Bruce

Perc

Last week, I took a position with Gannon University. It’s a significant step in many ways, but that is a subject for another day (and perhaps another venue).

Two days into my tenure there, I attended a concert dedicated to the memory of Bruce Morton Wright, who passed into the next world this summer. As a concert, it was a hit or miss affair; Gannon has no music school, and the student players were there not because they wanted professional careers, and not because they were technically advanced, but because they loved the music. Look up the etymology of the word amateur. These kids were its very embodiment.

Bruce, of course, was a pro. Trained at the Vienna Conservatory, he was a tributary of the mainstream of Central European musical tradition, albeit an unlikely one. Bruce’s qualities as a musician were manifold. I told him once that he seemed to be an avatar of one of that tradition’s standard bearers, the conductor Bruno Walter. Walter was genial and warm, beloved of his players, and a musician of great heart. The comparison was not hard to arrive at.

But it is Bruce the man whose memory will remain after the last echoes of his performances have faded. He was, quite simply, the finest man I have ever known. His good humor, decency, utter absence of ego and love of his fellows were without peer in my limited experience. Did he ever have a bad word for anybody? I never heard it.

He didn’t even have a bad word for the multiple myeloma that felled him. He gave me the diagnosis – characteristically, almost as an aside – during a telephone interview I did with him for a ShowCase preview. He cheerily described the wonders of the experimental treatment he was to undergo in Pittsburgh and regarded the disease as no more of an obstacle than learning a particularly knotty new score might have been. As he did this, I wept as I read a Web page stating that for African-American males, the disease had a mortality rate of 85% within two years.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a category of being called a bodhisattva, a person whose life was dedicated to the generation of loving-kindness for all beings. So great are this person’s benevolent aspirations that she or he attains a sort of immortality. Bruce was that sort of person. My new office at Gannon is directly behind Bruce’s old band room, and I can feel him there, telling his stories, charming his musicians into playing exactly the way he wants them to play and laughing. Always laughing.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that I arrived just as he left.

Or did he?