Remembering Bob: A Celebration of the Life of Robert Paul Block


Memorial Ceremony Program ---- Words from Bob's Friends
Bob's Compositions ---- A Photo Gallery of Bob's Life


Robert Paul Block, 1966

Memories of Bob: Composer, Editor, Musician, Teacher, Bicyclist, and Friend

by Marylaine Block

Bob Block grew up in Chicago, where he acquired a lifelong passion for Green River soda, White Castle hamburgers, and music. The first indication of what he would become is a family photo showing him conducting the record player at the age of three. In his teens, he was part of a band that played weddings and bar mitzvahs, where he played flute, clarinet, sax, and possibly the world's first rock and roll recorder -- he played a mean Swinging Shepherd Blues.



He entered the University of Chicago with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist, but the pre-med classes were consistently closed out by the time freshmen were allowed to register, so he signed up for other classes that interested him. An adviser pointed out to him that since he was taking nothing but music classes, perhaps he should consider becoming a music major. Much struck by the notion, he transferred to the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University.

He went to the University of Iowa in 1964 to work on a Ph.D. in music composition under Richard Hervig, and like so many students, he stayed on long after he finished the degree in 1968, with two compositions as his dissertation: a recorder concerto and a timpani concerto. In 1969, a friend named David Lasocki, who was editing music, convinced him that as a long-time performer of renaissance and baroque music, Bob knew enough to edit music from this time period. David put him in touch with his publisher, Musica Rara, and started Bob on a long career in music editing. Bob learned on the job, but it wasn't long before he had mastered the art of writing playable piano reductions of orchestral scores, and translating figured bass into written keyboard parts that were interesting and appropriate for the time period.

Robert Paul Block in the act of composing
Over the next 20 years, Bob did several hundred editions of renaissance and baroque classics and not-so-classics, including works by all the Bachs, all the Loeillets, all the Gabriellis, and a good deal of Vivaldi and Telemann, as well as by lesser lights like Johann Joachim Quantz, Friedrich Kuhlau, Johann Petzel, and Godfrey Finger. He arranged many more pieces to make the repertoire available to a wider variety of instruments. (We were the only family in town with our own personal microfilm reader -- Bob spent more days than I can count transcribing music from reels of shadowy microfilmed manuscripts.)

He also published a number of his own pieces, including a suite of fantasies for cello, double bass and viola, "Homage to DS" (a mixed clarinet quartet honoring Dmitri Shostakovich), "Incantation and Canzona for Three Trombones," and "Five Romantic Fantasies for Solo Flute." With his friend Peter Nothnagle, he produced an anthology of selections for antique instruments called "At the Sign of the Crumhorn," and an anthology of music for recorder or renaissamce flute ensembles called "Sound the Bright Flutes."

Bob was a long-time performer with the University's Collegium Musicum, where he played recorder, renaissance flute, and the occasional crumhorn and cornetto. He taught two generations of Iowa City students to play the recorder; they'd sit in Bob's study playing duets while our big black cat Underfoot sat on one lap or another purring loudly. With his friend Peter Nothnagle, he perfected the art of making authentic-sounding renaissance flutes from plastic plumber's tubing and corks from friends' wine bottles. And once again he found himself playing for weddings, this time as part of a recorder ensemble.

Bob and Marylaine Block, 1967
I married him in 1966, when I was a grad student in American civilization. We settled in an apartment across the street from the Pentacrest, ideally positioned between dorm and classrooms to be the central gathering place for our motley collection of friends. Though it was a time of drastic changes in America, we were more fifties kids than sixties kids, so we were mostly on the fringes of those changes. I've written about those days in columns called Flower Children and Son of Flower Children.

After our son Brian was born in 1973, I went back to the University of Iowa to become a librarian. Meanwhile Bob, who had never really learned to dance because he was always playing music for other people to dance to, joined the University's folk dancing society, where he made many more friends from all over the world. One of the few Americans who never owned, or wanted to own, a car, he was becoming an enthusiastic long-distance bicyclist.

It was clear to us by then that we were really meant to be best friends rather than marriage partners, so I took a job as librarian at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa and moved there with Brian in 1977. Bob was a loving long-distance father and friend to Brian over the years.

Bob Block and Marjorie Moore at their wedding in Minneapolis, June 17, 1994
Bob met his wife, Marjorie Moore, in the folk-dancing society in Iowa City. When they married, they moved to Minneapolis where Marjorie taught physical therapy. It was then that Bob discovered the pleasures of e-mail. He became acquainted by e-mail with an Australian composer, Derek Strahan, through whom he met other Aussie composers, and he began working with them to try to get their music performed and distributed in America. At the time of Bob's death, his Australian friends were working on arranging performances of his music so that they could release a CD of it, and we are hopeful that the project will go forward.

He died too soon, after a month-long battle. A heart attack had done dreadful damage, which caused yet more damage to the rest of his body. Bob was tired and in pain, and eventually he asked the doctors to stop their heroic medical efforts to save him and leave him in peace. Marjorie was at his side throughout his ordeal.

If the CD of Bob's music becomes available, I will post information here on how to obtain a copy. It will be funded by the Bob Block Memorial Fund which Marjorie has set up at a Minneapolis Bank. Contributions to it can be mailed to Marjorie (see contact information below).

I am gathering and publishing here reminiscences of Bob by his many friends. I believe that a person's history is the joint possession of everybody who has memories of him; only when those memories are shared do we get a full picture of a life. Please send your stories and memories of Bob to me (Marylaine Block) and I will post them on this page. But please also send them to Marjorie; she will appreciate the kindness.

Thank you for being his friend. He loved you, and knowing you was important in his rich and fully-lived life.


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Bob's Memorial Tribute, by his wife Marjorie Moore

I met Bob my first weekend in Iowa City. I had come from Seattle to Iowa to complete my Ph.D. in physical therapy. I was looking for new friends and went to the U of Iowa Folk dance club. Meeting Bob elicited no feelings of attraction initially, so I dated a couple of other guys in the group. Bob patiently waited for me to become available and finally asked me out to lunch a couple of years later.

While I worked to complete my dissertation research, Bob offered his leg as a pilot subject for my experiments. He agreed to tolerate even electrical shocks, in exchange for nothing more than doughnuts, one of his favorite foods!

During those years of getting to know each other, Bob taught me to ride a real bike. I had come to town with a 3-speed, which was good enough to get me to school and to the grocery store without a car. But Bob found a student who sold me her 10-speed bike, so that he & I could take long rides in the Iowa countryside together. I never became quite the long-distance biking companion he really hoped for. I always wanted a destination, while Bob was happy just to be riding together. Nevertheless, biking became a bond that continued after our marriage.

When I graduated from the Univ. of Iowa, Bob accompanied me on some of my nearby job interviews and consulted with me about my impressions of the distant ones. When I settled on a faculty position at Univ. of Rhode Island, I thought our relationship would end. But Bob would not let distance come between us. He continued to call and write. I was busy, but lonely, so we ran up $100/month phone bills and made plane trips to visit each other every 3 months. When my dept. chairperson turned out to be "the boss from hell", Bob became my counselor. He had always wanted to be a psychiatrist, so he accepted the challenge of helping me cope with the situation. We eventually decided that leaving my job was the only healthy decision to make.

When I accepted a new faculty post in Minneapolis, we thought we would be able to see each other more often. But since neither of us was interested in owning a car, we still only visited each other quarterly, relying mostly on phone contact & letters.

After 5 years of these long-distance relationships, we finally decided that the time had come to make a commitment to each other. Bob took the brave step of selling the Iowa City house he had occupied for more than 20 years. He abandoned nearly all of his belongings, except for a large portion of his book and LP collections. We bought a 1914 craftsman house along the river, within walking distance of my work and near a post office for his used book business. We were married in 1994 in Minneapolis, with friends & family from across the country there with us. His books, LPs, stereo equipment, and toy frog collection gradually took over the house.

He was burnt out on music, from years of helping direct the Collegium Early Music Ensemble, teaching recorder students, and clerking at Eble's Music store. He still wanted to be his own boss, so he bought and sold used books to pay his way in the world. However, it was a poor use of his talents. He hauled boxes home and to the post office by bike or on foot with a handcart. He often remarked that he never expected to cross the Mississippi River 4 times a day, as he often did, since we lived along the river parkway!

After a five year hiatus from music, Australian friends rekindled his musical interest. They exchanged tapes of favorite obscure composers' works. Bob had just been thinking about revising one of his compositions for a proposed CD when he died unexpectedly, much too soon. Happily, his music will live on in his publications and in the memorial CD we are making.

Bob was a voracious reader; there was always a huge pile of books by the bed to be read (or to be enjoyed yet again). His huge vocabulary made cross-word puzzles too easy, but he loved the challenge of the more difficult "acrostic" word puzzles. He also loved to make up words, just for the pleasure of their sound. A few examples are: "thwacknoodle, fumpdiddle, foop, and greezlewort"! He also introduced me to the joys of Yiddish words, such as: tuchis, pupik, tsotskis, nosh and mensch.

Bob was a mensch! He readily made friends with the grocery clerks, hardware store employees, and post office workers. He allowed a series of half a dozen poor students to live in his house rent-free. He generously loaned money to friends in need, with no expectation of repayment, despite the fact that his own income was so uncertain.

He had two favorite comic strips. One was "Calvin & Hobbes", in which he identified with the mischievous little boy Calvin, who had many adventures with his toy tiger Hobbes. The second one was "Haggar the Horrible", in which he sympathized with the Viking Haggar, whose slovenly ways were always annoying his wife.

He relaxed by lying in bed listening to modern classical music, especially enjoying Leonard Bernstein, Dimitri Shostakovich, and Alfred Schnittke. Trains whistles, thunderstorms, and warm baths were special enjoyments. He relished deep-dish pizza, "garbage burgers" (hamburgers with everything on them), Chinese buffets, chocolate-orange milkshakes from Hamburg Inn in Iowa City, coyote chocolate cones, and Dairy Queens, especially peanut buster parfaits! On summer Saturdays, we biked a loop of garage sales, being sure to end up at an ice cream store for a "coyote chocolate" (chocolate with cayenne pepper) cone.

Our married life together was simple. We were each other's best friend, doing everything together, rather than with our own friends. We biked to the neighborhood $2 movie theatre, walked to concerts by the U of M orchestra, and attended touring ballet productions. We didn't play flute & piano duets, but he played baroque flute duets with a friend every other week. Bob didn't really like traveling, but he encouraged me to take advantage of professional conference opportunities to see the world. We did manage to take short road trips via rental cars. Instead of visiting the tourist sites, Bob's favorite activity was walking through a local college or a neighborhood of historic homes. Everywhere we went, we strolled hand-in-hand.

Bob bestowed the blessings of his gentle love upon me. He was a patient, even-tempered husband, who always made the first move to apologize after a disagreement. He loved to make me laugh with a joke or a bunny-nose face and encouraged my own latent silly streak. On better days, he said his only purpose in life was to make me happy, while on other days he said it was to aggravate me with his messes! In his last anniversary card, he wrote that he hoped we would have many more years together before I brained him!

In reality, he was a helpmate at home. While he had no interest in yardwork, he would willingly buy groceries, cook, wash dishes, and do laundry. When I arrived home late from work, or came in from a long weekend day of gardening, he would have a hot meal ready. He gave up his own career to become a cheerleader for my career. He always wanted to hear my school news, though he was glad he had decided against an academic career for himself.

When we met, he found a shy, naÔve, insecure, young woman, and through his encouragement, gave me the self-confidence to blossom. He made me feel smarter and more beautiful than I was, as he did with many other women he met. He had a talent for making other people feel good about themselves.

My life is gray now without his sharp wit, droll humor, and ready hug. The house is very quiet, with his empty place in every room. His absence is my first thought in the morning and my last one at night. But I've been blessed to have known him and to have shared our love, however briefly. Although we knew each other for 20 years, we were only married for six and a half. His death has left a huge hole in my heart and in my life. I will miss him terribly.


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MEMORIAL CEREMONY PROGRAM

Held Saturday, June 9, at the Radisson in Iowa City. On display were his frog collection (165, all told), his bike badges, his recorders and flutes, and all his editions and manuscripts, an impressive pile that filled two tables, as pictured here. This is the program for the ceremony.



Music and Memories:
a Celebration of the Life and Music
of Robert Paul Block



Sonata No. 6 in F by Jean Baptiste Loeillet de Gant: Largo
Lynn Waickman and Adam Waickman, recorders.

Speaker: Jean Block

Into the Light, an improvisation
David Lasocki (alto recorder) and Lilin Chen (bells).

Duets by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (as edited by Bob)
Dave Hempel and Jane Walker, flute and oboe

Speaker: Marylaine Block

Grandfather's Duets, by Johann Martin Friedrichsen
(as edited by Bob)
Ruth Williams and Beth Zamzow, recorders

Speaker: Jean Bull

Prelude, by Amy Dunker
Amy Dunker, solo trumpet

Speaker: Brian Block

Moderťment and Deuxiťme Air en Rondeau.
From Six Sonatas, Op. 5, by Jacques-Christophe Naudot, (as edited by Bob)
Gail Gavin and Betty Mather, flutes

Speaker: Marjorie Moore

Group participation in easy circle folk dance, "Slow Pravo" taught and led by Tim Shipe

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To contact any of Bob's family: