Mr. T is dead

No, not that one. Or this one. This one.

Yes, it was way back in August, but I just found out the other day. Dying in your sleep at age 89 is about as good as it gets…not quite as glorious as being shot by a jealous husband, but less painful.

I studied with Abe Torchinsky at the University of Michigan. I’d basically never had a private brass lesson before, and was playing things out of the von Trapp recorder method (!), which he found odd (because, well, it was). He must have heard something, or figured that since I was a composition major and only a euphonium minor, it was OK, but he had mercy on me and my pathetic preparation.

I still remember my first lesson. T’s studio was like Grand Central Station, people coming in and out all the time for any and every reason. Two guys came in and started discussing something, I don’t remember what, and T. abruptly said, “Oh, go f**k yourselves!” I started turning colors, and he apologized. “No, I’ve used worse than that; I just didn’t expect it from a professor.” and he said, “Hey, these guys are tuba players; it’s the only language they understand.” He later developed a shtik about my scraggly beard being the result of oral sex with a sticky chin, which was annoying, but I took it in stride. I kinda got him back a couple of years later, when his Berlioz orchestral excerpt book came out. He was reading his notes to the Grande Messe des morts, describing the practice of boiling down the various tuba pats into two parts, which ended, “I find this practice reprehensible.” I said, “‘Reprehensible?’ Gee, T, you must have thought all day to find that word. If it were any of us, you’d just say “It sucks.””

Please do not misunderstand: Torchinsky was not a buffoon, and resented that the tuba was regarded in those terms. He was, in every way that really counted, a perfect gentleman. He helped me get my horn, he gave his students “Happy whatever” gifts (he being Jewish), including a copy of the Philly recording of the Hindemith brass sonatas with Glenn Gould (quite slow, at Gould’s insistance), he was kind and sensitive, and gave his students what they needed. In may case, what I needed was raw technique, so I got spun off to his graduate student John Griffiths (now sadly gone too), freeing him up to teach the minutiae of orchestral technique (Warren Deck, the hot grad student in my day, went on to get the NY Phil job.)

I ran into him again online in the mid-90s’, on some tuba-playing forum. He’s got a Facebook page here. Here’s a story of Abe giving a contrabass trombone to William Bell, who then sold it for almost nothing to Roger Bobo.

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One Response to Mr. T is dead

  1. Carol Ross-Baumann says:

    Hey Jeff- Read your post- loved it. I also felt he took a chance on me. He was a great teacher and a great guy. I was at his memorial service in Sept. It was the way he would have liked it.
    I remember how often lessons got “interrupted,” too, but got used to that and got used to others sitting in on my lessons. It was a good time and a tight studio. Thanks for the post.
    Carol Ross (tuba) 1973-77

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