Of all of the many wonderful fellow students I met in graduate school, Brad Devos was perhaps my closest and dearest friend. We first met in the most unlikely of places: a geology class in the Boston University College of Liberal Arts. After several weeks of sitting next to each other in the back row of a cramped subterranean classroom, we discovered that we had an amazing number of things in common: (1) we were both graduate students in music (he was finishing up a M.M. degree in performance, I was starting an M.A. in musicology), (2) we were both bassoonists and had both studied with the Boston Symphony Orchestra's principal bassoonist Sherman Walt (albeit at different times and at different schools), and (3) we both loathed geology, but were forced to take a lab science course and had elected to take the only such course that met only once a week -- but for three and half long hours.
Brad was a great raconteur and story-teller. He kept me sane throughout that long year of Monday evening geology classes with hysterically funny tales of his days in the military with the Seventh Army Symphony, where a bunch of conservatory-trained misfits tried with varying degrees of enthusiasm and success to adapt to military life. It was perhaps the only musical organization in the world where the seating in each section was dependent on seniority rather than ability. A new member of the section was seated in the last chair and moved up as those ahead of him mustered out. The goal was to stay long enough to become the first chair and assign all the parts to other section players so that it wasn't necessary to play at all! If nothing else, this noble experiment managed to prove that symphony orchestras and military life were to a large degree incompatible. The orchestra has long since been disbanded.
A few years later, I was able to return the favor. I had been appointed principal bassoonist of the Portland Maine Symphony. Whenever we needed an additional player in my section on bassoon or contrabassoon, I insisted that they hire my grad school friend Brad. I got to apply the lesson learned from Brad's Seventh Army Symphony service: whenever possible, I had Brad fill in for me as principal bassoon during rehearsals, so that I could sit backstage and read during the long tedious sessions. Brad and I were roughly the same height and build -- Sherman Walt once said to me that all of his students were built like bassoons!. In any event, I don't think the conductor ever caught on to the fact that he had two alternating principals in the bassoon section.
A few years later, I had applied for and been granted a college teaching job at a school in West Virginia. They awarded the job to me on the strength of my academic credentials and a few telephone calls and hired me sight unseen. Just as I was making plans to pack up and move myself and my family to West Virginia, I got another offer from a larger university in Kansas which came with a position with the local symphony orchestra, the rank of assistant professor, and a much more generous salary. I really wanted to take the latter job, but felt terrible about having to tell the good folks in West Virginia that I had gotten a better offer. I called up Brad, who at that point was working on his doctorate in musicology and filling a one-year teaching appointment at Wheaton College in Massachusetts for a mutual colleague who was on sabbatical, and asked him if he were interested in having the West Virginia job. Brad was all for it, so I called the department chairman, told him I had to regretfully decline the position, but that I had a good friend who had exactly the same credentials in musicology and bassoon that I had and wished to recommend him for the position. Long story short, they gave my job to Brad, he moved to West Virginia, stayed there for over three decades, and worked his way up to full Professor. It was the only college teaching job he ever had.
Brad and I remained in touch throughout the years. We met up frequently at meetings of the American Musicological Society, had dinner together each night, and regaled each other with tales of the musical and academic worlds. Sadly, he was forced to take early retirement when his wife, a registered nurse and head of nursing studies at the college, detected signs of early dementia. They eventually moved back to Baltimore, where Brad was originally from and their children were now living. While he was hospitalized during his final months, I sent him a boxed CD set of the complete works of Thomas Tallis, the composer on whom Brad had done his doctoral dissertation. I figured he knew more about that repertoire than I would ever know. His wife said that listening to that music gave him much solace in his last days. It was the final favor I was able to do him.
David H. Green, director
Antique Sound Workshop, Ltd.