I woke up this morning with no particular inspiration for what I might write about on A Year of Guys, but have since been fairly bombarded with unexpected references to my ever-receding Baltimore roots.  

The first reference appeared in the Johns Hopkins Magazine, which I receive as an alumnus of the Peabody Conservatory.  (Johns Hopkins propped up the Peabody Conservatory in 1978 when it was having a hard time financially and later, in 1985, formally added it as a division to the university.)

In the current issue of the magazine there is an article about the composer Larry Hoffman who was at Peabody when I was there, but who, unbeknownst to me, had previously studied with one of “my guys,” Spencer Huffman.  There is a delicious quote in the article that perfectly captures the experience of taking a private lesson with Spencer.  With appreciation to the writer of the article Dale Keiger, here it is: “Hoffman recalls lessons where the teacher would bang his pipe on the piano when he heard something wrong and growl, ‘Do you want to be a dumb bastard all your life?'”  That, truly, was the essence of Spencer Huffman. 

The article recounts how Larry Hoffman then went on to study with Ray Sprenkle.  Sprenkle, a terrific guy who was on the theory and history faculties at Peabody when I was there, told me that he had once met with and considered studying with Spencer Huffman but, recognizing Huffman’s “prince of darkness” qualities, withdrew out of fear that Huffman would dry him up.  Ray Sprenkle and I became friends in the early 1980s, bonding over baseball and music.  Ray is a fine composer – I commissioned “A Civil War Set” from him for the Deerfield Academy Glee Club – and has been a fixture in Baltimore’s music scene for a long time.  Amazingly, he is the son of two deaf parents, and the father of two deaf children.

After sharing the “dumb bastard” quote with Susan, I then went on the NPR website to check on the news of the day.  On it was a story about Flag Day and the bicentennial of the National Anthem, which happens to have been written in Baltimore by a distant relative of mine, Francis Scott Key.  In an inspired idea, the composer Eric Whitacre and conductor Francisco J. Núñez will be leading a nationwide singalong of the anthem today at 4 pm EDT, which you can participate in by registering through the Smithsonian here.  I’ve had peripheral contact with these guys and they are both terrific musicians, and have rock star good looks and charisma.  Who wouldn’t want to sing under their direction?

Here’s Eric:


And here’s Francisco:



Sing out, America!