Two weeks ago, I received an email from my teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend Ted Rounds. The letter was addressed to many alumni of the percussion studio at Kent State University. In his straightforward and direct manner, Ted explained that he had end-stage cancer. Today, I received word that Ted had peacefully passed away last night.
The last 12 hours has brought an outpouring of beautiful tributes to Ted on social media. Many of them resonate with the same theme: a caring, thoughtful mentor who taught us the value of hard work. Yes, the hard work was taught with intensity, as anyone who survived percussion ensemble rehearsals will tell you. However, I will always remember Ted telling us that no matter what we are doing, no matter what the job was, we must do it with genuine care.
I think that will always be the word I return to when I think of Ted: care. I was a member of the percussion studio from 1999-2005, and then I was able to be around from 2006-2007 as a composer and then from 2011-2014 as a professor. While the people, literature, and practice room designs changed (except for the Lacquer, Chrome, and Thunder poster), the environment of family never left the corner of the hallway where the percussion studios are. You knew, as a member of Ted’s studio, that you always had a place to go, people to lean on, and a teacher who cared about you not only as a musician but as a person and as a friend. I think back to all of the good and bad times in my life: Ted was there, either in the distance as a friend offering help and advice, or right there as an advocate in my corner. When it came to those he cared about, the man gave a damn, and today those kind of people are few and far between. The world is a little less bright today. Chas Baker said it best in his thoughtful note about Ted: words fail. Chas is correct; what the hell do you say?
I’m sad that I have no pictures to post as a tribute. In their absence, I’d like to post a recording. It’s not of Ted performing or of a piece Ted wrote, but it’s a piece that, for me, reminds me of Ted whenever I hear it. It was the first major piece of percussion literature that I worked on with Ted: Andrew Thomas’ Merlin. It was in these lessons where I was able to learn the most about my teacher. He had a special connection with the piece, and his input about past performances went well beyond the technical considerations. Also, as a composition, the structure is very much like Ted: one part calm and contemplative, the other fiery, active, and intense. Both parts, though, are variations on the same progression. Without one there is not the other.
When I contacted Ted after receiving his correspondence from two weeks ago, I began by telling him that I had no idea what to say to him. I still don’t know what to say; again, Chas is correct. All I know is that I’m thankful. I’m thankful that I was able to work with Ted as his student, his assistant, his colleague, and his friend. Ted taught me a lot about music, but I also learned from him a certain spirit of individuality and honesty that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
Allow me to close with a memory: My last performance as a percussionist at Kent State was in May of 2005. The KSU Orchestra and Choirs performed all of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. It’s a packed house; not one empty chair. We were a mixed bag of a percussion section, ranging from a graduate student to a couple of freshman. I’ll never forget the last note, the last fermata, the final cutoff. The crowd, as a crowd usually does at the end of that piece, jumps to their feet. All but one. There, in the front row of the balcony, in a t-shirt that reads “If it’s too loud, you’re too old,” is Ted, still sitting, arms raised in victory, beaming with genuine pride.
Thank you, Ted, for everything.