Yesterday my friend, the composer Art Lauer, succumbed to the ravages of cancer at his home in Richmond IL. I haven't lost many people who were close to me so far and this death is more difficult than I'd imagined it would be. I saw him for the last time about a month ago, when I delivered the score to one of the pieces I'd been music copying for him. He had fallen and broken his arm a couple of days prior to my visit and was acting pretty loopy and out of character from the pain meds. I talked to him several times subsequent to that visit and he sounded like his normal self, which made me feel that at least he hadn't left us just yet. I'm particularly sad (and angry at myself) for not having made it back up there to see him in the interim. I'd wanted to finish copying another score and bring it to him personally. But that didn't happen and now it is too late.
Unique is such a hackneyed descriptor but Art really was one of a kind. He was fiercely independent, choosing to live way the hell out in the boonies northwest of Chicago, even when he was working theater orchestra pit gigs six nights a week. His music has no traces of "ism"s in it. The scores are modern, chromatic but not dogmatic; they're full of drama without sentiment and a lot of ascetic nuance. Art's work is not over-stated in any way. There's nothing extra in there "for show". It is lean and full of meaning, like the man himself.
Art came into my life only in the last fifteen years or so. I met him on a commercial gig somewhere and made sure to treat him with the deference that his relative age and reputation as a formidable woodwind player seemed to demand. He would have none of that. Art was completely without pretense, one of the most b.s. - free people I've ever known. Over the years I'd play a gig once in awhile with him, but by the time I came into my own as a player he was already past his prime as a performer. He was very generous and kind to me personally and used to visit me occasionally when he came into town to buy his favorite bread and eggs (I'm not kidding). He was an avid reader of mostly dark, brooding fiction - a lot of it contemporary. He turned me on to a number of authors who remain favorites to this day.
Unfortunately, Art didn't get to hear most of his music performed. Historically this is how it has been for composers of serious music, but that doesn't make it any less tragic. He was thrilled in the last few weeks because lately opportunities have arisen for performances of several of his pieces. I've got my copy work cut out for me. I hope I'll be able to serve the composer and the music well by the care I'll take in the process.
I'm playing a gig tonight with at least one or two other mutual friends of Art's. I'm going to insist we play something for him.