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June 12, 2014IM -
A few evenings ago, I left the stage after Mahler’s Third Symphony and found a message waiting for me with the news that Carroll Bailey, Sr., a former member of Local 125 (Norfolk, VA), had died at age 91. I could not help but slump in tears.
Bailey was my first bass teacher, and without him, I would not have become a musician, and I certainly wouldn’t be chair of ICSOM. He might not have been famous, but for the many lives he touched he should be remembered throughout the music world. He was a peaceful man who came from sturdy Midwestern roots. After moving to Virginia, Bailey first played the trumpet, performing jazz in the Tidewater area with such notables as Portsmouth native Tommy Newsom.
Local 125 President John Lindberg once said that Bailey could play “any melody, in any key, from memory.” Bailey became principal trumpet of the Virginia Symphony (then known as the Norfolk Symphony). After suffering an embouchure injury, he adeptly switched to the bass, which he had been practicing for some time. He said: “When I got to the string bass I fell in love with it like it had been waiting for me for years.” He performed with the orchestra for more than 50 years, and even into his late 80s, practiced every day “just for the love of it.”
Bailey took me to my first union meeting, at Local 125, when I was just 15 years old. He taught me to respect music and to respect musicians. He introduced me to the traditions of the field, corrected my youthful mistakes with care, and admonished my youthful indiscretions with compassion. He told me that I was too concerned with “fast fingers” and impressing people, and not concerned enough with “playing beautifully.” He bought me a book of song melodies and told me to just play them, and no other etudes, until it was the melody that I loved most. Apparently satisfied with my effort, he welcomed me as his colleague within barely a year of our first lesson.
Countless studies indicate that music is key to a child’s development. Those of you who are teaching now surely must understand the important roles you have in your students’ lives. But all of us who have reached some level of success know a teacher with whom we have an everlasting bond, who taught us something that we seek to keep alive in our playing every day. That is what I lost the other evening. Bailey was a happy and content man who was aware that he had lived a very honorable life. But for me, I lost a connection to my youth and to those first moments when I knew nothing of the negativity that sometimes surrounds our field, and when every note I was hearing and playing was new and amazing. Like Bailey once said: “I haven’t found one piece of music I didn’t end up liking.”
I was also sad that I had not seen him recently, with my work and travels so all-consuming. The last time I spoke to him I told him, “I always thought you were the greatest teacher I ever had, Mr. Bailey.” I wish I could have told him that one last time.
For those of you fortunate enough to still have your first teacher, give them a call. Let them know what you are doing, and let them know the important roles they played in your life.
Tonight I will play Mahler’s Third Symphony again with my always inspiring colleagues in the North Carolina Symphony. I will be remembering my earliest lessons, and I hope I can honor Mr. Bailey by keeping his joyful love of music in my playing.