From the Fall, 2003 issue
by AL BENNER
I remember looking for Thomas Rogers and his euphonium during the Northwestern State University Marching Band football halftime show and not seeing him. This was not a big surprise because, with my failing eyesight, seeing clearly at a distance is a problem. Thomas hadn't yet come to my office at the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts (on the NSU campus) this semester, but I had expected him to visit at some time.
Thomas was a student of mine in both the Wind Ensemble and in Theory classes for the little over a year he attended LSMSA. For personal reasons, he left during his senior year and went back to his home school to graduate. However, he came back to Natchitoches a few times that year and would sometimes stop by to visit. After high school graduation, Thomas chose to enter the music program at NSU. During his freshman year there, he would occasionally cross the NSU campus to LSMSA between classes. I was pleased he was a music major and also that he told me how easy his freshman theory class was after taking my lower level theory classes. We would talk a little about music and a little about his college life. Thomas always had an easy-going smile and I found him pleasant to be around. Like most teenagers, I think he was grappling with some personal issues, but I never inquired. I figured if he wanted to share that information with me, he would. I must confess that when Thomas would come by during that freshman year, I didn't always make time for him. You know the story-busy with other activities, had other places to go, other people to see. Maybe Thomas was "seeking" my help about something, but he never said anything and I didn't ask. I did like it when he visited and always liked to hear about his musical progress.
Thomas died earlier this year in a single car accident. He was alone in the car. He was 19 and in his sophomore year of college. Now students at LSMSA have died tragically during my time here, but I wasn't personally involved with them. Thomas was the first. It has hit me pretty hard. To add to the surreal experience for me, just a few weeks prior to his death, I had been struggling to write a vocal work to dedicate to my parents based on a poem called "The Request" about not wanting death to come during the day or even early evening, but if it must come, then let it come late at night. I wanted to have this new vocal work finished in time for my wife, Lisa, to sing on the LSMSA Arts Faculty Showcase Recital on September 27. I did complete the piece and Lisa sang beautifully on the recital. It was a few days later that the accident occurred. Based on the poem, I figured Thomas made it to about 10:45 am.
Now you might be asking why I am writing such a column. I have two reasons. The first--many of us are school based teachers who may at times, as I do, get wrapped up in their lives and problems and forget that as teachers, their main purpose is to influence young people and help them learn-not just about music, but maybe a little bit about themselves. We are also composers and I suspect we all want our music to inspire, to invoke emotional response in the listeners, and to be remembered. We should also remember that those very same responses should be available for our students.
And the second-being a father, the greatest fear I have is burying a child. Although Thomas wasn't my child, he was my student and my friend. He was a fellow musician who should have had many more years of playing the euphonium and marching on a football field during halftime. But most of all, Thomas was a human being, and as such, should not be forgotten. God be with you Thomas; I hope to hear your horn again one day.
Death, don't come with the morning dew.|
I'm just waking up, there's so much to do.
I must learn life's secrets; I must conquer life's plight,
For the day seems forever in dawn's early light.
Death, don't come with the noonday sun.
Let me play awhile 'cause I'm having fun.
I must take life's challenge; I must fight the good fight.
I have plenty of time 'neath the hot, bright sunlight.
Death, don't come when the shadows grow.
I've no time to rest, there's still light to show.
I must rush for answers, I must seek all life's truths,
For the night brings a fear I didn't have in my youth.
Death, do come when the moon is high.
I'm ready to sleep, time to close my eyes.
The evening is ending, but my life you won't take,
For God is the beginning of a glorious daybreak.