Saturday, April 5, 2014


Conductor Paul Salmunovich makes his final appearance as conductor of the Los Angeles Master Chorale at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 2001. (Los Angeles Times / April 20, 2001)

Yesterday, April 3, I had some time between a plane and a train, so I visited the nearby campus of my old college, Loyola Marymount, where I met a friend for lunch and recounted how I had come to Loyola in 1978.

I had not come for the school, but for a man, a man I wanted to learn from. I had seen him conduct a choral concert and something in my heart stirred. Here, in this man was that "something". I couldn't name it. But I wanted it.

Within a year, and through not a few miracles, I was in his class, a class of only four, where I was incredibly privileged to be almost privately mentored by one of the world's greats.

I wasn't very good….at first. But then something happened. It was overnight. I suddenly knew what to do. Heart, mind, and body just knew what to do. But then again, that's why you study with a master when you can. It's a different sort of learning. Something spiritual is imparted just being in the presence of a man like this.

It happened while I was conducting our small class in the Palestrina Alma Redemptoris. He was accompanying on the piano to my left. Suddenly he stopped playing and stared at me. Everybody stared at me. When Paul Salamunovich stared at you there was nowhere to hide. Then he said three words, three words I would never hear again, but wouldn't need to, for they were transformative. And in that moment I became who I needed to be for the rest of my life.

"Damn that's good." He paused, not believing what he was seeing perhaps. The world stopped in that moment. Then we continued. I only learned later that he was a man of few compliments. But his "Damn that's good" was not a compliment. It was a surprised blurting. A response to shock. Overnight I had intuited the "thing", the "something". But that's why you seek out men like this. So you can learn that way.

I never became a great conductor. In fact, I never really pursued music after college. But I was different after that day. And what I ended up doing really didn't matter. What mattered was what I ended up being. And what I ended up being - at least so far - is a man who has striven to live up to "Damn, that's good." I can still hear him say it. I can still see his face. I can still see him shake his head. And I can still feel the need to be, well, "damn good."

I don't visit my old campus very often. I live on the other side of the planet. But, yesterday I had those rare few hours and an even rarer opportunity to meet there with an old friend. Both of us had sung for "Paul". And while walking the campus and visiting the chapel - where we had sung many a concert, we reminisced, and I shared my story about what Paul Salamunovich had said that day, and how it had made all the difference, and why I was who I was.

I had no idea, yesterday, as I spoke of him and stood where he stood, in the center of that chapel, that that very day, just a few hours later, Paul Salumonvich would pass from this world to the next.

Good bye, Paul. And thank you. What you taught me saved my soul. Requiem aeternam. May the angels whose voices you so often made heard on earth, rise up to meet you and accompany you to heaven, where you will conduct the real heavenly chorus, and where, we pray, we may all sing again for you one day.

Paul Salamunovich dies at 86; 
led L.A. Master Chorale for 10 years

Recommendations by JungleWatch