Composer, teacher and mentor Frederick Fox, who taught countless students at Indiana University beginning in 1974, died one month ago today. He was a great composer and an incredible teacher, and some of the things he said to me in his irascible but lighthearted way still inform my thinking about music.
Stepping into Fred’s office was always a treat in itself—unusual, irreverent, kitschy and lewd trinkets given to him over the years lined every surface, a vast collection of wind chimes of all descriptions and materials overhung the piano, and posters such as the infamous “Expose Yourself to Art” graced the walls. Even the light switch plate by the door could offend the easily offended. On one occasion, Fred bribed me with one of his artifacts, an irritatingly funny talking ice cream scoop, to get me to change something in one of my pieces that he found distasteful. Rumors of him burning students’ manuscripts (he had a special dislike of fugues, other than Bach’s) were somewhat exaggerated, I suspect.
Beneath his prickly exterior, though, was a true humanitarian, someone who cared deeply about his students, about music, about the world. His depth of feeling shone through particularly in his music, and if you don’t know it, you can find some here and also here.
Fred was a great influence on many young composers, and for most of us who were lucky enough to be his students, we also knew him as our friend.