It is with great sadness that I learned about the passing of good friend Vern Kagarice this week. Vern has been a member of the University of North Texas trombone faculty since 1983, among so many other amazing musical accomplishments. You may read Vern's Bio here. Details for his memorial service in Chataqua, NY as well as information regarding memorial contributions may be found here. Vern's incredible knowledge, energy, and love of the trombone and his students will be greatly missed. I never had the chance to formally study with Vern. However, it seems like every couple of years our paths would cross and he always had some quiet words of wisdom to offer or insight into what might be going on in my life. I must tell a story about one of those times.
In spring of 1999, I was a young and somewhat lost trombone player, trying to make ends meet freelancing in NYC, and taking auditions when they came up. I decided that I would head back down to Texas and audition at UNT for Vern's doctoral studio. I took a trip home to Commerce and drove over to Denton at the appointed time and met Vern and Royce Lumpkin in Vern's studio at the music building. After what I remember as about 20 minutes of somewhat unremarkable playing on my part, Vern looked at me and said:
"Look, Chris, your playing is fine and I would be happy to have you here as one of my doctoral students. I just have to ask you why you want to come back to school and start on a Doctoral degree?"
I muttered something about, "not playing enough in New York", "want to be closer to home", etc., etc.
Vern said, "Listen, you just need to be clear on what you're getting yourself into by pursuing a doctorate here. You will spend a LOT of time in the library, working on the foreign language requirement, and doing a lot of teaching. You will also probably have some trombone choir rehearsals to run as well as all your own ensemble commitments. I don't think you will be playing as much as you might think. You should really think it through before you commit to it."
The reality was, I didn't enroll, and I won my position in the U.S. Marine Band a few months later. I have often reflected on the care and consideration of a musician that wasn't even his student that went in to that conversation. Vern's honesty and selflessness represents a great example to emulate for anyone tasked with the shaping of young people's lives and careers.
Vern, may you rest in peace.
UNT trombone faculty: Vern Kagarice, Steve Wiest, Tony Baker, and Jan Kagarice