Monday, August 25, 2014

Farewell to a music master

I found out about Marc Setzer's retirement dinner too late to attend. That may have been a good thing, as I'd have been pressed into the impromptu chorus singing "The Lord Bless You and Keep You," and I don't know the words.

That number was sung as a benediction at the ends of concerts and graduation ceremonies Setzer conducted, and the metaphor is a happy one: Music can serve as something that comforts and sustains us through life. It's also a song of goodbye, and that fits: Setzer, who taught choral music for 35 years, retired from South Mecklenburg High School this spring. Here's a a video of that song at his final South Meck performance in May:

Former students gathered Saturday night at Stone Mountain Grill in Ballantyne to see him off. Bill Smoak (class of '88) wrote in an e-mail that "Many alumni shared humorous stories and anecdotes. Most common and powerful, however, were the serious and often emotional stories about how Mr. Setzer not only taught them choral lessons but also life lessons...they have carried with them to the present day." (To see the Facebook page for the event, including video, go here.)

Dozens came back to honor him. Patricia Davis, a violinist who has played everywhere from the American Symphony Orchestra to the pit orchestra for "The Phantom of the Opera," was there. So was Metropolitan Opera tenor Tony Stevenson. Not everybody who attended makes a career in music, of course: Jeep Bryant, executive vice president for marketing and corporate affairs for Bank of New York Mellon, came too. (He's on that company's Global Diversity Council, and few organizations are more diverse than a high school chorus. Maybe he learned one of those life lessons at South Meck.)

Setzer's celebrated brother Phil came through Charlotte last September with the Emerson String Quartet, in which he plays violin. I wrote a story then about the world traveler and the fixed point, the Grammy-winner who makes a living mostly on the road and the pedagogue who has quietly shaped generations of musicians along Park Road.

Phil gets more ink and more dough for what he does, yet the thing that struck me most about the interviews was how happy each man seemed. Both have influenced innumerable young musicians; both have shared the joy of making music, whether as a professional or as an amateur.

Phil gets to hear a roar of approval and satisfaction more than 100 times a year at his concerts. On Saturday night, Marc drew an audience that showed him a different but perhaps deeper and longer-lasting kind of love. He leaves big shoes to fill. 


Anonymous said...

Is there a church choir anywhere that hasn't sung the wonderful Peter Lutkin benediction?

But this tempo was too slow. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful account of an extraordinary evening and a remarkable teacher. Marc Setzer represents the very best of what public education can offer. He embraced students from every socio-economic background, with varying levels of ability and talent ... and he ensured every single one of us had the opportunity to embrace the joyful world of music. As a member of his second graduating class (1981), I celebrate his lessons which have truly lasted a lifetime. Congratulations Mr. Setzer!