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George Gaber Remembered

The Jacobs School of Music reflects on the life of Distinguished Professor Emeritus George Gaber

It is with great sadness that the Jacobs School of Music shares the news of the death of Distinguished Professor Emeritus George Gaber, who died on November 21, 2007, in Bloomington at the age of 91.

Professor Gaber had a long and distinguished career as a professional musician and pedagogue and performed virtually every genre of music, including symphonic, jazz, ballet, opera, TV, and film. He performed with such organizations as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, NBC, ABC, and CBS orchestras, Ballets Russes Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, and the Baltimore Symphony. He premiered several works by composers Darius Milhaud, Paul Hindeminth, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Gian Carlo Menotti, and Lukas Foss. He played under conductors Antal Dorati, Fritz Reiner, Leopold Stokowski, Walter Susskind, Leonard Bernstein, Otto Klemperer, Isler Solomon, and Zubin Mehta, among many others. In the pop and jazz world, Gaber worked with Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, Henry Mancini, and Paul Whiteman. He composed for ABC Opera Versus Jazz, CBS Look Up and Live, and,for the touring company of MEDIA.

Gaber joined the IU Percussion Department in 1960. Through the following decades, he built the IU Percussion Department into what is now considered one the finest departments of its kind in the world. He retired from IU in 1986 but continued to perform and conduct. Gaber's accomplishments as an educator are reflected by the activities of his students who are employed in symphonies, colleges and universities, recording studios, and in the music business around the world.

Professor Gaber is survived by his wife, Esther, their son Robert, and daughter Deborah.

OBITUARIES

Herald Times (Bloomington)

Indiana Daily Student

EULOGY FROM JOHN TAFOYA

Professor John Tafoya, a past student of George Gaber, delivered the following remarks at the funeral, Sunday, November 25, 2007.

My name is John Tafoya. I studied with Mr. Gaber in the early 80s at Indiana University. This past August, I began my tenure as professor of percussion at IU. I now occupy the same office where I received my lessons. Whenever I'm in that office, a memory of George comes to mind. So, I would like to take a few minutes to share a couple of my memories of George, along with some stories from my fellow colleagues and IU alumni-people who wanted to be here but were unable to attend.

My family and I briefly visited with George and Esther this past September, bumping into them during the intermission of the opening gala concert by the IU Philharmonic Orchestra. It was such a delight to introduce my two children (Carl, 8 and Kathryn, 10) to the Gabers. Mr. Gaber was very excited for me with my new position at IU and we agreed to visit again toward the end of the semester "when things settled down". When George was hospitalized in late October, I spoke with him over the phone. He was in great spirits and eager to "talk shop," especially anything related to the IU percussion department.

I also relayed a funny but true story he told me many years earlier. He was involved in recording a jingle in New York City for a milk commercial. Someone came up to him right before the session saying they needed the sound effect of someone milking a cow! Without hesitation, George found two seltzer bottles with spraying devices and a metal tub ... he squirted the bottles into the tub and the recording engineer got his desired sound effect. George laughed out loud when he heard this story, commenting on the various "techniques" we had to master as percussionists.

George had an incredible career as a performer and teacher. He performed under the world's famous conductors and played virtually every style of music and was involved in numerous noteworthy premieres. I still vividly remember a concert that took place over 20 years ago at IU: a performance of Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. For whatever reason, George had decided to use timpani that had no tuning gauges (tuning indicators that assist the player when fast tuning changes are necessary). His intonation was impeccable and, to this day, I still don't know how he was able to play so perfectly in tune without the aid of those tuning gauges.

Mr. Gaber did have a famous reputation as a "melodic" timpani player; being able to play melodies on the timpani using the pedals and tuning quickly and accurately. At one point he encouraged me to perform an arrangement of a Sousa march as an encore for one of my recitals. The work was originally written for 2 timpani. Of course, Mr. Gaber looked at it and began to play it for me, pedaling all of the required notes on ONE drum! It was amazing.

George attended many of our concerts at school. It was always a special treat when he would come up on stage afterward to congratulate us. Of course there were times when a few of us would get an extra lesson immediately after the concert - in my case, after exhibiting too much showmanship (playing with extra gestures) Mr. Gaber replied, "John, it looked like you were using an elephant gun to shoot an ant!"

The percussion students at IU became a kind of "second family" to the Gabers. Mr. Gaber kept in touch with us on a regular basis. Sometimes this would come in the form of a brief phone call or through one of his patented postcards: a plain postcard in which he would type out a brief message. Sometimes the message was congratulatory ... and at other times it would read: "I haven't heard from you in awhile" or "Where have you been?" George continued to support and mentor many of us, even after we had landed jobs and had reached various levels of success.

George looked forward to his birthday celebrations which would include IU alumni from the Cleveland Orchestra, LA recording studios, Minnesota Orchestra, Nashville Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, the list goes on and on. At his 90th birthday celebration, the dinner concluded with a "jam session" with small Latin percussion instruments. At times George would pull instruments out of someone's hand and say "no - THIS is how you play it!"

Since many of Mr. Gaber's students were unable to attend this funeral service. I wanted to include a few of their memories:

Bill Hill, timpanist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, writes: Mr. Gaber was certainly one of the most influential people on many aspects of my life, and taught many of us a great deal about believing in what we were doing, keeping our successes and failures in perspective, and pursuing our musical dreams because of a deep love of music and not for our personal ego gratification. His legacy as a teacher lives in all of us, and will be passed on to our students, our families, and our friends.

Legendary drum set artist, Peter Erskine, wanted me to share a lesson he received from Mr. Gaber when he was only 12 years old. It made such an impact on him - he remembers it like it was yesterday:

The date was 1966, and the place was Morehead, Kentucky where a summer band camp was being held. The faculty consisted of many IU professors as well as principle players from several of the top U.S. symphonies. Mr. Gaber gave me a private lesson that I'll never forget.

With my parents in attendance (I had just turned 12) and with Mr. Gaber sensing my performance anxiety, placed a piece of music on the stand in front of the snare drum where I was standing ... he went back to his desk, puffed on his cigar, and then instructed me to play the music in front of me ... only, I was to play everything incorrectly. "If I hear you play any of those notes right, I'll come over there and hit you with this drumstick!"

"Excuse me? I don' ..."

"You heard me. Play the piece, but I don't want to hear any of it played correctly."

And so I played the snare drum piece upside-down and inside-out and just plain wrong; every note of it.

He smiled, and then asked me to walk over to the window in the studio and look outside and tell him what I saw ...

"Are the clouds still up in the sky?" he asked.

"Uh ... yeah."

"And the sun is still shining, the trees are all standing, and it seems that the earth is still spinning?"

"Uh huh ..."

"Okay ... come back now." He puffed on his cigar with satisfaction and then looked me right in the eye, saying "Peter, you played that piece as badly as it could ever be played; I can't begin to count how many mistakes you made. And what happened? Nothing happened.

Now, let's begin ...

More sage advice that Mr. Gaber used to tell Peter and other percussion students - was that "There will always be that kid who comes along with the purple drumsticks..." In other words, somebody fast and hot and impressive will always pop up on the drum scene .. a drummer had better find his or her own lasting musical values to sustain and nourish an artistic and playing career. Mr. Gaber taught all of his students to be well-rounded, professional, ethical, and above all: musical. There's a lot of George Gaber in every one of his students, and we are all the better for it.

Norman Weinberg - professor of percussion at the University of Arizona - writes:

"I spoke to Mr. Gaber about 6 weeks ago by phone. He was telling me - not only about some of the pieces and concerts that I played in Bloomington, but the names of my accompanists and who else was performing in the various orchestra percussion sections! I had forgotten about some of these performances, but he hadn't. There aren't many professors in the world that take such interest in the lives of their students. I feel very honored and proud to have been one of George Gaber's students. He was not only my teacher and mentor while I was a student, but continued to offer great professional advice and mentoring on a regular basis. I speak often about his "lessons" with my own students.

In a very real way, he's still teaching."

NOTES RECEIVED FROM STUDENTS OF PROFESSOR GABER

I don't have anything really specific other than that George was without doubt a mentor to several generations of really great percussionists. He was certainly one of the most influential people on many aspects of my life, and taught many of us a great deal about believing in what we are doing, keeping our successes and failures in perspective, and pursuing our musical dreams because of a deep love of music and not for our personal ego gratification. We are all very sad to see him go, (as Adrienne Ostrander said to me yesterday, I guess we all just felt like he would be here forever), but his legacy as a teacher lives in all of us, and will be passed on to our students, our families, and our friends.

--Bill Hill, Principal Timpanist, Colorado Symphony Orchestra

If you do speak at the funeral I'm sure you will mention how much that those of us who were lucky enough to study with him respected and appreciated him. His willingness to share his musical gifts and experience will live long in us, our students, and in future generation of percussionist.

--Tom Stubbs, Asst Timpanist and Percussion, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra

I saw George for lunch in late August of this year on my return to Nashville (TN) from NE Wisconsin. I knew that it might be my last opportunity. He was as sharp as ever but somewhat frail and moving slowly. He drove himself to Denny's near his new residence after dropping off Esther at a meeting. I left the restaurant shortly before him and waited near my car while he walked slowly to his vehicle, as I wanted to make sure that he got there safely. He didn't know that I was watching. He reached his car, backed out and slowly left the parking lot while I fell in behind and followed a short distance until he turned and our paths diverged. It is an indelible memory now. May he Rest in Peace knowing that so many held him in such high regard and respect.

--Bill Wiggins, Principal Timpanist, Nashville Symphony Orchestra

My only story was that summer the year following his retirement, he taught summer percussion classes for [Professor] Carlyss and, during my first lesson with him, he asked me to play some timpani for him. After finishing, he said, "wow, was your last timpani teacher a bridge builder?" Ouch!

--Larry Jacobson, Universal Music Group

Thank you, John. Yes, I had heard. It is hard to sum up in a few words the influence George Gaber had on all of his students, but it might come close to say that he instilled in all of us an irrepressible drive to excellence in whatever endeavor we embarked. This approach to music and life in general transcends the content of the music lessons themselves and I am proud to say I try to live that philosophy and pass it along to my students as well.

-- Stuart Marrs, Professor of Music, University of Maine

I spoke to Mr. Gaber about 6 weeks ago by phone. He was telling me - not only about some of the pieces and concerts that I played in Bloomington, but the names of my accompanists and who else was in the sections! I had forgotten about some of these performances, but he hadn't. There aren't many professors in the world that take such interest in the lives of their students. I feel very honored and proud to have been one of George Gaber's students. He was not only my teacher and mentor while I was a student, but continued to offer great professional advice and mentoring on a regular basis. I speak often about his "lessons" with my own students. In a very real way, he's still teaching.

-- Norman Weinberg, Professor of Music, Director of Percussion Studies, School of Music, University of Arizona

A couple of short anecdotes, if I may ... thank you for reading these at the memorial service.

1. The date was 1966, and the place was Morehead, Kentucky where a summer band camp was being held. The faculty consisted of many IU professors as well as principle players from several of the top U.S. symphonies. Mr. Gaber gave me a private lesson that I'll never forget. With my parents in attendance (I had just turned 12) and with Mr. Gaber sensing my performance anxiety, he placed a piece of music on the stand in front of the snare drum where I was standing ... he went back to his desk, puffed on his cigar, and then instructed me to play the music in front of me ... only, I was to play everything incorrectly. "If I hear you play any of those notes right, I'll come over there and hit you with this drumstick!"

"Excuse me? I don' ..."

"You heard me. Play the piece, but I don't want to hear any of it played correctly."

And so I played the snare drum piece upside-down and inside-out and just plain wrong; every note of it.

He smiled, and then asked me to walk over to the window in the studio and look outside and tell him what I saw ...

"Are the clouds still up in the sky?" he asked.

"Uh ... yeah."

"And the sun is still shining, the trees are all standing, and it seems that the earth is still spinning?"

"Uh huh ..."

"Okay ... come back now." He puffed on his cigar with satisfaction and then looked me right in the eye, saying "Peter, you played that piece as badly as it could ever be played; I can't begin to count how many

mistakes you made. And what happened? Nothing happened. Now, let's begin ..."

2. More sage advice that Mr. Gaber used to tell me "There will always be that kid who comes along with the purple drumsticks..." In other words, somebody fast and hot and impressive will always pop up on the drum scene .. a drummer had better find his or her own lasting musical values to sustain and nourish an artistic and playing career. Mr. Gaber taught all of his students to be well-rounded, professional,

ethical, and above all: musical. There's a lot of George Gaber in every one of his students, and we are all the better for it.

Thank you and goodbye, Mr. Gaber.

--Peter Erskine, world-renowned drum set artist

John- Man so sorry to hear about George passing away... he was such an inspiration and touched so many lives...

-- Shawn Pelton, Saturday Night Live Band and world-renowned drum set artist

I think you know how much I respected Mr. Gaber. I certainly will contact his wife. I am truly glad that I was able to attend his 90th birthday party a while back. [In a later phone conversation I had with Richard Weiner -- Richard said; "Without George's help and support I would not be where I am today. He personally contacted George Szell and secured and audition for me with the Cleveland Orchestra."]

--Richard Weiner, Principal Percussion, Cleveland Orchestra.