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Reflections by Society President and Husband William Ash
At the time of Kathy’s sudden and untimely death in 2009 Kathy’s family and friends in the St Louis guitar community came forward to donate to the SLCGS in her honor. The Society’s Board has decided to dedicate this season to her memory, to invite wide participation in our activities, and to channel special donations in honor of Kathy into a memorial fund to facilitate the continuance of her life work. Those of us who knew Kathy learned from her example that some of the greatest contributions to enriching others with music are not financial. So in that spirit we wanted to design a “memorial season” that would reflect this. Kathy’s practical insights, writing talents, thorough preparation, and selfless support of others were a cornerstone of the society’s accomplishments. It was Kathy’s preference to work quietly but steadily behind the scenes. She was quite content to have me be the face of the Society. Kathy’s attention to detail was remarkable. She single-handedly created the structure by which both subscriptions and single tickets were sold, keeping meticulous records of every sale lest we make a mistake, or someone should lose his or her tickets. Her personal motto—humorous yet serious—gives us insight into how devoted she was to this responsibility: “Ever vigilant, always paranoid.” I really should have had some Tshirts made up! In 1984, Kathy established Guitar Notes, the Society's newsletter, and served as its editor until her death. She designed the newsletter herself, as she had a good eye for graphics, and she created a tightly conceived vehicle to efficiently convey the necessary information. She also did the programs herself since 1980, fretting over every detail, every choice of words, every spelling. Even though we were a small organization, she always wanted us to look professional—and her work showed it: carefully conceived condensed writing was her trademark, sparse little masterpieces were the result. .
Kathy (far right) in guitar orchestra at the Zoo (1993)
A guitarist herself, Kathy played in the adult guitar ensemble of the Symphony Community Music School (of which I was the Director) in the mid-1990s. Although she was self-taught, she soon realized the importance of learning to count, and pushed herself to play out and be heard, as this was what her section needed to do to make the group sparkle. As always, she wanted to do a good job, wanted the ensemble to be effective, respected and successful. She became enamored with the idea of arranging ensemble pieces for the group, and we still have six of them, most notably the Rondeau of J.J. Mouret (Masterpiece Theater Theme) and the Rondalla Aragonesa of Enrique Granados. She practiced many hours sitting cross-legged on her bed, and practiced and played with such intensity that she finally ended up with carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists! Fortunately, this eventually went away with the help of acupuncture treatments after our group disbanded, but she never went back to playing after that. Kathy participated in the never-ending quest for the funds necessary to bring the world’s finest classical performers to St Louis. Ticket sales have never covered more than a third of the cost of these performances; grants from local agencies, corporations, and foundations came to fill the rest. Kathy worked with me on crafting and organizing the annual crush of grant proposals—working towards the impending deadlines like term paper assignments, and creating and assembling the never-ending attachments—a special skill which, as befitting two long-time students, became our forte. Kathy coordinated and supported the efforts of all the Society’s concert-night volunteers. She found dependable, competent workers—and inspired their loyalty by a) providing every form, pencil, or doorstop to allow them to do their job; and b) by her example, one of conveying absolute respect for the ticket buyer. Kathy allowed our workers to do their jobs—but at the same time she was always within earshot to help address the inevitable problems that would arise. Her philosophy was to make the customer feel welcome and important, bending over backward—with seat upgrades, or even free admission, and imparted with a cheerful attitude--to compensate anyone who felt they had been treated unfairly. In partnership with me and in collaboration with the St Louis Public schools, Kathy co-founded the society’s musical outreach program, morning performances for both student groups and their teachers who are bused to the Ethical Society to hear the same world-renowned performers who were in town to perform in the concerts. As she did for all of our scheduled events, Kathy would insist on having the workers’
Kathy working at morning performance for Festival of Four
agenda laid out well in advance, with specific duties for each volunteer. Upon showing up in advance of the first bus—of which there were many, arriving one by one to drop off the students grades 3 through 9, with their teachers—all volunteers had been given a specific assignment. Typically Cliff would greet the buses, Ralph would greet the teachers, Kathy and another would hand out programs, Henry would escort the groups to their seats. The process usually went smoothly, and by the time the performers hit the stage the kids would applaud with enthusiasm, only to be followed by the absolute quiet the teachers had instilled in them to observe while the most transcendent music floated over them. Questions—lots of questions—ensued, which the performers would answer graciously. Because of Kathy’s commitment to these kids, thousands of them have been exposed to many of the world’s finest performers of the fretted instruments, and all in a wonderful concert environment. Invariably the performers, too, would comment on how important this kind of exposure was for young people, and they were always happy that they were invited to participate. The final activity I’d like to mention is Kathy’s interest in, and support of, our local performers through two concerts we called Guitar Summit. The first Guitar Summit, sponsored in 1997, was even recorded for a CD called “Guitar Summit, Vol. 1.” It was Kathy’s idea to have four musicians or groups of musicians who were active in the Society to share the stage for one night, and we audaciously decided to record it live. It turned out to be one of the greatest concerts we‘ve ever had, with a CD of phenomenal performances by Bill Park, Dave Black, the Hanser-McClellan Guitar Duo, and Grupo Mediterraneo. We followed it up in the year 2000 with a second one, with performances again by Bill Park, and this time with additional performances by Peter Clemens, Amir Arab with Acoustic Internote, and the St. Louis Guitar Quartet. Kathy attended many such events over the years: members’ gatherings where our local members would perform; my recitals featuring my students; and others where not only my students, but students from other city elementary guitar programs and universities would perform in the master classes given by our phenomenal artists. Kathy and Bill at Washington University circa 1978 Many of these students have since told me
how supportive Kathy was after hearing them play, always offering a very specific encouraging word. This, again, living a life by example. We would like to invite others to help further the work Kathy has so nobly begun, through gifts of volunteer service to causes such as we have outlined above. The KJEA Memorial Fund also exists as a way to pay tribute to Kathy, as it will stand to serve not only as a remembrance of her, but as a fund to occasionally be used to generate additional financial leverage for grander projects that can in turn foster her legacy. One such project is already in the planning stages, and grants are being pursued with the goal of having full-fledged classical guitar programs in the city public schools. Funds for the purchase of guitars to be donated to the schools for classroom use is seen as the first step, and the KJEA Memorial Fund might be used as a temporary loan fund to institute and activate these programs, or to advance funding for a benefit concert to in turn raise funds for this purpose. So we ask you to join us in furthering Kathy’s professional mission: that of fostering a supportive environment of people who enjoy the music of the classical guitar. Help us share the benefits of studying, performing, teaching, and promoting this beautiful and unique instrument. I’m sure Kathy would be proud of our efforts to further the cause we all love so much. Missing K, Bill Ash Loving Husband
Guitar and photograph courtesy of Clifford Eise