I just got off the phone with Ruth Horowitz, who has been calling me for weeks about The Renaissance Chorus of New York and the Harold Brown centennial. Thank God for her persistence! I have been in California for some time, due to a death in my family, and never bothered to check my messages. But when I heard the words Renaissance Chorus of New York and Harold Brown, I was positively electrified -- because I met Harold when I was 16 and a student at Music and Art and helped him found The Renaissance Chorus of New York.
The story goes that one day as we sat in theory class waiting for Miss Bilchik -- who always wore seductive black dresses and a purple orchid corsage to emphasize her cleavage -- a slight, disheveled, man entered the classroom carrying a violin. He introduced himself, said he was substituting for Ms. Bilchik, and announced that instead of teaching us theory, he would play the Bach Double Violin Concerto with a student in the class. The class was enthralled as the first movement floated through the room. When the bell rang, I went up to Mr.Brown and asked him when he was coming back. "I'm just a substitute teacher. I go where they send me." So said the mentor and teacher of Noah Greenberg, the founder of Pro Musica Antiqua, whose concerts were very popular at the time.
The next time I saw him he was conducting the orchestra in which I played 'cello. After the session, I went up to him, reminded him about his unforgettable Bach Double, and asked if he was now on the staff at M&A. He said he hoped so. From that time on, we saw each other frequently at school and talked non-stop about Renaissance Music. I had entered the school as a pianist, but was also studying composition with Mark Rosen. The unearthly sounds of Gregorian chant, open fifths, open fourths, were fascinating to me. Eventually, we decided to make singing Renaissance Music an extra-curricular activity. Thus the Renaissance Chorus of New York came into being.
I remember our Saturday rehearsals at the chapel at NYU; I remember when we made our recording for Esoteric Records; I remember singing at St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University and our debut at Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve, when Alexander Schneider led an all Bach program (for this event I think we compromised and sang Palestrina -- which nobody especially liked).
In the summer, between my Junior and Senior years at M&A, I went to Fontainebleau to study with Nadia Boulanger. I have, somewhere, a wonderful, encouraging letter from Harold (who studied with her years previously), wishing me well, describing his life with his wife and two daughters in Spokane. I regret very much that after my second year at Yale (School of Music), I lost touch with him -- and the chorus.
Now, suddenly, 55 years later(!) The Renaissance Chorus is back in my life, thanks to Ruth Horowitz! How wonderful! You may be sure that I will come to all the events -- I wouldn't miss this celebration (so long overdue) for anything in the world. Harold Brown was an inspiration to me and, I'm sure, many others. I adored him.