My brother, Carl Bangs III, died December 10th. He had M.S. for many years, and after countless infections, the onset of seizures, and recently pneumonia, he could no longer fight back.
Carl was a musician, composer, conductor, hornist, carillonneur. He began playing French horn when I was just a little kid and took up carillon when he started studying at the University of Kansas. Over the years he organized chamber orchestras, played carillon in many towers in the USA and Europe, taught students, published music, conducted, and composed many of his own pieces. He was a member of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America.
He also had a great love for camping, hiking, and climbing, especially at Mt. Rainier.
I am not trying to post an obituary here, and can’t even try to summarize his musical accomplishments. He had so many projects and ideas going all those years that I found it hard to keep up with all of it from a distance.
Carillon was, I think, his favorite instrument, which in turn gave me an appreciation and attraction for bells and bell towers. Besides climbing the tower to hear him play at KU, I also remember hearing him play in Belgium, at the University of Chicago, and in Ottawa.
I have a few memories that I’d like to tell you because they give a little insight into the kind of person he was.
I’m grateful for the time he and his first wife drove me from Kansas to California for a visit when I was 16. We skinny-dipped in a Colorado mountain lake and spent one night at a rest area sleeping outside under the stars, two experiences I would never have had otherwise.
Another year, he and I drove from Pasadena, California to our cabin near Detroit, Oregon right after Christmas. In the middle of the night, we drove by snow-covered Mt. Shasta. The highway took a long curve downhill around the mountain, and he turned the engine off and coasted around that curve in silence under the light of a full moon. It was quite a magical sight.
When we finally arrived at the cabin, we had to hike in the last mile through the woods because a recent snowfall made the road impassable. It was the only time in my life that I’ve been in the deep forest in winter. I saw snow covering all the forest trees and hoarfrost on the ground. He taught me to play Mah Jong, and we burned up all the stored firewood in three days. Just as we were getting in the car at the end of our stay, a local psychopath, who happened to be walking by with his rifle and a bottle of Wild Turkey in his back pocket, asked for a ride to the gate. Carl, deciding to be prudent, gave him the ride. But he expressed his sorrow to me afterwards that we “didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to the cabin.”
We both inherited short wide feet from my father, Carl Bangs Jr., which made it difficult to find shoes that fit. When I was a teenager, he took me to a leather craftsman and arranged for him to make me sandals to fit my feet. He also got me my first down sleeping bag and bought my first pair of earrings when I got my ears pierced.
On one trip to San Francisco, he sneaked me into a rehearsal of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra when Andre Previn was conducting. He had a pass, but I did not, and he instructed me to just follow along past the guard as if I belonged. It was an amazing experience.
He taught me that the best way to master a difficult passage on the violin was to change the beat and play it with different accents, then go back and try it again the way it was written. It worked.
I’m grateful that he took me to my first anti-war protest march when I was seven years old. And I admire the effort he put into organizing anti-war protests in Berkeley and for helping draft dodgers. Although I was mostly too young to understand the significance of this at the time, over the years he consistently set an example for me about fighting against injustice.
He will be remembered as a loving husband and father, a talented musician and conductor, imaginative composer and organizer of musical concerts, and a lover of the outdoors. He also had a fierce competitive spirit and a quick wit. And he was always looking for a way to beat the system.
I am also profoundly grateful to him for bringing his wife Beth, and their children Ian and Jenni, into my life. Their presence makes this loss much easier to bear.
In Bruce Barcott’s book, The Measure of a Mountain, he relates that in some parts of Japan, they associate death with mountains. When the funeral procession begins, the leader calls out, “We go to the mountain!” This is especially appropriate to us, as many members of my family, starting with my grandfather, have had their ashes scattered at Mt. Rainier. Carl’s will also be brought there at our next family reunion.
If anyone would like to make a memorial donation to the Spokane Chamber Orchestra in honor of Carl Bangs, here is the address:
account no. 000000839824471
JPMorgan Chase Bank
Northpointe Plaza Branch
9604 N. Newport Hwy.
Spokane, WA 99218
Carl recorded a cd of Christmas carols which he played on the carillon. Here is one of them for you. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and maybe I will blog some more in the new year.