take a sad song and make it better

This blog post is dedicated to a great, great man. Ettore Chiudioni passed away this morning, a man who devoted his life to his job, his community and his family.

“Mr. C.,” as he was known by all of us who went to school in Mansfield, was a fixture in the youth music education scene. An accomplished musician in his own right, he held perhaps dozens of jobs throughout the schools in their various music-related positions, which I only had a tertiary awareness about as I was just a kid when I knew him. But he did so much for me, and for all his students, whether in middle school or high school, as part of the orchestra, the marching band, the jazz band or in private music tutoring sessions.

Mr. C. meant something special to everyone. I can only tell you my own experiences with him, as a wonderful, caring, intelligent man with an astoundingly impressive and comprehensive knowledge of music, an amazing ear, the patience of Job, an incredibly musically talented family, and an unfailing commitment to music education. I’ve said before that getting into the orchestra was an important form of solace for me in high school, but that doesn’t begin to touch on the ways he went to bat for me and every other kid who wanted to play music.

We couldn’t afford private lessons, but Mr. C. saw a musical talent in me he thought was worth nurturing, and often gave me lessons for free. Throughout my high school years, I often had to wait an hour and a half or more at the school for my Mom to be done with work and to pick me up, else it was a long, several-miles walk back home and the weather and my shoes were usually too much for me to consider going that route, so I’d hang out in the band room, one of the only places that was open after regular school hours. It wasn’t really supposed to be open, but Mr. C. was always there; listening to music to evaluate whether or not it was something our band or orchestra should take on, asking my opinion, getting me to really listen to hear the different parts being played for different instruments. He showed me how to read a score, let me weigh in with my opinion on those music decisions, and always had a school instrument for me to borrow when I forgot my viola at home. In those many after school hours, he tried to nurture the music in me even further. He set me up with an oboe, and taught me how to play a basic tune on it. Then a flute, and a passage on that. He’d play a portion of a song and then have me try to reproduce it on a new instrument, we’d work on a new one for a few weeks and then try another one. He once told me I had a great ear and such talent that I could play any instrument I wanted to if I felt like it, and offered to give me proper lessons on a 2nd instrument of my choice, but I never had the dedication or interest enough to pursue it.

His tutelage enabled me, as a solo artist, and as part of many ensembles, to take first prize in many regional and state music competitions over the years. The relationship he had with his students is very hard to describe. He trusted us, encouraged us, and had a “we’re all in this together” attitude when they’d hand out the sight reading music at contest, with only five minutes or so peruse it before we all had to jump in and start playing. Not allowed to speak once the music was distributed, he’d lift his eyebrows at us, like, “Here we go!” and then set to flipping through the pages quickly, tapping out the beat and looking for the parts that might be a challenge. When it came time to play, we were all eyes on him, and everyone looked to him for his expert guidance and direction in navigating changes in time signature or chord or tempo. He was always so happy with us all when we’d tackled something like this and come out shining, his face would just beam.

He had major talent himself. For many years, I had a precious, precious audiotape I’d made with a little hand-held tape recorder at one of the last Jazz Band concerts of my high school years. My friend Bryan Olsheski was featured a lot for his excellent sax playing, and I wanted to have something on tape to remember those times he’d called me and played that lovely sound for me over the telephone, from the intro to “Careless Whispers” to “When Sunny Gets Blue,” which could bring me to tears. But Mr. C. was always the ringer in the band, and each year, the band would end with a long, drawn-out rendition of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” which was always the pièce de résistance of every jazz concert. Well into the familiar, repetitive chorus, the entire band would all stop at once, and Mr. C. would play the melody solo, going up a full octave and playing the melody once more at the end. It was an uplifting, joyous, incredible sound, the noise of his trumpet as the only thing you could hear in the entire auditorium. The band would come back in to finish with a flourish and everyone in the audience would erupt in loud cheers. We’d clap so hard and shake our heads in amazement at his talent, at the good time we’d had, at how music can so touch you and move you.

In my mind and my heart, he is forever on that stage, playing that song that I heard probably a hundred times throughout my years of schooling and going to school concerts. Play on, Mr. C. We loved you so.

And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain,
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.
For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder.

– The Beatles

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11 thoughts on “take a sad song and make it better

  1. Found your blog via Dawn W. on FB. What a perfect tribute to Mr C! It brought me to tears and reminded me of parts of orchestra I had completely forgot (sight reading music at contest) Thank you for this lovely, heartfelt post

    • Thanks, Jill. He meant so much to so many of us. When I heard the news this morning, I couldn’t wait to get to my keyboard to write some kind of tribute, even though I knew it couldn’t possibly be sufficient to describe what he meant to all of us. Thanks for reading.

  2. Wow, you absolutely nailed it. That man was so very special to me. He took this girl from a clarinet player to a trombone player who loved every second of band and jazz band. So well said. Thank you, I will be playing “Hey Jude” on a loop today. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  3. Such a sweet tribute to Mr. C. He would love it. I live in Mansfield and have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. C perform and conduct. Such energy. Loved reading this.

  4. very very true all of it – I started trumpet in 4th grade in Cleveland, then moved to Mansfield for 5th. Mr. C was our elementary school instructor, and I had a leg up, or a year up, on the other kids since they started brass in 5th grade in Mansfield. I developed a quick bond with Mr. C and saw a LOT of him as I played lead trumpet in symphonic band, marching band, orchestra, pep band and our dashiki-clad jazz band. We had good horns and a very solid group – but we had good kids and a great leader – his lessons went WAY beyond the curriculum- life lessons I carry to this day almost 40 years later – work hard, get it right, be prepared, practice your horn, practice your parts, don’t try to be a rock star but don’t be afraid to step out and take a solo once in a while, take some risks, shoot for the big notes – He put so much FUN into music – the band room, band busses, contests, jazz band performances, sight reading, tryouts, sectionals, and endless marching “8 to 5” throughout the Ranchwood area… and also the extracurriculars – the Haunted House and other big events – he was the highlight of my time in Mansfield – I played sports, did well in baseball, worked through Honors classes, but band was Da Bomb – the best – I’ve been able to keep in touch with him through email and recently sent him a CD from the infamous “Kenton” show/contest in 1975, which we won in 1975. My dad knew the fellow who taped it – on a reel-to-reel – and I was able to get that digitized a few years ago. At the end of the last tune, the trumpets soared for a difficult high note, and nailed it, and you can hear him say, “Yeah!!” What a thing..

  5. I considered myself extremely lucky to have been a student and friend of Eddie Chiudioni. He is the most important mentor of my life and is the reason for me becoming a musician, band director, and teacher. I spent a career and life thinking that if I could just be half of what he was in every way, I would be a success.
    Now I am a recently retired band director who never went one day without his influence being part of what I said and taught to my students.
    Tremendous trumpet player, masterfully skilled teacher and conductor, kind, generous, totally unselfish, loved helping his students and watching them grow as musicians and people, wonderful husband and father.
    All of us that knew him could go on with our stories of his humor, influence, and love of family, work, and life.
    We also must and do remember his perfect soulmate for over 50 years, and a wonderful musician and teacher in her own right, Joannie. If ever two people were meant to be together it was these two.
    The next generation Gabriel is now blowing his horn in Heaven and asking where the meatballs are. I love you like a father and will never forget you. Rest in piece Etttore Chiudioni, one of God’s really good ones.

  6. I just found this! How very touching to read what you each say about my husband. I agree with everything you say, of course, because I think he was the finest musician, teacher, trumpet player, conductor, person, (as well as husband) ever! How he loved teaching all of you Malabar kids in every group! You had the very best marching bands, symphonic bands, jazz bands and orchestras! Oh, and pep bands, because he loved sports! You were all such good kids and such good musicians and you made it so enjoyable for him to teach you. He was always very proud of you and the work you put in for each performance! Thank you all for your help in making his life a happy life! It was just way too short. The pain of not having him here is excruciating but reading these wonderful comments about him helps.
    Thank you all.
    Mrs. “C”

    • Mrs. C, thank you so much for your comment, and I am thrilled that my story made its way to you and that you were touched by it. He meant so many to hundreds and hundreds of students, what a wonderful way to spend a life, influencing young people in a positive way like he did. I’m sure you all miss him very much but am glad these words provided a small bit of comfort. My best to you.

  7. Thank you everyone. I am proud to say I shared him with everyone. Not only will he be missed by our family but also by the whole musical community.

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