There’s a wonderful work for Flute and Harp by the American composer George Rochberg called “The Slow Fires of Autumn.” I must admit I knew about it long before I heard it because the title conjured such strong associations for me: leaf piles, leisurely wood fires somewhere in the distance, cold weather and warm cider, beautiful colors, and (of course) eventually Pumpkin Pie. I couldn’t help but think of that piece today.
My father used to take me out on Fall Sunday mornings to the shores of the Potomac River. We would fish, build a fire, and… be. I think it was then that I learned the value of silent reflection. Perhaps it was the warmth of the fire, the sound of the river, and the misty surroundings conspiring against my usual frenetic self – “slow down!”. Catching fish was of little importance for my father. This was puzzling, even frustrating, to me, but eventually I was hooked. Fishing was merely a guise for more profound, more private endeavors. Soon I was casting my mental lures right next to him. I am particularly happy that he rests peacefully now in Arlington National Cemetery, on a hill overlooking the river he loved to sit by. It’s an odd combination of beauty and melancholy, these memories, but they resonate well with Autumn’s ethos and the pathos of Rochberg’s music.
And so it was this morning that I fell under Autumn’s spell, driving along the riverbanks around Peoria. Again, the smells and sounds of Autumn on a river bid me to slow down, and just be. As I did so, one man came to mind: Fred Frederick.
I am not good with loss. It takes me a while to process it fully, to embrace its scope, to appreciate it. The recent, sudden loss of Fred is no exception. I knew Fred only for a few years. I had many coffees, meals, and talks with Fred and Shirley, his wife. I loved the two of them together: Shirley the crackle and snap of a roaring fire, and Fred the warmth and consistency of its embers – the perfect autumnal couple. I always knew that when I, the newbie in Peoria’s arts community, felt a little cold, isolated, and out of ideas, I could call or visit Fred and Shirley. I would immediately feel illuminated, my soul warmed. Shirley’s fire would help me get back into the fray. And then there was Fred, looking at me across the table with that warm, wise, generous smile that followed his equally wise counsel. Quite honestly, I don’t think I could have survived my first two years here without them.
Many knew Fred longer and better than I. But I do know that Fred and Shirley’s contribution to the lives of those around them, their community, and especially the Peoria Symphony Orchestra is monumental in both its scope and its consistency. I will feel Fred’s absence deeply and continue to be thankful for Shirley’s presence. Autumn’s subtle evocations will help me realize the meaning of all of this. For it is a season of harvests, some solemn and sad, some joyful, some sustaining. And the season befits reflection on Fred. Because great citizens in great communities like Peoria fuel the slow, sustaining hearth that warms us personally, socially, and culturally.
I only knew Fred for a short time, but I consider myself fortunate to have felt the glow of his humanity, friendship, wisdom – and smile. Thanks Fred for helping me – be. You too Shirley. Time to go fishing I think.