Remembering David Tasgal

Last modified: 11/9/2015 4:03:06 PM


Many in the musical worlds of the Pioneer Valley and southern Vermont were shocked to learn last week that David Tasgal, a talented and accomplished musician on multiple instruments, and an innovative and beloved music instructor, died on Monday, October 12, following injuries sustained after he was hit by a pick-up truck while riding his bicycle in Greenfield. Tasgal was 72.

His friends and fellow musicians say that Tasgal could play an astonishing array of instruments including violin, cello, clarinet, piano, bass and saxophone fluently in a variety of musical genres. He played rock, blues, jazz and klezmer but also loved to perform in chamber music groups and string quartets, and was a member of the Windham Orchestra. Many expressed admiration for Tasgal’s ability to play a vast number of musical pieces from memory.

Tasgal was also a dedicated and innovative music instructor, teaching children at Brattleboro Music Center in Brattleboro, Vt., Artspace in Greenfield, Marlboro School in Marlboro, Vt., and Heath Elementary School.

Tasgal’s wife of two years, Faith Kaufmann, head of Art and Music at Forbes Library in Northampton, wrote in an email, “He filled this house with music every day. This summer he was practicing Bach cello suites from memory. Last summer he taught himself the classical guitar.”

Kaufmann wrote that Tasgal could be “so funny and witty on an everyday level, including how he played with his stepson. I’ve never laughed so much.”

At the same time, “He could be moved to tears listening to music or looking at the beauty of nature. … He was always saying how lucky we were to be living in this beautiful place, doing the work he loved, among wonderful friends, surrounded by trees,” Kaufmann wrote.

Joe Kurland of Colrain, founder of The Wholesale Klezmer Band, a group that performs traditional Yiddish folk and dance music, played music with Tasgal for over 20 years. Tasgal first filled in as a substitute bass player for a trip to Florida, Kurland said in a phone interview.

“And then we decided to keep him on as a fiddle player. And then we found out that he also played clarinet, and he also played piano! … He was musically so valuable, and also so sensitive. His clarinet tone was just beautiful. Metaphorically, I’d say his clarinet tone had rounded edges,” Kurland said.

Tasgal had a playful quality that brought energy to the band, Kurland added. He once convinced the band to play the opening to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in Klezmer style on Beethoven’s birthday.

Trombonist Brian Bender of Shutesbury, who played with Tasgal in The Wholesale Klezmer Band, as well as in two other klezmer groups, described Tasgal in an email as “a brilliant musician.”

“He could make his instruments sing, cry, laugh, weep and kvetch! (kvetch is a Yiddish word meaning to complain),” Bender wrote.

Bender also wrote that Tasgal was a prolific composer, composing many pieces for youth orchestras and for a series of instructional books, “Strings Fun and Easy” that he created to fill gaps he had sensed in the Suzuki method he used with his students.

Created for violin, viola or cello, the books feature what Bender referred to as “fun tunes” in a “wide range of grooves such as honky tonk, rhythm and blues, Latin, reggae, jazz and others.” Accompanying CD recordings allow students to play along with other instruments, enriching their experience and making it more fun.

Tasgal’s books and his compositions for youth orchestras are widely used across the country, and even internationally, Bender wrote, as evidenced in a YouTube video of the Singapore Youth Orchestra performing Tasgal’s “Bingo Suddenly Meets Mozart” composition:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-t9REaaV1OY

Michelle Liechti, fellow teacher at Brattleboro Music Center and co-conductor of its junior orchestra with Tasgal for 10 or 15 years, said by phone that Tasgal’s ability to “write in the style of a composer but make it accessible for inexperienced players” was one of his unique gifts. Liechti emphasized that this skill arose from Tasgal’s deep love for and knowledge of classical music and his “incredible understanding of classical compositional form.”

“His tunes were deceptively simple and catchy to engage the kids,” Kaufmann wrote of her husband’s compositions. “He accompanied (his students) on the piano with richly sophisticated harmonies and backup so the most beginning child could be playing the simplest thing and he made them sound like a million bucks.”

Francie Marbury, principal of Marlboro School in Marlboro, Vt., wrote in an email, “David was unique. His wild hair and outrageous eyebrows framed twinkling eyes and a face full of smiles. He teased his students and joked with them in a way that not many teachers can pull off. … He ‘got’ kids in a way few of us do.”

Heather Sommerlad, who taught with Tasgal at both ArtSpace and the Brattleboro Music Center, wrote in an email, “David never forgot how to think like a child. He was able to connect to children naturally, hacking into their thought process to create a safe space for learning and enthusiasm. All of his students beamed with a love for music.”

Several of Tasgal’s friends said they were moved to hear some of his young students perform three of his pieces at his funeral.

“The thing about David is that in his many musical roles and as a teacher, he has touched the lives of many people in this area. Hundreds,” Kurland said. “You scratch the surface and you begin to realize, ‘Oh these people were his students and were touched by him, too.’ …You will find many people who will say he was their best friend.”

By phone Monday morning, Kaufmann said that she has been moved by how many people have contacted her to express how important her husband was to them, both musically and as a mentor or friend.

“David was not fake with anybody anywhere,” Kaufmann said. “He was absolutely real all the time.”

Donations in memory of David Tasgal can be made to Artspace in support of Strings For Kids, 15 Mill St., Greenfield, or to Brattleboro Music Center for youth scholarships, 38 Walnut St, Brattleboro, VT 05301.

Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. She can be reached at: tcrapo@me.com.




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