Memorial Ceremony Program ---- Words from Bob's Friends
Bob's Compositions ---- A Photo Gallery of Bob's Life
Memories of Bob: Composer, Editor, Musician, Teacher, Bicyclist, and Friendby 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
MEMORIAL CEREMONY PROGRAM
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
To contact any of Bob's family:
- Bob's widow, Marjorie Moore, can be reached by mail at her office at the Physical Therapy Program, College of St. Catherine, 601 25th Ave. South, Minneapolis, MN 55454, or by e-mail, mamoore at stkate.edu .
- I can be reached by e-mail at marylaine at netexpress.net.
WORDS FROM BOB'S FRIENDS
Thank you for your beautiful tribute to RP. He was paramount in my life not only as a teacher, but as a mentor, friend (who gave me a home for two years in Iowa City), and one who helped shaped the person that I am. I will miss him terribly. Lynn Waickman
Dr. Edward L. Kottick:
I was so sorry and shocked to hear of Bobís untimely death. He was my biking buddy, my trusted and valued colleague for so many years, and above all, my dear friend. He was one in a million.
Bob was one of the first people I met when I first came to Iowa City. He was the first to audition for my collegium. He was playing an old baseball-bat of a recorder, but he was able to make amazing music on it. Bob soon became my associate in running that collegium, and whatever success it achieved over the years was due as much to him as it was to me. He was like a rock, always there for me. We planned programs together, he handled rehearsals, he conducted concerts, he trained and recruited new performers, he learned new instruments and his infectious enthusiasm never flagged. His standards were high, and set a bench mark for everyone, including me. He was even friend enough to kick me in the butt when I needed that, too. I have no other way to put it Ė I couldn't have done it without him. And he did it all for the love of the music.
Bob was a real presence in Iowa City, and he left a void when he and Marjorie moved to Minneapolis. We, his friends, were always greeting each other with, ďhave you heard from Bob lately?Ē Our musical community is in mourning for him.
Peter Bacon writes:
It's hard to believe that Bob has gone, and harder to accept that I have lost one of my best friends ever.
Bob and I first met in Iowa City, back in the late '60s or early '70s-I'm not sure of the exact date-and quickly became pals. We had a number of interests and enthusiasms in common, particularly music. In fact, for a few months Bob was my recorder teacher, and thanks to his expert coaching I was able to join the University of Iowa's Collegium Musicum, where my marginally adequate toodling was tolerated not only by him, but by our mutual friend, David Lasocki, and others who could play rings around me.
I still have vivid memories of my many visits to Bob's house for lunch in those days. (Bob, a gourmet cook when it came to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, was always the gracious host.) Lunch was invariably followed by an extended Musicfestspiele during which Bob shared disks or tapes of his latest discoveries in the (frequently dissonant and seldom dull) world of 20th-century music, often to the consternation of his two cats. As Bob liked to say, the cats weren't sure exactly what was emanating from his stereo speakers at those times-just that it was something that should be killed!
I moved out of the country in 1977, and I'm sad to say we lost touch for a number of years. It was only after moving to Australia four years ago that I thought of trying to locate him via the internet. As it turned out, it was Marylaine whom I found in cyberspace, and she forwarded my message to Bob, who by then had remarried and was living in Minneapolis. Our friendship was quickly rekindled, and from that moment until just a couple of weeks ago, we maintained a steady email correspondence. In that time, he was friend, counselor, confidante, supporter, and cheerer-upper. I believe he saw me in similar terms. At least, I'd like to think so.
During this period, the two of us were also able to share music once again. Bob would often send me tapes made from his vast musical "archives"-usually of pieces I had never heard before, and often by composers whose names were unknown to me. Fortunately, his collection was a bit "light" in the Australian department, and over time I was able to reciprocate, supplying him with compositions taped off the two local classical music stations here in Melbourne. Out of that grew his contact by email with Derek Strahan and other Ozzie composers-something that I know gave him a great sense of satisfaction in the last couple of years. The embodiment of generosity, Bob was always an avid supporter of people he believed in, and wished he could have done even more to help spread the word in America about the riches of contemporary Australian music.
Oh, and did I mention his sense of humor? Oy! Bob loved to laugh-though always with, never at. He had a finely honed sense of the absurd (and one of the best chortles going!), but his humor showed no bitterness or rancor toward others. In fact, I don't think Bob had a single mean bone in his body. Though he wasn't much of a kidder, Bob was incurably playful. Just six weeks ago, after a longer-than-usual silence on his part, he sent me an email message bearing the typically wry title "Fairly good excuse for protracted silence." This was the message informing me of his first heart attack. He seemed in good spirits, in spite of it, and thought he might be a good candidate for bypass surgery. If he had any premonition of how things would turn out, he made no mention of it. In fact, he wanted me to understand that he was already home from the hospital. "I'm not an invalid," he assured me. "And if whacking away at a computer keyboard is going to do me in, you gotta figure I couldn't have been saved anyway."
How I wish it could have been otherwise. And how I will miss him!
Peter Nothnagle writes:
Bob and I go all the way back to when I was an extremely unpromising 13-year-old recorder student. After a year of his gentle and effective tutelage, he persuaded Ed Kottick, director of the University Collegium Musicum, to let me join the ensemble as a member of the "B" recorder consort, and my lifelong devotion to early music was launched. Over the years, Bob and I collaborated on music editions, performed together for hundreds of weddings, and foisted a thousand or so plastic renaissance flutes on an unsuspecting public.
Aside from teaching and playing early music, Bob helped me find my identity in other ways as well. I would cull through his ever-changing inventory of used LPs for sale, building an eclectic collection that deeply influenced my development as both electronic music composer, and later in life, recording session producer. Bob's firm counterculture values kept my eyes open as a youth in the Nixon years. Later, our collaboration on music editing projects helped me pay the bills through my early 20s.
Bob lived a life of frugality, hard work, and fun. He put thousands of miles on his battered girl's three-speed bike, carrying groceries and garage sale purchases in the wire baskets. As his circle of early-music biking friends acquired nice bicycles, he finally joined us and bought a serviceable ten-speed, and we tooled around the countryside on camping expeditions. He rode that bike for years, and even as the paint chipped and parts fell off, he casually accomplished amazing feats of riding endurance. He didn't need fancy equipment to do a hundred miles in a day -- he took it slow and he enjoyed the journey.
Bob and I lost touch after I moved to Oregon and he moved to Minnesota, but I will remember him fondly and I thank him for all he has given to me.
Doug Hempel says:
I first met Bob in the basement of the old Eastlawn Building back in 1970 for a Collegium rehearsal. I was a music major at the UI and, although my instrument was trombone/baritone, I had a fascination with recorders and early music.
As I walked through that door, I was immediately struck by the image of this rather diminutive, yet impressive personality trying to play a scale on a shawm. From that point on it seemed that whenever Ed Kottick acquired another instrument for the Collegium, whether it be a krummhorn, kortholt, rauschfeife, racket, or whatever, Bob was the one to volunteer to master it, and eventually teach it to any other takers. He is the only person I can ever remember actually hitting real notes on the cornetto.
I found Bob to be ever so patient in coaching and instructing members in the consort for the performance at hand. He was eager to offer help and make suggestions in playing any instrument, and always with a bit of enthusiasm and encouragement. Karyn (my wife and co-consort player) and I recall those years in the Collegium as the 'Golden Years.'
When I came on staff at the Eble Music Company in 1989, Bob was already a permanent fixture. Once again he became a dear friend who constantly offered his help and expertise and made my transition into this new occupation much easier. Never sitting still for a moment, he was always working on new projects to make the store more efficient. Bob was a unique personality and one which will never be duplicated. He will indeed be missed!
Janet Grinker Altman:
I am sorry to hear of Bob's illness and death. I remember him with love.
I remember the day I first met Bob. Jean had brought me home with her one day after school. It was 1961, our sophomore year of high school. We were sitting in the kitchen eating oranges when Bob came home. I remember him standing in the doorway. I felt all flushed and flustered. Jean called, that night I think, and asked if her brother asked me out, would I go. I was bouncing around the room tangling the phone cord I was so excited.
I have often thought of Bob over the years. Last Wednesday, the 21st, Bach's birthday, I was listening to a glorious, joyous Bach Cantata on my way home from the Music Center and thinking of Bob - because gave me a recording of the Bach Cantatas when I was still in high school. Intuitively he knew how much I'd love them. Bob took great pleasure in introducing me to pieces of music I probably wouldn't have discovered on my own for a number of years. He was in charge of my early music education bringing me recordings and playing pieces for me on the piano. I loved to sit on the piano bench with Bob when he played.
Bob enjoyed introducing me to his favorite foods too: White Castle hamburgers loaded with onions and pickles and Italian Beef at a place on 87th Street. Looking back, I remember the way Bob talked with the people working at White Castle and the Italian Beef place. He had relationships with them; he cared about them and I loved that about him.
I remember the Renaissance recorder music at Court Theater and the day Bob helped me choose a recorder at the Fret Shop which was just west of the Museum of Science and Industry. I remember the time we went to Old Town so Bob could pay homage to a musician performing there. Somehow Bob had found the address where the man was staying. We rang the bell and someone summoned the man who graciously left his dinner. They shook hands and talked for a few minutes, just long enough for Bob to convey his admiration. I remember how pleased Bob was that he'd had the opportunity to say what he felt. I remember the evenings Bob and I sat at the harbor at 67th street and watched the headlights of the cars on Lake Shore Drive. We talked for hours about books and plays, movies and music.
In 1971, my husband and I moved to Iowa City for his internship. I'd written to Bob to let him know our arrival date and our new address. We had just about finished unloading the rental truck when the doorbell rang and it was Bob. He'd come to help. Soon after that Marylaine and Bob invited us over. I remember coming to their house alone as well when David was practically living at the University Hospitals. I was grateful then for the kindness and I still am.
I was deeply effected by the news of Bobís death. Although we hadnít stayed in touch over the years he always did and always will have a special place in my heart. We were very close during our high school years.
I grew up in a home without the slightest trace of serious music. Iíve lived in one ever since where it is of paramount importance, primarily due to Bobís influence. When he first played The Rite of Spring for me I told him it didnít sound like music but he patiently persisted and taught me otherwise. That changed me forever.
He also urged me to take trumpet lessons under Rudolph Nasham and when my lack of aptitude for the instrument finally became apparent he forced a wooden recorder on me. to keep my fingers agile, just in case. Iíve taken it everywhere with me and it now hangs on the wall over my desk next to an Appalachian Dulcimer, both of which I play regularly if not brilliantly. Thatís a gift he gave me which I value enormously.
We use to sit in his room at home under a huge, very somber oil painting he was keeping for an art student friend, and I wore him out improvising on the flute for me, literally hours at a time. I wish I had recordings of those peaceful moments.
On a less serious note, I remember an incident when I was working in a hospital lab during a summer home from university and decided I wanted to dissect something larger than a frog so managed to procure the carcass of a large dog. With Bob and a guy by the name of Joel Sherman in toe, I took it back to my place, presented the idea to my mother and was promptly thrown out on my ears. So, undaunted we proceeded to Bobís where nobody was home. In the garage we were proceeding to hack and hew our way through the project when Bobís mother came home unexpectedly, threw up the garage door and promptly fainted at the sight of our enthusiastically blood smeared visages. How we ever got us to forgive her for that one Iíll never know but she did.
Then there was the road trip to Boston when we came across a knocked down parking meter and made off with it for old timeís sake. We were quite the road sign thieves when we were in high school. Anyway, we intended to leave it in Boston with a friend but Bob managed to get the thing open and it paid all our Mass Pike tolls on the way home. He was kind of horrified at the whole idea but pretty pleased with his ingenuity at the same time.
Bob couldn't decide what to give us for our wedding so I suggested a Brandenburg Concertos recording and he was delighted with the idea. Though I have several CDs of them now, Iíve never parted with that old LP set.
The last time I saw Bob was when he and Marylaine got married. Iíve written five books of poetry over the years. In that first book was a short piece very much influenced by and dedicated to Bob. This is it.
The blues of Claude Monet were not as deep
Or simple and straightforward as Watteauís
But in their subtle combinations spun
A different kind of soft reality.
Breaking off a fine romance he wandered
Into the melting mirrors of his mind
Where landscapes danced, unfinished but complete,
To show Debussy what they sounded like.
I was a friend of his in Iowa City during the late 80's and early 90's; in fact, my husband performed his and Marjorie's wedding ceremony! Since then, I'm sorry to say, Bob and I lost touch. I have many fond memories of him, when I was a masters student in speech-language pathology. He gave me free recorder lessons in exchange for my playing with the Collegium. I was lonely, being far from home (the East Coast), and he was good company on walks to feed the ducks and introduced me to folk dancing. I am glad that my husband had a chance to meet him, so that he could support me in my grief upon finding out that he had passed away. I had so hoped that our paths would cross again someday. Of all people to have a heart attack, I thought, one who had kept himself in shape with bicycling, walking, and dancing.
I met Bob soon after my arrival in Iowa City in 1977, through Ed Kottick and the Collegium Musicum. The recorder teacher I was looking for turned out to be a teacher of much more, as all of Bob's students and friends know. And, of course, along with the fostering of our musical abilities and knowledge, our tolerance of cats was of necessity developed. It was amazing to observe how highly trained his cats were, as they seemed to know exactly when his student was approaching a very difficult passage, and were prepared to leap, or yowl, at that precise moment.
I particularly want to mention the service given by Bob to the fledgling Eastern Iowa Recorder Society during its decade or so of existence. It was begun with absolutely no funding, and a feeling that potential members, some very new to the recorder, could not be attracted if required to pay dues. Without Bob's faithful volunteer service, we would not have got off the ground. We liked to feel that the mass playing oftwo or even three chorus canzonas with which we frequently ended our meetings, and which provided the utmost challenge to his superb conducting skills, gave some satisfaction to him. What a pity that we have no video of Bob, who, using only two arms and his head, managed to hold our wildly assorted group together! He was our hero.
Bob always used to say he was the prototypical Christian Jew -- he liked to feel he had the best tendencies of each. I can still hear that silky, persuasive voice -- one that could sell air-conditioners to Eskimoes -- and I might add I rarely heard that voice do anything besides purr! In the years I knew Bob -- 1965, I think, to 1974 -- there was that lion's mane of gorgeous hair, the owlish stare caused by those black-rimmed glasses, and that extremely sharp intellect. I met Bob when he was teaching a discussion section of the core music course and I knew at once he was somebody I wanted to know better. Then, of course, we worked together at the radio station for a couple of years. And of course I bought hundreds of records from him over the years.
I credit him with helping develop my interest in unusual repertoire and in collecting records (though I had been doing that since I was nine years old). Bob would nudge me at the right time, with the right composers, and he got me interested in Belgian, Japanese, Bulgarian, Russian composers and the like. The thing about his musical philosophy that stands out to me is his fierce egalitarianism. He once told me that the music of Krasimir Kyurchisky was as valid as that of Bach or Beethoven . . . That has been largely my collecting rationale ever since . . . It sounds so in character for him to be trying to increase exposure to that group of Australian composers.
When I knew him Bob was writing freely atonal music. I was present when he was writing his thesis, a short work for tympani and orchestra -- I have a tape of it somewhere -- and he would be writing along, grunting and humming and making other onamopoetic noises, and ever now and then he'd interject something like, "There! That oughta get 'em!" I know he also believed that ugly was another form of beautiful. I would be very interested to know if his music mellowed later, after I left Iowa, and I hope that CD materializes of his music.
Judith Tischler Ben-Or:
Thanks for letting me know. I was so saddened to hear of his death. He was a big part of my life in high school. We played in the orchestra together and were in the "accelerated" class together. And he was my boyfriend from the end of our junior year through our senior year. We were pretty serious at the time.
My Dad was a professor of musicology at Roosevelt University (Prof. Hans Tischler, a historian of medieval music), and I know that Bob talked to him about studying music, and he may even have studied with him. I remember that he talked about studying psychiatry, but then switched to music. I also remember that he took me one evening to a gig that he and his band were playing. I took him to a wonderful restaurant for his birthday in May (I think) of our senior year, where they served a Swedish smorgasbord, and afterwards there was an opera performed by puppets. Chicagoans will remember the name, which has faded from my memory (I have been living in Israel for nearly 40 years.) I last saw him in 1964 when I was home on a visit from Jerusalem, and afterwards lost touch. I am so very sorry that he died before I was able to find his e-mail address.
I became acquainted with Bob at the Univ. of Iowa, when I joined the Collegium in 1974. At first I only knew him as a very talented and creative musician. But over just a few weeks I was drawn closer to him because I observed that he was a person of genuine quality. He was a true friend, always honest and sincere with me, and very supportive, and I hope he felt the same of me, as it has always been my goal to return this kind of special friendship. Although he was very serious about himself, life, and music, we had lots of fun and laughs. I enjoyed his flute collection -- the flutes he made, and the pictures are of his famous "left-handed sewer flute!" (taken in March of 1975). What a subtle but wonderful sense of humor he had.
I'm a fellow book scout, who lived in Seward [the neighborhood of Bob & Marjorie's house] 'til last August and I frequented G-too [stands for Goodwill #2] in years past. It's at G-too that I first met Bob and was struck by his utter civility and his depth as well as breadth of knowledge.
In the rough and tumble, grabby world of book scouting, Bob was always a gentleman. He was uniformly fair and generous, although we were competitors for those treasured tomes.
I now sell primarily out-of-print and rare books on the Internet, and not so many texts. For that reason, and the inconsistency at G-too, I quit going there. I regret not having earlier heard of Bob's ill health, as I would have tried to visit.
Shauna S. Roberts:
I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn of Bob's recent death.
I knew Bob as music director of the Iowa City chapter of the American Recorder Society, as my recorder teacher, and finally as my friend.
I moved to Iowa City in 1982 and took up recorder as a diversion to writing my dissertation, joining the ARS chapter there. The chapter then was small and contained players of wildly divergent skill levels. And it met only once a month. Even so, Bob somehow managed to find music for the group to play together and to keep everyone's interest up.
Later, wanting to make faster progress, I started private recorder lessons with Bob. Strict but gentle, Bob ensured students learned good technique without making them feel bad about mistakes. We learned to play the scales and corresponding arpeggios of every key with whatever alternate fingerings were appropriate. Each time I play a piece with G flats or B sharps, I mentally thank Bob for all those hours we spent on scales.
Lessons were relaxed, often starting with a cup of tea and ending with Underfoot the cat snoozing on my lap. Even as an adult student, I looked forward to receiving the reward for a lesson well played: a frog stamped on my music.
When my recorders had problems, Bob always managed to fix them. One particularly memorable repair stands out in my mind. I had sent my bass recorder off to a recorder shop to get the keywork fixed. After waiting several weeks, the recorder finally returned -- and the problem reoccurred within a few days. With thin slivers of cork and some glue, Bob fixed the problem himself. That was more than 15 years ago, and Bob's repair has held up ever since.
Bob and my husband found they shared a common interest in bicycling, and they went on many long rides together through the Iowa countryside.
For everything he taught me and for his friendship, I will miss Bob greatly.
I have written about Bob in a couple of columns that might be of interest to you. "Pieces of the Puzzle", written in the early days of Bob's illness, talked about the way that he, like all of us, was a maker of history, and a keeper of other people's history. In "Hole To Fill, I spoke about how Bob, for so many people, was a person who showed them that they mattered in the universe.
I cannot get all of my memories in chronological order, so I will write them down as they occur to me.. To start at the wrong end first, the day I learned the terrible news [of his death] was a Tuesday - and I hate Tuesdays. They have never been at all good to me. I probably should have stayed home, but there were so many pressing errands, and so out I went. As I paused at a red light, I happened to glance at the car next to me - and a young man was putting together a tenor recorder! I had to pull over and park, the scene was just so ironic. It took me a good half hour to pull myself together.
How did I first meet Bob? At Eble Music, regarding some music I was picking up for our high school choir. I wanted my own personal copies; some were actually in stock! What was the most memorable Eble moment? One afternoon, a lady came prancing in, all in a dither, and wanted to know if there was such a thing available as a piano reduction of the "Flying Dutchman" Overture!!! Everyone in the store was utterly speechless for a moment or two, then Bob asked her how soon she needed it. She said at once; she had to play it that Saturday - for a wedding! (The 1960s did give rise to some strange wedding music.) After another startled pause, everyone started looking. We finally found an opera score that would do. We wondered later if the wedding party liked Wagner, but just couldn't stand "Lohengrin", something no one ever found out.
Then there were the recorders... The day I acquired my sopranino recorder, it was winter, very cold, and Bob had me bundle it up well and put it under my coat. I might have been a live baby, the way he worried about my taking it home in the winter, on my bicycle. The day I bought the great bass recorder - at quite a bargain - Bob was so pleased to have my buy it. He commented then that I was the only person he'd ever known who started playing seriously with the bass and great bass recorders. Most people begin with soprano ones, I suppose. He borrowed it sometimes until the Collegium Musicum acquired one of their own. My tenor recorder Bob called the finest one in Iowa City - and wished he'd seen it first. Then there was the very obnoxious alto recorder that NOBODY could play (it came from West Music).
Most interesting was the 2/3-1/3 recorder that always seemed to confound and perplex him. The two top pieces are plastic, the foot is wooden. It is an alto recorder, and originally the whole plastic recorder belonged to a friend of mine. She took it outside one day and lost the foot somehow, so she gave the two remaining pieces to me. I had just lost most of a wooden recorder of mine, the mouthpiece was bad and the center section had split in two, so I joined the pieces that were left and came up with "The Perplexing Recorder". Bob kept saying that there was no way it should even play - much less play in tune. But it did, and does, and he never figured out why, nor have I.
To digress from music, there were Bob's cats. First there was Underfoot, whom I never knew too well, and Pudney. I always said there was something essentially British about Pudney, that he ought to have been named Winston. I could always envision him with a bowler, a briefcase, and eating fish & chips. Then there was George, whom he originally confused with Underfoot. Bob put George in the house and went on a short trip. Imagine his surprise when THREE cats were at the door to greet him, instead of two. He kept George as well. Bob is also responsible for giving me my cat. He wanted a home for an orphan black kitten he found and gave her to me. I did not want a lady cat, and traded her to someone for Bandit, a successful venture all around, as they wanted a little black lady kitten.
What else do I recall? The July 4th recorder sessions in City Park. Saturday morning Iowa City Recorder Society rehearsals at Miriam Laster's house. A time when I needed the entire first tenor part of something recorded so that a fellow church choir member could learn it in a hurry. Bob taped it all out for me, playing, naturally, a tenor recorder, and did it just as a favor to me. The Madrigal dinner performances....
And how many, many times that he bicycled over to my house for a "starving student dinner party" (sometimes a luncheon one), and wondered how he was ever going to carry all the leftovers home on a bicycle? How many wonderful people did he bring with him to these little parties? So many that I can never recall all of them. [Bob's future wife Marjorie was one of them.] What was Bob's most memorable comment? When he dubbed my dish of mashed potatoes as "industrial strength mashed potatoes". I DO use real cream and real butter in them. Another memory...all the suppers we had together at Shakey's buffet. I cannot pass the place now without floods of memories coming back.
AVE ATQUE VALE (Hail & Farewell), Bob.
Dr. Robert Paul Block's Original Compositions
(listed in order by date of composition)
- Songs in Several Idioms
Eight songs with lyrics
1960 (high school senior)
- Trois Pieces Melancholique (for piano)
1962 (Tape only, no manuscript found)
- Two Songs for Buddy Thorne (for male voice & piano)
- Sonata for Oboe & Piano (one movement)
- Sonata for Flute and Piano
Jan. 30-Apr. 4, 1964
II. Andante con moto,
- String Quartet #1
July 6-Nov.4, 1964
Conductor's master score & all parts
- Music for Oboe, Clarinet, Viola, Bassoon
- Declamation for Solo Flute
May 12, 1966
- Slow Music for String Quartet
May 23, 1966
- Recitative for Two String Orchestras
Conductor's master score & all parts
- Three Satires for Violin Alone
December 29-30, 1967
- Incidental music for a radio drama (broadcast on KSUI radio) March and waltz (affectionately known as the "3-legged waltz")
- Music for Orchestra and Tympani
Thesis for Ph.D., 1967-68
Pub. by Musica Rara, 1968
Conductor's master score & all instrumental parts parts
- Concerto for (Alto) Recorder and String Quintet
Thesis for Ph.D. Aug., 1968.
Published by Musica Rara, 1968 Conductor's master score & all instrumental parts
- Ricercar Primo for Alto Recorder and Clavier
Revised 1969 for Flute/Oboe/Bb clarinet
- Prelude & Toccata for 4 clarinets
Awaits publication by Rubank
Also exists in versions for 4 violas & for 4 cellos
July 15, 1968
- Homage to D.S. (Dimitri Shostakovich)
for Mixed Clarinet Quartet
Written 1964, copyright 1969 by Aardvark Music
Published by Brightstar Music, of Western Intl. Music, 1975
- Invention for Three Clarinets
Written Nov. 1-5 1968, copyright 1969 by Aardvark Music
- Suite for Flute, Clarinet, Bassoon
1969 copyright by Aardvark Music
- Incantation and Canzona for Three Trombones. For Ned Ellis
January 1-7, 1970
Published by Brightstar Music, of Western Intl. Music, 1972
- Fantasy for Viola Solo
For William Preucil (UI viola professor)
June 14 1970, revised 1973, Pub. by Musica Rara 1974
- Fantasy for Cello Solo
For Tanya Carey & Charles Wendt
1973, Pub. by Musica Rara 1974
- Fantasy for Double Bass Solo
For Eldon Obrecht (UI bass professor)
1973, Pub. by Musica Rara 1974
- Sonatine Enigmatique
for unaccompanied treble recorder (flute)
Subtitles for three pieces: intrada, romanza, alla marca
- Solemn Overture for a Joyous Occasion
1985, for recorder quartet
Commissioned by Ruth & Norm Williams, for their son's christening
- A Suite for Harpsichord
1985, commissioned by Ruth & Norm Williams for the christening of their son Christopher Williams
I. A Very Grand March (maestoso)
II. A Waltz
III. A Tune (leisurely)
IV. A Sort of a Toccata (allegretto)
- Works of Unknown Date:
Three untitled pieces (treble clef only)
Markings: I. None, II. Appassionato, III. All marcia sarcastica