About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Morris Secon: A Remembrance

Morris Secon passed away last week. Though I only studied with him briefly, he had a large and lasting impact on my playing.

I met Mr. Secon when I was a freshman at the Eastman School of Music. He was then principal horn of the Rochester Philharmonic. Even as a freshman I recognized what a beautiful horn sound he had and the musicality of his playing. Over time I also came to know that he was a caring person who always expected the best from people. My teacher, Milan Yancich, used to say that Mr. Secon saw the world through rose-colored glasses, and it was true. He was sometimes hurt and disappointed when other people didn't live up to his expectations, but he never gave up his high expectations.

At the end of my senior year at Eastman, Mr. Yancich became quite ill and had to take a leave. The school appointed a graduate student to teach his studio. A number of us approached Mr. Secon, who graciously gave our studio master classes and a few lessons. I clearly remember about a dozen horn students sitting in a circle in his house as Mr. Secon talked about phrasing, tone, being musical, and life in general.

I also spent time with Mr. Secon at some of the Horn Symposiums. Again, he was very generous with his time and knowledge and oftentimes ended up holding late night talk sessions with a crowd of young horn players. He was a pied piper, attracting those young musicians and enthralling them with stories. My two favorite Secon stories came from either the Symposiums or the master classes. The first is about an audition he went to. The audition committee had found a nightmare of a selection for sight-reading in B natural horn. (For non-horn players this means the player must play a diminished 5th lower than what is written.) Horn player after horn player mangled the sight-reading and came out shaking their heads. Finally it was Mr. Secon's turn. When it was time to do the sight-reading, he decided to take a chance that none of the audition committee had perfect pitch, took a deep breath, and played it perfectly -- in Bb horn! (For non-horn players, this means reading a perfect 5th lower than the written notes, a much easier transposition.) He won that audition.

Story number two: At one point in his career, Mr. Secon developed some problems with his playing that he felt were quite serious. He flew to Chicago to consult with Arnold Jacobs, who gave him some remedies. Mr. Secon wanted to apply them immediately -- he had concerts coming up and he wanted to fix the problems as soon as possible. So flying back home, he took his horn out and began to practice! A sewardess told him he would have to stop and to put the horn away. His response: "How are you going to stop me?" And he kept on practicing. That wouldn't work today.

Mr. Secon also made it possible for me to study with Dale Clevenger.  I had been accepted into the Master's program at Northwestern, where Mr. Clevenger taught, along with Richard Oldberg and Norm Schweikert. At my audition Dale had asked me who I wanted to study with, and I, of course, said, "Well, you." He replied that he would see. In the meantime I went back to Eastman and graduated.

I next saw Dale at the Horn Symposium at Jeunesse Musicale in Quebec province in June 1975. The application for this symposium had included a line where you could volunteer to play in a public master class. I said yes, I would like to and that if chosen, I would play the Gordon Jacobs concerto. I didn't really expect to get picked, but, probably due to the unusual piece I selected, I did get chosen! Then, one of the master teachers (Alan Civil) had to cancel because of illness and his replacement declined to do a master class, so Morris Secon volunteered, and to his surprise, he was assigned me. Mr. Secon told me this when I ran into him and Dale during the symposium. Mr. Secon said if I wanted a different master teacher, he would be happy to switch, since maybe working with someone I already knew wouldn't be so exciting. This kind of thoughtfulness was so typical of him, but I would not have switched to anyone else and I told him so. He was pleased and said he would explain that we had already worked together, which could make the master class interesting in a new way. Dale was listening closely to all of this, and then asked me, "Who do you want to study with in the fall?" And I said, "Well, you." He replied that he was awfully busy and his schedule was pretty much filled. However, he didn't really say no, so I didn't give up hope.

I had worked on the first movement of the Jacobs with Milan Yancich. I started the movement, with its repeated eighth notes aggressively, crescendoing through the phrase. Mr. Secon had a different view of the piece, a lighter, more playful way of approaching it. As he talked, sang, and demonstrated, I adapted this entirely new idea into my performance, playing softer and bouncing the eighth notes. It opened up a window for me into that piece and into interpretation in general. Right after the master class, Dale came up to me and said, "I guess I can get up an hour earlier. I'll take you as a student." Yay!!! I ended up studying with him for three or four years and learning an incredible amount from him. Was it my wonderful playing that convinced him? No, there were plenty of players better than me. It was the evidence that I could listen to a different idea and change so completely and quickly. Isn't that what every teacher wants? Thank you, Morris Secon. I miss you.

1 comment:

beckymusician said...

A wonderful story from Sam Zambito: Hi Becky...sorry to hear about Morris Secon...I'd never heard that story about his creative solution to the audition challenge! I remember being at an RPO rehearsal in my freshman year and there was a phrase that he missed 3 times in a row...in his extreme frustration he tossed his horn about 10 feet in the air and caught it...the rehearsal continued without incident. Later, he took the horn to Dottie to see if she could cure his mysterious problem. In short order she returned his horn after finding a clothes pin that had found it's way deep into the bowels of his instrument.