A View from Glen Hill: Reflecting on the life of Dave Brubeck

At a time of monstrous depravity so nearby that has involved the tragic death of so many young innocents (and those who educated them) and caused such enormous suffering, it is both right and important to be reminded of the opposite: the best of humankind who lived right here among us in Wilton. I speak, of course, of Dave Brubeck.

I didn’t know him well enough to share more than a cordial hello on seeing him in town, yet his death leaves a huge hole for me. And in that I know that I’m hardly unique: That hole is a giant one for many of us Wiltonians, even as it is also for others across our nation and around the world.

The connection we all had with Dave was something more than just the common desire to be near celebrity. We have all experienced too much of the fallen angels of celebrity, from entertainers whose personal lives crash in flames to military heroes with fallen halos.

Rather, with Dave it was the sense of being in a special and vibrant place whenever we saw him, whether in stores around town or performing locally where he contributed so much to the life of Wilton even as he also kept up a demanding world-wide concert schedule.

Dave embodied the best of over eight decades of American life: a ranch-raised boy from the golden West who grew up with cattle and cowboys and then rose to worldwide fame, a person who innovated in a field that was until then an important — though hardly center stage — portion of the music world, and in so doing brought it into the mainstream, a leader by example in the civil rights movement long before that movement had a name let alone a broad-based following, a person who devoted his middle and later years to being a peace ambassador around the world, and especially and always a person who embodied a love for those around him that was contagious as he led a personal life here in Wilton that matched his stellar public persona worldwide.

Religious faith played a major role in his life, as he worshipped at Our Lady of Fatima Church and wrote, often with his beloved wife Iola as lyricist, religious music of a brilliance and vibrancy that was even further enhanced when he himself (often joined by his sons) would perform it. A number of us in town have been blessed to sing in those settings with Dave performing with the choirs of Our Lady of Fatima Church or St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.

Dave saw God’s immanent presence in the world and lived his life as a reflection of that stunning realization and revelation. He and Iola created a family that has carried forward that faith and live their lives with that same sense of immanence.

The joy that radiated from Dave’s face as he watched his sons performing with him — a joy fully reciprocated by them — was itself an inspiration to us all. It doesn’t get any better than that, and we here in Wilton have been privileged to know and admire that for decades. One of Dave’s own spectacular liturgical pieces repeats the refrain “You are our rock. You are our strength.” And the fact is that Dave was rock solid as a person for all of us.

In the space set aside in the main hall of the Wilton Library for those who wish to write tributes to Dave (and there have been many), I watched the video that plays on a continuous loop of a stunning performance of his given in the library’s main meeting room that is named in his honor.

Watching him perform again brought tears to my eyes as I saw both the joy and the intensity that he always conveyed in his performances. His radiant smile was evident, as too was the focus he brought to bear — a reflection of his enormous brilliance and creativity in both composition and performance.

It is a remarkable statement of his family’s graciousness that notwithstanding their loss of Dave the day before his 92nd birthday, they went ahead with the gala birthday concert planned in his honor and let it serve as a grand celebration of his life — as it surely would have been in any event.

There is so much to celebrate in that extraordinary life, and it was our privilege to have been nearby observers of it here in his hometown for so many years.

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.