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Dr. Alfred Kunz – May 26, 1929 – January 15, 2019

Eulogy written by Dr. Michael W. Higgins

It was his earliest and most long lasting love.
Yet he never met him.
I suspect that they have by now.  Around a table at the Tomas Kircke, Leipzig, 
the disciple Herr Dr. Alfred Kunz chatting away with Herr Kapelmeister Johan Sebastian Bach.
What a chat that would be.
Alfred saw in Bach what he most aspired to as a musician, both as a composer and as a choir director: 
love of symmetry, sublime melodies, a choral architecture of exquisite complexity, a portal into the divine.
When he approximated the Bach formula he was most himself; 
he saw in such comprehensive genius a gateway to his more modest accomplishments.  Bach was simply his Master.

But emulating the B would only bring him so far.  He also had to find his own voice, his own signature.
His score of decades feeding his love of music into the hearts and imaginations
of the citizens of KW took him far afield leaving Bach behind but never eclipsed.  
The Master would summon occasionally and remained his abiding avatar.
Like JSB Kunz needed to make a living, serve myriad audiences, craft arrangements, 
build mosaics of known medleys for popular consumption, find time to compose his own work that could range from 
the sweetly melodic to the torturously atonal.  And doing this while managing several contemporary choirs, 
negotiating contracts, teaching private students, having periodic tantrums, and struggling to assert his way in the face of 
formidable opposition.

His music was often as dramatic as his life.
But the special genius of Alfred's work is not to be found in it's staggering productivity, 
it's eclecticism, it's sometimes stunning oscillation  between the easily accessible and the monstrously Sisyphean, 
but in the motivating spirit, the unalterable conviction, that defined his
creed: music is our entry into the divine, our participation in the cosmic dance of the Creator and therefore no one, 
no one, should be deprived of its vivifying powers.

Alfred was a populizer not an elitist; he wanted to bring music to the people not make it the property of the salon or chamber; 
you didn't need to read music; you simply needed to love it.
He deplored music snobbery-whereas I didn't-and we had a few fights where I easily defeated him with the words 
but he won always with the chords. Our mutual affection was real because I took his artistry seriously, 
I recognized within the narrow constraints of my own music education, that he was a creative not formulaic composer, 
an arranger with an eye to maximizing entertainment, a perfectionist compelled to make too many compromises. 
But his primary audience would remain the unprofessional folk yearning to sing but intimidated; 
he would liberate them; their voices soared from the Nith to the Grand.
And even on the Tiber and the Rhine.
And my God did he succeed.

He tried his hand at numerous musical genres-country, folk, American spiritual, carols, canticles, motets, 
a piano concerto ably paid by his longtime accompanist Krystyna Higgins, sonatas, academic processions, anthems, 
interactive canvases of sound, sight, and performance.
And he loved his audiences; they were his co-participants in making music; together they would celebrate 
what it means to be community, because that is what choral music in particular does: 
provides an antidote to the atomizing of our society.
Alfred knew that in his bones.  Music was his mission of repairing the torn fabric of society.  Bold, ambitious, tenacious.

I will remember my friend as a genuine quester,  curious and explorative.
He could be tempestuous and stubborn but he relished ideas.  When the very few occasions we had private time together 
he wanted to talk about the latest issue of the New Yorker, a magazine his daughter had perceptively subscribed for him.  
He especially treasured the commentaries by music critic Alex Ross.  It was lifeblood.

He was a big man, a big personality, who had more than a few detractors.
But he had many more admirers and their number will grow as people discover his music.  And they will.

Well, maestro, time for me to go.  I have disturbed your conversation with Bach for two long.
One quick query though before I go:  you are not trying your horrible jokes on him I hope?
Oh well, lots of time to improve in eternity.

God speed, old friend.

Rest in Peace

Dana Kunz

Author Dana Kunz

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