Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Death of a Professional Amateur

One usually thinks of an amateur as someone who is not very good at what they do.  That's not the real meaning of the word, of course.  An amateur does what he does for love of doing it.  Here's the derivation:   < French, Middle French  < Latin amātor  lover, equivalent to amā-  (stem of amāre  to love) + -tor -tor, replaced by French -teur  (< Latin -tōr-,  oblique stem of -tor );  Conversely, one thinks of a professional as someone who really knows their stuff and they're very, very, good at it.

It was my good fortune to have as a friend and mentor a professional amateur.  He sang because he loved to sing and he was very, very, good at it.

Frank sang in his father's church choir as a boy, then as an adult.  He sang in other church choirs later in life.  He also sang in the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus from the day it was organized until he could no longer sing on this Earth.

He never missed a rehearsal or a show except for grave illness.  He marked his music and never missed an entrance, nor a cutoff.  He learned the phonetic pronunciations of texts in Hebrew, Russian, Polish, and French; he already knew the German and Latin.  He rarely sang the wrong note or rhythm--and always corrected it before show-time.  That's because he was a professional amateur.

He joined "ad-hoc" choirs, sometimes for a cause, and sometimes just for fun.  Whenever he could, he sang in the choir for the funeral Mass of a friend--or for people not his friends.  In every one of those ventures, he was a contributor, and not just with his voice.  He contributed leadership to singers near him, and sagacity about the human foibles surrounding us all.  He contributed understanding that was gained from singing under the batons of dozens of masters, and he contributed from his very large store of knowledge of history and tradition.  That's because he was a professional amateur.

He contributed humor and a ready smile.  He sang the way he was told to sing, even when he disagreed with the instruction.  That's not to say he rolled over; if he had something to say, he said it firmly but without rancor.  He contributed friendship, loyalty, and comraderie, even to folks that he didn't like all that much.  That's because he was a professional amateur.

There's an old musician's line about arriving in Heaven and playing in the orchestra with Bach, Haydn, Mozart, et.al.  Frank sang all their stuff--and stuff by Durufle, Beethoven, Singenberger, Palestrina, Rachmaninoff, Elgar, Britten, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Vaughn Williams, Faure, Bizet, Peeters, Pitoni, Schubert, Handel, Franck, Poulenc, Szymanowski, Cherubini, Stravinsky, Fichtner, Tallis, Orff, and the collective of un-named geniuses who composed Gregorian Chant.  That's because he was a professional amateur.

And on his arrival in heaven, for which we all pray, he will bump a very senior Seraphim down the row a bit.  Frank knows all the scores.  He'll contribute.  He'll never miss an entrance; he'll never miss a cutoff, and he'll laugh with (literally) the best of 'em.

That's because he's a professional amateur.

We'll miss him.


Tim Morrissey said...

What a nice tribute. Well-said. The world needs more professional amateurs.

Grim said...

Very good. Congratulations to your friend on a life well-lived.

Christine Buffaloe said...

I've read this and as Frank's daughter, I am so glad to know that my dad was loved by so many. I really love your term "professional amateur." There should be more like him. Thank you again for this wonderful tribute to him and all other "professional amateurs."

Christine Buffaloe (Fichtner)