Sunday, 20 March 2011

Ron Surak

I received mail in late February that my friend, Ron Surak, died in late January. Ron was a friend from Rutgers days. We met when somehow he heard that someone over in Engineering was interested in Computer Music. He called me up and he came over to the EE building. I remember our first meeting: He was dressed in a kind of natty way: tweed jacket and he was smoking. He was unapologetic for the cigarette --- but in the end, that's what killed him: he was struck down by a cerebral hemorrhage. What I didn't know is that smokers are much more likely to die of brain aneurysms than non-smokers. I wish he hadn't smoked.

What I liked and appreciated about Ron was his wry sense of humor and also his taste in music. We would agree on the aesthetics of many (but not all) computer music pieces. In my experience, the computer music community is all too eager to accept trashy music as good just because someone used a computer to create it. This may have changed in recent years, but Ron and I often agreed about what was trash and what wasn't.

After Rutgers, Ron retreated to his parents house in Coal County in the very center of Pennsylvania. It wasn't on the freeway path but I visited him twice. It was a small house and was attached to the remnants of his parents' store. He had his grand piano there. It still looked like the store it was many years ago. I can not imagine cleaning that out now.

When Noah was showing signs of musical talent, Ron was my source of valuable advice on how and where to educate him. I made a special trip to visit Ron with Noah so that Noah would have a chance to talk about music with an active composer.

Besides music, Ron liked fly fishing for trout (catch and release mostly). When I visited him last, he offered me a fish from his freezer. I didn't take it.

Ron was 70 years old but I thought he was younger. He had been having issues with macular degeneration but we used to exchange email now and then. He followed Noah's musical education with great interest. In his last email, he promised me a copy of his score for vibraphone and piano as soon as his printer was fixed (so that Noah could see it). Three weeks later, he was dead.

Ron's manuscripts are in the hands of his son and "consort". I believe they will find a good home. They are a lasting legacy of his taste and artistry.

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