Jim Erb

Posted November 12, 2014 @ 1:02pm | by Tripp

The white is the paper. The black is the notes. Now, sing! ~ Dr. James Erb

The man who taught me to sing has died. Word came through social media last night. A beautiful obituary or two are circulating around. I've posted a link to my Facebook thread below. I'm still searching for the words to express my grief and gratitude. Jim was an astonishing musician and a singular personality. I will miss him.

To say he taught me to sing is not an exaggeration. I was encouraged by a friend during my Freshman year to audition for the University Choir. I knew nothing. I had not sung in a choir since seventh grade. There was a brief stint on stage in a High School production of "Grease," but we try not to discuss such things in public.

I arrived that first evening of rehearsal the second semester of school in 1989. Erb sat me in the bass section (I didn't know I was a bass; I knew that little) between two veterans and I held on for dear life. I could not read the music in front of me.

My audition with Erb consisted of mimicing everything he did...rhythmic patterns and pitches. He took a chance on me in spite of my ignorance cursing my lack of musical education all the while.

I spent the remainder of my college career singing in the University Choir, had a stint or two with the Schola Cantorum, the chapel choir, the a cappela group on campus, and the occasional impromptu gathering. He took us to a competition in Toronto, Canada where we won the gold, apparently impressing the judges with the maturity of sound. This was not a choir of music majors, but it was a choir of intelligent, passionate, choristers.

After graduation, I sang for him in the Symphony Chorus. I also found my way into professional choral gigs in Richmond and later Chicago.

The rest is history and I owe him everything. Everything. He was insane, an occasional tyrant, incredibly playful, and so very talented. He held nothing back.

It was "Mr. Erb" or "Jim" and not "Doctor Erb" or anything of the sort. Why? "Any idiot can get a PhD." He would preach on the virtues of memorizing the score. He would say time and again that he could, if we were ready, simply walk off the stage and we would finish the piece. He would make us sing without his immediate direction to compell us to listen to one another. He would not hesitate to call you out if you were off pitch or not blending. He wanted us to be fearless. Fearless.

There are few people on this planet that I have ever wished to emulate. Erb was one of them. I will miss him greatly. He shaped the lives of countless students. He made the world a better place and, as my college roommate Rich Miller said, "spread all the beauty he could on to a coarse world."


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