Lingering longings: Memories inspire professor’s music
Published 3:00 am Saturday, January 30, 2016
When Tim Phillips came to Troy University and started playing Carl Vollrath’s music, Vollrath considered that the greatest tribute to his work.
“I forget the exact year that Tim came to Troy but, at the time, there was little new music being written for professional clarinet players,” Vollrath said. “I was writing new music for the clarinet and Tim was excited about it.”
In tribute to “an exceptional clarinet player,” Vollrath dedicated his album titled “Past Recollections” to Phillips.
“The music was about recollections of Paris and all the composers that lived there — all of the artists,” Vollrath said.
On that album was a piece titled “Little Violet,” a dreamy little piece that Vollrath said was the most beautiful piece on the album. That piece was dedicated to Phillips’ young daughter, Violet.
Vollrath dedicated a second album, “Lingering Longings,” to Phillips, the man who brings his music to life
and into the heart. He also dedicated the album to the city he now calls home, Troy.
Vollrath was born in New York City to German parents. He received a bachelor’s degree from Stetson University, a master’s degree from Columbia and a doctorate from Florida State University. After serving with the West Point Military Band and as a music consultant, Vollrath joined the Troy University faculty in 1965.
“‘Lingering Longings’ is reminiscent of Troy and my first impressions of the city,” Vollrath said. “So much has happened in Troy since that time, especially in race relations. Some may not realize that but it’s true.”
One memory that stands clear in Vollrath’s mind is an incident that happened at the university in Troy.
“At that time, there was no internet, no FM radio so I depended on LP – long-playing — albums from my music,” he said. “I was excited to hear that the Air Force Band from Montgomery was going to play at Smith Auditorium. It was an opportunity to hear live music. But, the band did not come. When I inquired as to why, I learned that it was because there was an oboe player in the band who was black.”
For Vollrath that happening is a lingering memory.”
As Vollrath reflected on the music department at Troy University, his thoughts drifted back to the time “Mister” John Long was hired as band director at Troy.
At FSU, Vollrath was working on his opera, ‘The Quest,’ and was considering an interim position at Troy State University.
“Dr. Woodcomb told me that Troy would never have a large music program because there was no large city to feed into the school,” Vollrath said. “He said that was the disadvantage of a small school. Troy would not have a large music program. ‘Mister’ John Long came and we know about that. I would think, if Dr. Woodcomb were today, he would Troy University an apology.”
Vollrath said the reason he took the interim job at Troy was because he needed the money.
“Back then, there were no copy machines and my opera had to be written by hand,” he said. “I had to hire people to write for me. I did not have the money for a recording because they were expensive. It would have taken months of my provisions.”
However, someone had a personal tape recorder and recorded Vollrath’s opera from a position in the balcony.
“It was a poor recording but that was all I could afford, so that was all I had,” he said.
But times are different and the means are better, so it is possible to record music with the same quality and magnitude of a live performance, as Carl Vollrath’s “Lingering Longings, Music for Clarinet and Piano Vol. 2” is recorded. And as it was written for his friend, Tim Phillips.
“Tim is married and he and his wife, Trina, have two children, Violet and Evan,” Vollrath said. “Tim’s hands are tied. He has settled down and doesn’t often have time to play the music I wrote for him.”
Vollrath’s choice of musicians to play the music he wrote for “Lingering Longings” were
Michael Norsworthy on clarinet and Yoko Hagino on piano.
Vollrath said he could not have found two better musicians to capture the nostalgia of the times or his feelings at the time.
“The piece, ‘Once a Bygone Time’ is my thinking about Troy long before I came in 1965,” he said. “I was thinking what Troy must have been like in the 1920s when there were swing bands and night clubs. ‘The Cat and Mouse Ball’ is a thought of a cat and mouse dancing at ball. It’s a lively and fun piece.”
Vollrath said the album is, in part, a fantasy for children. It’s about witches dancing and big bears.
“And some of the music is for adults,” he said. “‘Gaby with Green Eyes’ is for adults. Gaby was a famous model in Paris who moved into a coldwater flat with Debussy. She lived with him for ten years. But Debussy was not making it as a composer so she left him to marry a rich man who could look when she was older.”
Gaby did marry a rich man but he invested in the Siberian railroads and lost his fortune. He died and left Gaby penniless. Debussy became a leading French composer and
Gaby spent her older years on her knees cleaning hotel floors.
“Lingering Longings” includes a couple of pieces especially for the Phillips’ family.
“‘Tim and Trina’s Ball’ is reminiscent of when we met at my house and performed at a Christmas party,” Vollrath said. “One of the numbers we played poked fun a the Phillips’ little pup Kaspar that participates in an annual dog parade in Montgomery.”
Another piece, “Trina’s Path” was written to show off Trina’s technical and musical abilities.
“‘Trina’s Path’ is one big crescendo,” Vollrath said. “Tim asked me to compose a piece for their son, Evan, shortly after he was born. He wanted a companion piece for ‘Little Violet,’ that I had written for their daughter. ‘Evan’s Haven’ is a fun, happy, bouncy tune – like a baby boy.”
For Vollrath, his new album has been a journey. A journey into the past and a journey with special people in his life. It also brings into the spotlight two musicians he admires most for the quality, professionalism of their work and for the spirit and feeling they bring to his work.
Vollrath’s hope is that the music from “Lingering Longings” will linger in the hearts of others as long as the memories have lingered in his.