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richard-stockton-state-college

This was originally a letter to my college mentor, Dr. Leonard Klein, an incredible pianist, composer, and teacher who studied with the finest people ever known.  He paid homage to Darius Milhaud, a great composer by naming his son after him.  He taught at Mills College outside San Francisco that boasts alumni such as Dave Brubeck, Phil Lesh, Frankie Mann, Miya Masaoka, Rebeca Mauléon, Steve Reich, and many others.  At the time I had the absurd notion that somehow some lower middle-class cocky teenager with no previous musical experience (I was a drummer at least), that couldn’t read music, was not in “Band” in high school and was merely a beginning, self-taught guitarist that knew how to play along with the records of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, and Dave Mason; who’s inert passion made me have the cajones to think I could actually walk into a Seminar II class in the winter (they had a trimester system), after not attending the Seminar I class………Such audacious behavior changed my life forever and taught me that anyone can do anything, if they commit themselves passionately to doing it.  I reprint this as I think it contains a very positive message for the young, the confused, and those who do not know who I am, and perhaps would like to know from whence I came.  At the least it makes me teary-eyed reading it. Just for that reason alone I think it has some value.

Years later in 1994 when I first wrote what ended up being just a fair draft for my novel “Only Moments” (published in 2007) he was one of the first to read it, and the high praise he gave me, was as though he was my father, and it inspired me even more to move forward – as did his teaching twenty years earlier.

Stockton State College in New Jersey was founded in 1971 and I attended the very first classes in a hotel at the somewhat sleazy Mayflower Hotel (since torn  down for a casino) on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. We were known as the Mayflower Pilgrims. A construction strike had delayed the actual campus opening in the middle of the Pine Barrens that I knew as my mother’s sisters lived close by.  The lake and backroads where it was built were the same areas I had rode a bicycle years earlier when my mother was giving birth to my two younger brothers and I stood at my aunt’s houses, being too young to be at home alone with a father working two jobs.

There were over 1000 professors that applied for a mere 90 teaching jobs.  Unemployment was much higher than now, the stagflation had started and money was tight. Stockton hired the cream of the crop. the best minds from the most forward-thinking colleges in the nation (Antioch, Berkeley, UCLA, etc.) and I was lucky enough to be there and be taught by some of them.

You can imagine a 17 year-old first out-of-the-house experience at a hotel-converted state college with a hard core red light district on one side, and the transgender/transvestite/gay district on the other with “Feeleys Bar” in the middle (Now the Irish Pub).  Stockton State College was voted the #1 party school in the nation for that and a few years after.  I dropped out after the first semester and came back in the winter of 1974 after I realized that Child Psychology was not going to work for me, and partying like a fool didn’t require one to pay college tuition. I graduated in the Spring of 1977 with a degree in Musical Composition.

Passion……..the miracles it can perform when one mixes it with a little discipline.

Here it is and forgive me Leonard if you have any objection.

Dearest Leonard,

Last night I went to see the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra because I had to….
Here’s the program:
Masterworks III
All-Tchaikovsky Concert

Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique”
Roccoco Variations
Nocturne for Cello and Orchestra
Romeo and Juliet
Overture to Fantasy
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Guest Artist: Zuill Bailey, cello

It was magnificent and I thought of you, and how much you really taught me. I thought of Trudy Weaver and how she helped me learn how put notes to paper. The music flowed and I listened to the permutations, the note for note genius, the pianissimo and triple forte –  the 5/4 time signature of the waltz-like second movement of ‘Pathetique’ – all of those things that I learned – but could not do in 1974, as I begged you on my knees to allow me to be taught and then fought with valor to learn, with every drop of my own human passion, intellect, determination, and ability would allow. 
I knew that I could never have been a concert instrumentalist, a great musician-as when I met you I knew nothing about music other knowing I had a good ear.  I don’t know if you remember but I graduated in 2.5 years with a 4 year degree with honors in Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities and had 50% more Music Program credits than I needed to graduate AND worked full time the last year with the Atlantic City Press as a dispatch driver while managing triple overloads……..not to mention that I had no money, no parental financial support and had to pay my own way – all to be honored by being taught by the pedigree of your lineage from Nadia to Darius – that few understand and know, but for those who are classically trained.  I know that I may have not made you proud for my musical endeavors, but know that you enlightened a young man, now in middle age and allowed me the enrichment of life itself and provided much happiness, regardless of the genre of music I’ve been associated with during my life. 
I truly wish I could have been your Tchaikovsky, but if not for you and my fight to conquer ignorance I would have never studied the masters of photography, the anthropological and religious aspect of human existence by the genius of Joel Rubenstein, the connections of Stan Leavitt and the Navaho tribe, the poetry of Steven Dunn, electronic and Balinese music, and most importantly –  the ability to interact with the finest minds of the world in a Pine Barrens dream that I rowed my boat through so quickly, that I wish I had stayed longer. 
And lastly while I listened to Pyotr Ilyich , I was astounded at how much I’ve not forgotten through all these years, and as I sat there dissecting every note and nuance, the tears fell uncontrollably from my eyes in happiness for what I was allowed to be given…the long length of time gone by forever, but lessons not forgotten…and now many years later I am reminded once again of being honored and humbled by a man now in his 80’s who shall never know how much he has done for a once young, stubborn but passionate kid, who was cocky enough to “dare” to tackle the seemingly impossible and improbable and change the course of his life…………a life that would be filled with dreams but thankfully given the knowledge to make some of those dreams a reality.  For that I can never repay you.  Thank you is not enough, the world is not enough to show my gratitude to you and to a young student named Trudy who’s unselfishness helped me tremendously so I could prove to you I could do it and try to make you proud of how far I had come.  I have lived my life by so many of your words and disciplines.  It is hard not to do the right things and expect it of others………those who are hard workers and true disciples of knowledge are so far and few between that life does become frustrating and at times mentally unbearable………hence the art that flows from the soul to take that sorrow and build bridges to understanding through the humanities.  I am so grateful for all of this and for you.
love to you,
nick