest of the year, Emily tagged us in any picture she found of four kittens cuddling on a couch

I remember the vigil Wednesday night.  There was a huge crowd there.  Friends and teachers spoke.  The horn choir played an arrangement of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.  Cecilia played principal, and was rock solid.  I was sitting in the back row between Eric and Brigette.  It was the most difficult and most important performance of which I've ever been a part.  The vigil ended with a recording of Josh Groban's You Raise Me Up, which was one of Andrew's favorite songs.

I remember studio class on Thursday.  Mr. Gardner was brilliant, and decided this day should be his infamous Distraction Class.  It was the funniest one I experienced in my four years at CCM, probably because we were all so in need of a good laugh.

I remember the weeks and months that followed.  I remember having to go and pick people from CCM because they couldn't handle their sadness, and bringing them back to our house for a reprieve.  Our futon stayed open for at least a month, and we gained several temporary roommates.  I remember the night approximately a month later when, alone in my house, my body finally gave in to the pressure of staying strong for my friends; I called my parents, sobbing and shaking.  I remember the group hug on our last day of studio class in December, and the celebratory feeling we all shared for simply making it through the quarter.  I remember the concerts and recitals dedicated to Andrew's memory.  I remember gathering with his family in January to celebrate what would have been his 21st birthday, going to the spot in Bellevue Park where some of his ashes were spread.

Andrew's family and friends on his 21st birthday

I remember one year later, when we held a giant memorial concert.  Corbett Auditorium was filled.  Our horn studio was joined by members of the horn studios from Ohio State University and Indiana University.  Mr. Gardner asked me to represent the horn studio by giving a speech about Andrew.  I don't remember much from the actual moments I was speaking, but after I spoke I remember immediately running to the hallway behind the backstage area, putting my head between my knees.  Emily came and found me to make sure I wasn't barfing.  When I stood up, Mike held on to me and wouldn't let go, noting that he could feel my heart beating through my chest against his body.

I remember two years later.  I had just arrived in Los Angeles a couple of days prior, beginning my brief residency at Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA).  It was my first Andrew anniversary away from my CCM family, and I felt so alone.  Two of my fellow Sistema Fellows, Carlos and Sara, were also in LA with me at this time.  I had spent a grand total of 6 weeks of life with them at this point, but wasn't left with much of a choice but to tell them that I was probably going to have a very bad day.  Luckily for me, this was the beginning of a great friendship among the three of us, and they were wonderful about the whole thing.  I was also fortunate enough to share a phone call with Stephanie and Austin that day, who were also spending their first Andrew anniversary away from CCM.

Now, it's almost three years later.  I still have many of the same feelings I had when it happened.  Sadness. Confusion. Anger. And, happiness.  Happiness that I had Andrew in my life.  Happiness that he brought the CCM community closer together.  Happiness that I am fortunate enough to make the most of my life.  In a cathartic way, I hope that every time I play Pictures at an Exhibition, I will remember that time in my life; for me, every performance of the work will be dedicated to Andrew.



This was how I snapped out of my whirlwind of memories during Sunday's rehearsal of Pictures.


The conductor had stopped the music to address a member of the orchestra.  His name happened to be Andrew.

Sometimes, the universe does strange things.


  1. Thank you, Rachel. Andrew was fortunate to share in and be a member of your remarkable community at CCM.

  2. Oh my goodness. Andrew. This made me cry. I wish i'd gotten a chance to know him, but it is obvious that he impacted so many with his existence.

  3. Hard to believe something that happened almost 3 years ago still feels like yesterday.

  4. I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Milford, on a break from teaching, and I am transported...what a special horn studio we have - something we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. It's hard not to be transported like this when fall comes once again, the feelings and memories all flooding back to that October.

    Life is good.