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When the Music Stops

by Hayden Hollingsworth

Working as a volunteer at WVTF for many years, long ago I put a face with the voice of Seth Williamson. It’s interesting to meet someone whose voice you have heard for a long time, but never have seen them.  In my mind’s eye I construct what they must look like and have generally been shocked that they bear no resemblance to what I have envisioned.  Not so with Seth.  He was as impressive in person as he was in his wonderful voice.  Monday, October 10 at 9 AM when Morning Classics, Seth’s show comes on, there will be a hole in my day, one that will not be filled.

Seth died suddenly last Friday, just as we were winding up the fall fund raising for the station.  I would have been there, save for a pesky wisdom tooth that demanded removal the day before.  What better way to recover than listening to soothing classics? When Glenn Gleixner, the station general manager’s announcement roused me from my stupor, I was stunned.  The only thing I could think to do was call the station and add to the pledge I had made the day before, this time in honor of a gentle giant whose voice we will no longer hear.  Many others did the same thing, contributing to the success of the campaign.

I never had a lengthy conversation with Seth; in person, at least with me, he was always straight to the point with no excess verbiage but he always answered the question I asked him.  It was usually about a bird I had seen, a song he had just played on his show, or something arcane he had said in relation to a composer, a director, or a soloist.  No matter what, he had a logical answer, briefly delivered, then lumbered on down the studio hall to his cubicle.

I once asked Steve Brown, Seth’s afternoon counterpart, how in the world they managed all those eastern European composer names, the ones with lots of k, z, j’s and no vowels.  Steve said they had a pronouncing guide, but my guess is that neither of them referred to it a lot.  I used to suspect that the liner notes from the CDs supplied most of their commentary, but that wasn’t true either.  They both knew those things from a vast storehouse of musical memorabilia.

Seth was an accomplished musician in his own right as is Steve.  Both have served the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and The Roanoke Times for years; Steve in narrating the performances and composing, Seth in writing the reviews.  One of Seth’s reviews, which were almost always favorable, mentioned a tuba solo, one of many instruments which he played, in a unique way.  In the particular selection played he commented the tuba solo was a half tone flat on a high note which, “he unfortunately visited with frequency.” Gentleness, even in delivering a negative comment, was typical of Seth.

Sudden death is doubly shocking, particularly so in the case of a young person.  You have to deal with the actual fact in addition to not having been able to prepare for it.  I have often wondered why life is set up that way. We know that a birth occurs 280 days after the first day of the woman’s last menstrual cycle, plus/minus a week or so.  Wouldn’t it be convenient if we had the same precision in knowing the date of our deaths? If I knew that I was going to live 28,780 days, then family and friends could make plans.  “Can’t go to the beach that week; it’s his funeral.”  All your affairs could be in order, plans made, and no one would be surprised.

Not a good idea. If that were the case I would know that I still have thousands days left to live.  No need to do that good deed today . . . I can wait until tomorrow.  What if tomorrow never comes?  That puts flesh on the bones of the old saying, live each day as if it were your last.  One day you will be right.

Grief is part of the end of life.  In lingering deaths that work is done long before the event.  We frequently say in such cases, it’s a blessing that it is over.  When the end is a bolt out of the blue, there are regrets for appreciation and love unexpressed, for words spoken in anger, for hurtful actions thoughtlessly rendered.  The grief must be dealt with but so must the feelings of unfinished business.

From our perspective, Seth’s business was not finished, but that’s not our call to make.  One thing is certain, he will not be forgotten.  The music of his memory will continue.

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