George & Arline O’Connell

February 23rd, 2009  ·  comments: 0

We have so many fond and loving memories of John and Irusha. To list them all would take pages.

Some of our special memories are attending John’s concert in Greenwich Village in New York, at DePaul University, Milwaukee Cathedral, Lewis University in Lockport, and hearing his music played in Carnegie Hall.

John is the cousin (George’s cousin) who brought a special music, love and fun into our lives. We will always cherish the vacations dinners and conversations

we shared.

John had a certain charm that made one feel good about oneself and the world. We so loved listening to him and his music. Our favorite piece of music has always been, “The Edge of Space”.

John enriched our lives in a way that can never be duplicated. John and Irusha are loved now as they were in life. We miss them.

Thank you Marcus and Lisa for setting up this tribute to John and Irusha.

Jon Senzig

February 21st, 2009  ·  comments: 0

I met John Downey when I was a student at UWMilwaukee.  One day in class I was sitting in the front row next to the grand piano.   Dr. Downey played Debussy’s First Arabesque.   It was the most beautiful piece of music I had ever heard.   With tears rolling down my face I asked him if he would play it again.   He smiled and in his breathy soft voice he said “Why certainly” and played it again for me.    John’s ability to recognize beauty was always a part of his teaching.  In composition lessons he was kind and encouraging.  I had begun a vocal piece with another teacher who had encouraged me to throw it away because it was tonal garbage.  When I asked to study with John he asked me what I had written.  All I had was a couple of pages of my Psalm 13.  When he got done listening to it he told me it was beautiful and guided me to its completion.

When John was commissioned to write some pieces for the Chicago Children’s Choir he shared his progress with me and sought my opinion which was the greatest honor he could have given me.  I helped organize a chorus which he named “The Free Spirit Chorale” in protest to the fact that the choral director at UWM wouldn’t assist him.

I have the distinction of being one of the few students that ever made him angry in class.   During Twentieth Century Theory he played a Schoenberg piece.  When it was over I asked “Dr. Downey, are you sure the tape was running in the right direction?”  His face went red, then he calmed himself, smiled and said “I can appreciate humor.”

Like so many of us who knew him, I regularly quote him in class.  When a student does a bit of successful theory on the board I always put on my “Downey Voice” and say something like “Micheal, you’re a genius” and if they are unsuccessful I have been known to say “Not in Racine, Wisconsin you don’t.”

I cannot express how much I valued having John as my mentor except to say that when my first son was born, I called him from the hospital to ask permission to give our son his middle name.  He said “That’s a pretty big handle to put on such a little guy”  but agreed and we named him Donovan Wilham Senzig.

Both John and Irusha are sadly missed.   One more Downey quote: “The greatest joy a composer can have, is just once to hear their piece performed well. “

Rachel Buerger

February 19th, 2009  ·  comments: 0

Hi Uncle Marcus – I’ll never forget your dad. He was so sweet and kind to Liz and I. He was so patient when he and I spoke French, despite having a mere year of experience or two under my belt! He was a great man and I can’t help but think of him whenever French enters my mind.


Sigmund Snopek III

February 19th, 2009  ·  comments: 0

I remember Driving John and Peter Parkman up to River Falls Wisconsin in my Blue 65 Ford Econoline Van. It must have been 1972. On the way up John Composed a Piece (an improvisational work). I’m trying to think of the title but it doesn’t come to me at this moment. we performed the piece that night at UW Riverfalls. Conrad DeJong was our host. Those were halcyon days. I miss John and his wife very much.  

All the best always,
Sigmund Snopek III

Leah Duckert, Theory/Composition Student in late 1990’s

February 19th, 2009  ·  comments: 0

I had John as a Form and Analysis professor at UWM in the late 1990’s.  I wasn’t a big fan of music theory, but he always made it entertaining; the first class he had reassigned us all new names, usually with French undertones.  I became “Betty.”  Heh heh… I didn’t know him well, but I still feel very strongly that he was a respected and revered renaissance man.  I am completely convinced that his spirit, and that of his cherished wife Irusha continue on together in spirit and still add flavor to the lives of all they touched.

Rudy Valentino

February 18th, 2009  ·  comments: 0

I have given much thought as to where to begin as I have had the great pleasure and honor to have not only known Professor Downey and his most wonderful and talented wife and companion Irusha for a great many years.

They have always from the day we first met held a most special place in my heart and in my life.  They were and will always remain a second family to me.  They took me into their home and there life as though I had always been a member of their family.  One can go on at great length about John’s accomplishments as a mentor, teacher, friend and one of the most influential contemporary American composers of our time.  I would like to take the time to tell you that they were what I consider would be the definitive description of true human beings.  Caring, loving, friends, and family. I met John and Irusha through their son Marcus who I consider to be one of my few dearest friends and a brother. I treasure my time with John and Irusha and cannot think of them without a warm smile and the best of memories. They live on in my thoughts and hold a special place in my heart. I was blessed to have spent many hours in their company  not only in their home but at many of John’s performances and appearances.

In fact at John’s request I was given the most special opportunity to document a number of his performances and in the early 90’s John allowed me to produce and direct a  documentary/interview piece on his life. Which aired on PBS and resides in the music libraries of some of the most prestigious college music libraries in the country.  The piece is titled:  “John Downey, an American Composer”  I suggest to all that if you haven’t had the opportunity to view this piece,please take the time to do so.  Marcus and I will soon be reviewing the many hours of footage that have never been seen before.  I look forward to this project with feelings of warmth and love for a man and his wife who to me will live on in the hearts and minds of all who’s lives he touched not only with his music, but with his sweet soul. 

I will never foget his kindness and his caring spirit.  To John and Irusha Downey, know that I loved you both with all my heart and shall never forget  the impact you have had on my life.  I wait to see you both again when it is my turn to cross that bridge that will unite us once again. With much love and respect you will be with me always.  To Marcus and Lisa Downey, thank you for being my dearest friends and thank you for sharing this most wonderful man with me.

I love you both, thank you for being in my life.

Rudy Valentino.

The Life of John Downey

February 18th, 2009  ·  comments: 0

John and Irusha DowneyWelcome to the life of John Downey – American contemporary composer, conductor and musician. My father and beloved mother, Irusha, not only loved music and the Arts, but they also loved seeing our youth — not just getting an education, but actually understanding and embracing what they’ve been taught. If you’ve had the great fortune to spend time and create a memory with my parents, please share that moment for all to experience. Whether it was a meaningful concert, a memory surrounding a performance you attended or a piece you heard, or a special time spent with my parents, please tell us about it. Takes just a moment to convey your story, and from it, others will laugh and learn. If you never met my parents, please let this site serve as an introduction to their accomplishments and life contributions.

My parents were pillars of strength for so many. Their love for each other was unparalleled, romantic and true. And they knew how to celebrate life. I miss them dearly but thoughts of them bring a smile to me every day. Thank you for keeping their spirit alive.


Mrs. Irusha Downey Fashion Article, Chicago Sun Times March 27, 1959

February 18th, 2009  ·  comments: 0


Photo Caption: Mrs. Irene Downey, a Russian language instructor for WTTW, keeps her TV wardrobe simple. Gray tweed suit affords just the right contrast against dark blackboard. Her pearl jewelry does not reflect studio lights yet adds appropriate finishing touch to the costume. She comes across television screen particularly well.

So You’re Going On Television;
What to Know About Styles and Makeup

by Jean Krueger

You never know, these days, when you might be the lady looking smack into the open lens of a television camera.

More and more novices are being drawn into the TV world of contestants, campaigns and panels.  Few are prepared for their debut.

After the shock of learning she’s scheduled to “go on,” the immediate feminine reaction is “What will I wear?”  Well, there are some pretty firm rules of TV clothes conduct and they have to do with more than necklines.

The keynote is simplicity and the safest color is pastel.  The worst thing you can do is wear black or white or trimmed with the other.  Another TV cameraman’s nightmare — glittering jewelry.

We visited the studios of WTTW (Channel 11) the other day and talked with Robert Carolan, producer of the educational station’s college programs.  As such, Carolan comes in contact with the educators who teach all of the station’s college courses.  Often he has to do some educating himself, concerning the do’s and don’ts of television wardrobes.

In order to avoid “burn in” — the halo effect which outlines sharp color contrast — Carolan advises his amateur performers on clothes selection, jewelry and makeup.  Medium colors, eh says, show off best against light backgrounds, or vice versa.  There should be a contrast between performer and background, but not a sharp delineation of color.

Mrs. Irene Downey, a striking blonde who is a Russian language instructor for the station, illustrated Carolan’s point by the outfit she was wearing for her upcoming TV class. Her tweed suit had no pronounced coloring.  It was simply tailored, allowed ease of motion at the blackboard and did not distract from her role as a teacher.

She wore a single strand of pearls an matching earrings.  Jewelry or dress trim is the thing which often gives a technician trouble, according to Carolan.  Rhinestones and sequins pick up light and cause a glare which is
distracting to an audience and detracting from a performer.  Simple, dull finish jewelry is the safest “finishing touch” for television.

The art of TV makeup is usually a mystery to the lady who’s making her debut.  Pancake makeup is the best foundation because it gives a dull sheen to the skin.  Eyebrow pencil is recommended to accentuate pale eyebrows, but mascara is a television don’t.  Darkening of eyelashes causes the whole eye area to be shadowed.  Makeup men prefer to lighten the inner portion of the eye with foundation or powder.  A smooth unruffled hair style is more flattering than elaborate hats or hair ornaments.

The success of a television appearance may easily depend upon choice of costume, accessories and makeup.  The lady who’s at ease because she’s prepared for TV has the advantage of being able to concentrate on why she’s in front of the camera.

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