Jon Senzig

February 21st, 2009 § 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. “

§ Leave a Reply

What's this?

You are currently reading Jon Senzig at John Downey.