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A virtuoso human being: Remembering Oregon composer Tomáš Svoboda

Friends and colleagues share memories of the long-time Portland State professor and Oregon’s finest composer.

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Tomáš Svoboda.
Tomáš Svoboda.

With the passing of Tomáš Svoboda last week, Oregon contemporary classical music loses its most powerful voice, and one of its most generous musical mentors. Arriving in Oregon in 1970 to teach for three decades at Portland State University, the esteemed composer and pianist enriched Oregon arts through a wide range of evocative, moving compositions and the generations of students he taught and composers he inspired with his high artistic standards. 

The music of Shostakovich and other Eastern European composers certainly exerted strong influence on Svoboda’s compositions. He was born in Paris to Czech parents, and was raised in Prague until his early 20s. But his mature voice was firmly his own, often employing strong and sometimes unexpected contrasts between consonance and dissonance, adept use of mixed meters, and, almost always, high emotional intensity.

Among well over a thousand performances worldwide (and counting), his music was played often — though not often enough — in his home state, including his Trio Spektrum and in recent years by Portland Youth Philharmonic, Delgani String Quartet, Eugene Symphony, and others; including, of course Cascadia Composers. Some of it–again, not nearly enough–was fortunately recorded by Portland’s own North Pacific Music and elsewhere, including CDs from the Oregon Symphony and a 1997 recording by Portland State University choirs led by Bruce Browne, with more on the way.

Much honored throughout his career, and recipient of many commissions for new work, Svoboda was recognized for his musical contributions to his home state with the Governor’s Arts Award  and Composer of the Year award from Washington and Oregon Music Teachers Associations. The Oregon Symphony’s performance of his Marimba Concerto, which soloist Niel DePonte recently called “the highlight of my professional career,”  received a 2003 Grammy Award nomination.

Svoboda’s contribution transcends his more than 200 compositions. Along with his many PSU students, Svoboda played a crucial role in founding one of Oregon’s most vital artistic institutions, Cascadia Composers, and fighting to guarantee that it welcomed a broad range of composers and styles. His open-minded, anti-elitist stamp ensured the organization’s continuing growth, vitality and inclusiveness. Even after a 2012 stroke silenced his unique compositional voice, he continued — after much struggle, abetted by the stalwart efforts of his wife and fellow artist, Jana Demartini — to engage as much as possible with friends, colleagues and new generations of musicians who wanted to perform his work.

Despite his best work’s magnificence, Svoboda, who died at home in Portland just short of his 82nd birthday, never received the full international acclaim his emotionally resonant music merited. (For an explanation, see pianist and Svoboda advocate Maria Choban’s ArtsWatch story, “Oregon’s Invisible Composer.”) The neglect continued to the very end, when his passing coincided with, and was overshadowed by, even in the cozy contemporary classical music corner, that of another great American composer, Ned Rorem. But those who managed to find his finest music knew that it could stir audiences’ feelings like none other created in his lifetime — in Oregon or anywhere else.

You can read other ArtsWatch features, including Choban’s profile and my story about the recent revival of Svoboda’s long-lost second symphony, performed at last in 2016 by Portland Youth Philharmonic. For information on his music and life, consult his website.

Here we share some memories of Tomáš Svoboda contributed by some of those who knew him and his music best. We invite others to join the remembrances in the comments section below. Thanks to all for your contributions.

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David Stabler, former classical music writer, The Oregonian. 

“I feel like I have two different lives,” Tomáš Svoboda once said. Early on, he was a precocious composer who wrote neo-Romantic, tonal music, simply structured and influenced by 18th-century counterpoint. After fleeing communist Czechoslovakia, he discovered his muse in Oregon’s mountains and rivers. 

More a rule-bender than a rule-breaker, his very life — leaving his homeland, immigrating to a new country — can be seen as opposition. He explored subversion in his music, as well. His Sixth Symphony (1991) is a pounding dance of joy celebrating communism’s collapse. Embedded in it is the skeleton of the Czech national anthem, in rhythm only, not melody. The encoded anthem, all but imperceptible if you don’t know it’s there, is part homage, part lamentation and pure Svoboda.

A vivid memory I have is sitting with him and Jana after his stroke in 2012. It was a warm spring afternoon and as we sat in the sun outside a rehab center close to home, we talked about music, the clouds above and his hopes for returning to composing. He had arrived at the center in winter, when the cherry trees outside his window were bare. Winter turned to spring and from his bed he watched the trees inflate into clouds of blossoms. Now the blossoms had peaked and as we talked, they drifted onto his shoulders as he sat outside in his wheelchair.

Days later, the Eugene Symphony would premiere his Clarinet Concerto with Michael Anderson as soloist. The composer of hundreds of works had finished it two days before his stroke. It would be his final work. 

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“My intention my whole life was never to repeat myself,” he said.

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Thomas Stangland, music publisher.

As publisher of Tomáš Svoboda’s music over the past 47 years, I was fortunate to witness a wide variety of his incredible talents and observed how he viewed the world around him. 

I used to pick up Tomáš from Portland State University after his morning classes and we would go to lunch and then shoot pool. He loved to shoot pool.

On one particular morning, Dec. 9, 1980, he got in my car and was very, very quiet. I finally asked him “What’s wrong?” Continuing to stare out the front window of the car, he asked me, “Did you hear that a musician was assassinated last night?”

I told him, I had indeed heard that. Tomáš just could not fathom why someone would want to kill a musician. Of course, it was John Lennon of The Beatles who was assassinated. Tomáš admitted he had never heard of John Lennon before, nor The Beatles, yet it nonetheless had profoundly affected him viscerally.

Even after living in America for nearly 15 years, Tomáš was oblivious to the world-wide popular music culture. At that time, Tomáš just lived in his own world of music and the music of great classical music composers from the past and some from the present.

Another memory that stands out, still amazes me today, involves his passion for the game of chess.

It was some 30 years ago, Tomáš was spending a week at my apartment, facing a looming deadline for producing a score and set of orchestral parts for an upcoming premiere of a commissioned work.

One afternoon, my neighbor came over to visit and Tomáš wanted to play a game of chess with him. I believe at the time, Tomáš was ranked second in the nation (maybe worldwide?) by the U.S. Chess Federation for “Correspondence Chess” (aka Postal Chess) competitions.

Well…Tomáš continued working at a table with me, getting up to fix himself lunch, etc., never seeing the chess board which was across the room. The game went on for 25-30 moves before Tomáš prevailed and my neighbor resigned. Truly jaw-dropping because Tomáš and I were also carrying on a conversation while we were working during that whole chess game.

Other passions in life for Tomáš were hunting for mushrooms (finding 500-600 matsutake in one season!); keeping meticulous daily weather records from his early teens in Prague forward; photographing cloud formations & other beautiful photos of nature; playing Pinochle (creating his own variation of the game, of course!) and his yearly garden where hot chili peppers reigned supreme.

To those who knew Tomáš Svoboda personally, his passion for life and nature was infectious. He will be greatly missed, but his personality will live on, embedded in his music, for generations to come.

***

David S. Bernstein, composer and co-founder of Cascadia Composers:

Tomáš Svoboda was the first composer I met when I moved to the Portland area. I asked him if there was an organized group of composers living and writing here that I could join. This was in 2007. He said no group like this existed and why don’t we try to create one? He heartily agreed and gave me the names and email addresses of other composers that he knew and I went on to contact them, referencing the name of Svoboda to each one. After many meetings at Portland State, we created an organization called Cascadia Composers, affiliated with the National Association of Composers USA.

In 2008 we began our first concerts of contemporary composers living in this area. That was really the beginning of a beautiful relationship between me and this man who had done so much for this community.

Our membership began with eight composers. We are now over one hundred members in places as far away as Italy. Since our beginnings, we have had performed hundreds of works by our members. Without the active involvement of Tomáš, it might never have happened.

He was always gracious with his time, his efforts on our behalf, his joy in living and making music in this community. He was one of those rare human beings who cared so deeply about the people around him. I am so thankful that I had the great good fortune to know this man, and to care for him as he cared for us.

***

Feelings into Music

Bob Hicks, ArtsWatch Executive Editor, in The Oregonian, July 4, 2004 

[T]he lifelong love of nature that propelled him into the desert, it strikes me, finds a home inside the warm expanse of Svoboda’s music. His compositions, for all their wit and elegance, are touched by the stillness of the natural environment that means so much to him. And who knows whether this kind of musical imprint was more important 300 years ago, when nature overwhelmed civilization, or today, when civilization overwhelms nature?

In his music are the Bohemian folk sounds that also wove into the music of Dvorak and Smetana, the love of patterns and games that might have come partly from his mathematician father, the humor of a long and happy family life, the sadness of the expatriate, the vigor of the immigrant, the sometime darkness of a man aware of a world at war, the bright sophistication of a life of learning.

And a natural, hopeful clarity.

“Music could be truthful,” Svoboda says. “Music could be emotionally exactly what you want to say.”

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Maria Choban, Portland pianist and writer, in ArtsWatch.

I have been in love with Svoboda’s music ever since I first heard him play his two-piano sonata with Lawrence Smith, the then-conductor of the Oregon Symphony, way back when I was nine years old.

Visceral, feral, sexually aggressive, Svoboda’s works demand from performers acolyte-like dedication in tandem with unrepressed, unrestrained passion—the antithesis of too much 20th century classical music. Svoboda is much more like Nine Inch Nails and not at all like Mozart (whose music leaves him cold).

Where many composers focus mainly on intellectual novelty or show-off virtuosity, Svoboda pours into music the intense feelings he experiences, as he did with his anger at being abandoned in the four-hand Suite. If Bach is polyphonic chess, Svoboda is poly-everything 3-D chess. A highly ranked chess player, Svoboda reminds me of Bach and Ravel — equal parts passion and IQ, with passion the generator and IQ transferring the passion from genesis to audience. He once watched a man collapse and die on a street corner at a bus stop in polluted Los Angeles, and he channeled his horror and grief into his first piano sonata. 

His fifth symphony, the Unison Symphony was triggered by a trip to the Oregon coast: “My wife and I were driving to the coast and I kept seeing a white dot in the road,” he told me. “I approached it and discovered it was a butterfly, but I ran over it—one beautiful piece of nature killed by my ugly car!” The starkness of the unisons growing bigger and uglier, bearing down on the butterfly like the motorcycle gang bearing down on the mother and child trying to outrun them on foot down the centerline of a long abandoned highway in the apocalyptic dystopian Mad Max.

Svoboda writes the way a great movie director like Quentin Tarantino directs—with the audience in mind. The second movement of his second piano sonata weaves polyphonic, polyrhythmic, polydynamic, polyarticulated and polytextured counterpoint—not just between the hands but also within each hand—to increase tension in a movement that processes suicide, asking and finally screaming the question “To be, or Not?” The music drives obsessively toward the latter, the opposite of self-indulgent German romantic outpouring, “weltschmerz.”

***

Bryan Johanson, composer, guitarist, and former Portland State University faculty colleague.

In the autumn of 1978. I was assigned an office that I shared with Eric Funk and Tomáš Svoboda. My first meeting with Tom was in that office. When he discovered I was there to run a classical guitar program he was tickled. “Play something for me – but nothing Spanish,” was his first request. I pulled out my guitar and played a little Bach and a contemporary piece by Richard Rodney Bennett. He stopped me after a few bars saying “What a beautiful tone row.” It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Tom and Eric and I formed a group, calling it The Composers Ensemble. We composed pieces for it, played some baroque transcriptions and always included a few group improvisations. Tom was a remarkable performer and keen listener and a very inspiring colleague. 

Over the years we became very close. We would often spend our lunch hours playing pool or putting golf balls on the putting greens which used to be behind PSU’s physical education building. Once we even tried bowling, which he hated. “What kind of game is this?” he snorted. “Too noisy and my arm hurts!” 

When we passed each other in the hallway between class we would play a little game. Tom would say something like “Bryan – oboe, tuba and xylophone.” There would be a pause, then I would respond “Got it!” I would then describe how I would begin a piece with that combination of instruments. The goal was to stump each other. I would throw out something like “harmonica, banjo, tuned water glasses and baritone guitar” to which Tom would often reply “Hopeless.” We would laugh and later Tom would ask “What kind of harmonica? How many strings does a baritone guitar have? How are they tuned? How many water glasses? Bowed?” We did that for years. All these years later I still think of ways to stump Tom.

One memory I will always cherish is Tom playing piano at my wedding. It was 1989, at the First Unitarian Church. Tom played Handel, Gibbons, Bach and improvised some very lovely entrance and exit music. After the ceremony Tom came to Victoria and me and apologized for “dropping fists-full of notes. The floor beneath the piano will need to be cleaned.” 

Bryan Johanson and Svoboda.

In addition to being a brilliant pianist, percussionist and composer, he was also remarkably funny and fun-loving. But he struggled with language. On one occasion, after Tom completely mangled a sentence, I turned to his wife Jana and said “He could probably say it better in Czech.” She raised an eyebrow and said with a wry smile “His Czech isn’t any better.” 

What I have learned in the years since is that his attention to language was often sidetracked because he was hearing something else. He might have been working out some inner voicings of a complex orchestral chord, or working out a snaggly piece of counterpoint, or simply hearing an elusive bit of beautiful melody. Composers hear but they often find it hard to listen.

 The last time I saw Tom Svoboda we were having lunch with Jana at a noodle place they liked. Tom barely talked during the meal. I made some remark to Jana that made her laugh and Tom looked across the table at me and said, “Bryan, it is so good to see you.” He looked happy. I feel the loss of Tom Svoboda deeply. He was a funny, witty, wonderful colleague and a beloved friend. Requiem in Pacem, my brother. 

Zuzana Hodkova, Czech stage and film actress, who lived for a time in Portland on two occasions.

A few days ago, Tom would have celebrated his birthday. Sometimes we did that together, being born under Sagittarius. We met through a common friend related to the Blackfish gallery, which Jana is a member of: “I know lovely people from your country, you might like each other.”

So we did.

We all came from Prague, one big theme of our Czech-speaking, enjoyable evenings. One time I recalled from childhood how freezing it was in winter, so much that the Vltava River got frozen over and we could ice-skate. Jana was doubtful, so Tom ran down to the basement and fetched a very old notebook where his weather recordings were. I was about 4 or 5, so he must have started at 14 or 15 with his regular notes. And here it was: deep minus temps for weeks, confirmed! I was surely ice-skating.

Another time we recalled youth: Tom’s professor Dr. Vaclav Holzknecht was also my parents’ teacher at Prague Conservatory, surprise! And my godfather as well. Tom told a funny story about the professor once rescuing him from having his legs tangled as a part of a bet … and I topped his story by telling my father’s recollection about the professor sharing how he had rescued a student who screamed behind his dorm doors which after opening had revealed the poor young man stark naked with his legs behind his neck. And Tom said: ”Unbelievable, true story, stark naked I was!”

Tom was extremely generous, giving me his music on CDs to enjoy, aside of playing his piano in their living room while Jana set refreshment. I loved his piano compositions for his children so much that I asked if I could use the music for my recordings of a national folktale by Božena Němcová. He agreed, and we made it happen together.

Tomáš The Teacher

Gordon Lee, pianist, composer, and former student of Tomáš Svoboda.

So, I’m in the classroom at Portland State, and there’s a few minutes left before the class begins. I had a piano transcription of Wagner’s prelude to Tristan und Isolde, which I think is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, even though I detest Wagner as a human being. He was a racist, and I really cannot stand racism in any way. So it’s a dilemma, but let’s face it, there are many, many musicians who weren’t great people, but were great artists. They were brilliant at communicating in their medium. 

Anyway, so I’m there playing on the piano, and it was actually part of, I think, a theory assignment from another class to analyze this piece: how the appoggiaturas and, you know, échappées, escape tones, and all this stuff, how it all works. So I was working on it, I was playing through the piece, and Svoboda heard me. So I said, “What is this? What is he doing here with this chord?” you know, “What do you call this?” He said, here, let me play it. So he sat down and he started playing. And he didn’t even play through the whole thing, but many measures, I don’t know, 30 or 40 measures of the piece. And at one point he sort of gets to a point and just stops. And I could feel that both he and I, coming from very different places — he’s Czech, I’m American, he’s 15 or 20 years older than me, so we have different perspectives — but we’re both very moved by the music. At the same time, both he and I are very well aware who Wagner was, and he just sort of stops, looks down and sighs, and then looks at me sideways, and says, “You know, Wagner was a very egotistical man.” 

***

David Haney, pianist, composer, and former student of Tomáš Svoboda.

I studied composition privately with Tomáš on a weekly basis, for over five years, often over a plate of ginger, garlic, mushroom, hot pepper, skewered together on a toothpick. The lessons were always in the family living room with his wife Jana often in the kitchen, and children Martin and Lenka floating in and out. 

Tom allowed me to study with him, but more so, he let me watch him compose, and explored music together with me. His mind was open. He was kind and instructed through analogies. Admonish the Wise with Parables (Chief Seattle). That was Tom. Using examples from the past, and critiquing your work through examples, he could show you how to animate your musical ideas: how to bring music to life. 

I remember one time I asked Tom to help me with some rudiments of conducting as it had become part of my new job description at a church in the area. We went out back to the garden to be able to spread our arms. Afterwards, we were talking about the challenges of getting an orchestral work premiered. He pointed out that orchestras often have real money challenges and filling seats often requires a little less creative booking and little more predictable programs. New music premieres have been taken up by orchestras that specialize in new music. Either way, it is pretty tough to get your work performed sometimes and consequently it’s hard to gauge your success by these external factors.  Therefore, you should compose music to enhance the quality of your life. 

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Jack Gabel, Portland composer and former Svoboda student.

I studied privately with Tomáš some four decades ago. It was inspirational. After establishing my record label, North Pacific Music (1992), I was approached by Tomáš’ publisher, Thomas C. Stangland, about a series of all-Svoboda chamber music recordings. The three of us worked closely to produce, release and promote eight chamber music recordings of Tomáš’ music in as many years. Several of those CD releases I engineered, edited and mastered. Of all the artists I’ve worked with as an audio engineer, in pursuit of perfection Tomáš was the most detailed and demanding— a musical artist of the highest caliber. He is missed, but his music lives on. 

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Michael Anderson, Eugene clarinetist and former student of Svoboda’s.

I learned about Tomáš Svoboda in 1972 from a high school friend who took piano lessons from him. I went to a concert where he played the piano and was bowled over by his musicianship and the integrity of his performance. I had no idea that this would turn into a 50-year friendship that would not only teach me so much about the art of music but teach me something much more important. Tomáš showed me what it means to be a human being, by living his life with unfailing artistic and human integrity and an endless generosity of spirit.

He was a great teacher of music. With him, at Portland State University, I studied music theory, orchestration, counterpoint, 20th century harmony, and composition; took piano lessons; and performed with him on many occasions where he played piano or conducted. Tomáš even played piano on my senior recital, where I played music of Brahms, Poulenc, and of course, Svoboda. How lucky I was to have such a virtuoso pianist for my recital!

We continued working together for many years and from this musical friendship came many performances of Svoboda’s music in California and Oregon. I was thrilled to work with him on an All-Svoboda program at the Shedd Institute in Eugene that led to a CD called Chamber Works – Vol. 1 With Clarinet. On that CD is his incredible Clarinet Sonata, in which you can hear the clock that Tomáš heard every day on the PSU campus in a music motif from which he created the first movement of the piece.

Over the years Tomáš shared with me his wonderful family: his beautiful and talented wife Jana, brilliant son Martin, and accomplished daughter Lenka. He also shared mushrooming, hiking, good food, Pilsner Urquell, and chess with me. He showered love on my family. He had a very tender spot in his heart for my wife Alice. Tom performed his Wedding March at the organ at our wedding ceremony in 2003. After our wedding he gave us his exquisite Wedding Lullaby for clarinet and violin, which we have played many times. He came over to our home just after we purchased it and as he walked around the property, he stopped the conversation suddenly. Like a saint, he raised his hand in a sweeping gesture and said, simply, “I give this place my blessing.”

Tomáš loved many people and loved many things in this life. But, more than anything in this world, he loved his Jana. Although she is his equal as an artist (she is a vastly talented visual artist), Jana is tirelessly dedicated to Tomáš’s music and his legacy. Over the years I have been inspired by their devotion to each other – by how they cared for each other, how they enjoyed each other’s art, how they treated each other with such respect, how they laughed together, how they created home and family together, and how they pushed each other to be better people.

In December 2012, Tomáš put the finishing touches on the score of his Clarinet Concerto, composed for me to perform with the Eugene Symphony. He put it in the mail to me, and shortly after that, he suffered a massive stroke that severely limited his activity as a composer and musician. After that, I came to him many times to learn the concerto, and despite the stroke, Tomáš was able to teach and coach just as brilliantly as always. The Clarinet Concerto was Tomáš’s last completed work. My performance of it with the Eugene Symphony Orchestra received national attention through international broadcasts on the public radio show Performance Today in 2013. It is a work of incredible musical depth. Performing this work was the highlight of my life in music.

Alice, Francis, and I visited Tomáš many times over the past decade. Tomáš was able to play some chess with our son Francis, and gave him some piano lessons on the music of Chopin and Bartók after the stroke. He was even able to give some great advice on phrasing and pedaling! During that decade, Tomáš continued to be the teacher and friend that he always was, and we shared happy memories and some sadness as well. Just a week before Tomáš passed away, he told me how very much he missed playing the piano and making music with me.

I don’t think my story about Tomáš is all that unique. When I read what other musicians have written about Tomáš, I realize that he treated many people with that amazing generosity of spirit, integrity, and love. Yes, Tomáš Svoboda was a virtuoso composer, pianist, percussionist, conductor, and teacher. But he was also a virtuoso father, husband, colleague, and friend. Tomáš Svoboda was a virtuoso human being. He continues to bless everyone who enjoys his music and memories of his friendship. He made me a better  musician and a better person. I miss him with all my heart.

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45th Parallel Universe will perform Svoboda’s Chorale at its December 1 concert at Beaverton’s Patricia Reser Center for the Arts. More performances of his music will certainly ensue in coming months and years, and ArtsWatch will keep you posted.

Brett Campbell is a frequent contributor to The Oregonian, San Francisco Classical Voice, Oregon Quarterly, and Oregon Humanities. He has been classical music editor at Willamette Week, music columnist for Eugene Weekly, and West Coast performing arts contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal, and has also written for Portland Monthly, West: The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Salon, Musical America and many other publications. He is a former editor of Oregon Quarterly and The Texas Observer, a recipient of arts journalism fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (Columbia University), the Getty/Annenberg Foundation (University of Southern California) and the Eugene O’Neill Center (Connecticut). He is co-author of the biography Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press, 2017) and several plays, and has taught news and feature writing, editing and magazine publishing at the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication and Portland State University.

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3 Responses

  1. Tomas, whom I often called Svobie (which he liked), will remain forever the most profound and poignant person in my musical life. He refined my process and demanded justification for every choice. Beautiful teacher, Tom. It’s too powerful and large an influence to put into words. And we were such dear, dear close friends.

    Of all the anecdotes I could share I choose two singular stories. Our Composers Ensemble had a concert coming up in five days. Bryan Johanson, our guitarist, got sick and let us know he couldn’t make it. Tom and I needed to create a concert with just the two of us. We decided to compose something together, having done this once before with our “A Vision: movement for two percussionists”. We decided on a 4-hand piano piece. We agreed on meter and tempi for each of the two movements and went to different corners of the room. For about 40 minutes the room was totally silent (except inside our heads and the perceptible noise of our pencils on staff paperl). He wrote his part and I wrote mine, independently. Then we joined at the piano and sight read our new masterpiece.

    It was both remarkable and miraculous. We premiered it in Astoria three days later. I orchestrated it a few years afterward for the Portland Opera Brass for a recording they were making, both of us in the ensemble for that record. It’s a singular piece and a perfect example of our deep connection.

    The other story involved me turning pages for Tom at a solo recital he played at the Peter Britt Festival. On the program of mainly his own piano pieces, he included a 4-voice Bach fugue. I can’t recall now which one exactly. Somewhere at the midpoint I experienced the page turner’s nightmare. What I was seeing and what he was playing were not the same thing. The old rule is “stay with the music – you can’t be more that a 16th note off”. His fingers were flying. Each time I thought the page turn should happen, he’d nod and I’d turn it, baffled repeatedly. This happened again and again until the end.

    It was the closing piece in the concert. We walked off stage, Tomasi returned for many curtain calls, like 5. It was a brilliant performance, as usual. Finally, me still in a sweat and shock, I said, “holy crap, Svobie! What was that?!!” He said, “Ericek, I realized while playing the piece that Bach probably added a 5th voice with his thumbs, improvised it. So I improvised what I think he did”. I said, “…we’ll that’s very impressive, but next time tell me. That was terrifying”.

    He just laughed and put his arm around me and said, “sometimes you just like little baby” and we went and had a couple beers across the street at the saloon in Jacksonville.

    1. Beautiful, fun & funny stories, Eric, thanx soooo much for sharing!
      And, Brett, you certainly put together a superb tribute here to Maestro Svoboda, thank you & all the contributors to this wonderfully comprehensive homage.

  2. We were hiking the Opal Creek Trail in the Oregon Cascades, amazed by the colors of the stream and deep pools:innumerable shades of green and blue mixed together and, in the shallow sections, an almost colorless purity. We hiked until the trail became sketchy and disappeared. We knew there was a lake farther up the drainage, so we spent time trying to pick up a possible path. But the trail appeared to have simply given out. Finally we gave up and headed back, knowing that we would be hiking in the dark.

    The sun went down when we were a mile or two from the trailhead. It was perfectly quiet, cool-warm, clear. The trunks of the giant fir trees were an absolute black. Suddenly Tom stopped, held up his hand, then pointed. Ahead of us, attached to the side of an enormous tree, was the small hump of a species of fungus, perfectly silhouetted against the pale, grey-white sky. We watched as puffs of swirling dust came out of the mushroom, so fine it could only be visible at just such a moment and in just such a position against the light. The mushroom was sending out its spores. Once again we were lucky to see something so rare. But something wonderful always happened on our trips in nature. It was all wonderful, whatever happened.

    This shy, secret event was, for Tom, just as astonishing as seeing a flood or an avalanche might be. But that was Tom. It’s true of his music, too. No matter how wild or intricate his music is, if you listen closely enough, you will always find, at its center and source, pure astonishment, wonder. He entered and disappeared in that wonder and brought it creatively alive for the world. He was wondrous.

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