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Paul Shoemaker (1937 - 8th June 2010)
 
Paul Shoemaker, a long-time contributor and reviewer on MusicWeb International, passed away on the 8th June 2010 in Boise Idaho after a long battle with cancer.
 
Paul Shoemaker was born near Los Angeles in 1937. His Theosophist mother enjoyed singing folksongs to him. The fun of banging on grandfather’s piano was almost completely ruined by piano lessons. His father and uncles played classical recordings for him until he outraged them by knowing more about the subject than they did, and telling them so. The local newspaper printed his school prize-winning essay on fire prevention.
 
After flunking out of both the Cal Tech and UCLA astronomy schools, he took a job as an illumination engineer and failed at moonlighting as a science fiction writer. With his very first paycheck he became a compulsive recording purchaser. Reading LP program notes led him to reading Tovey and he became as the years passed an "armchair musicologist" as the record and book collections expanded at nearly the speed of light. He bought a clavichord and a large harpsichord and struggled to teach himself to play them, while hanging out with a local amateur string quartet. They played for him the Tovey completion to the final fugue of Bach, and this experience set him on a resolve to hear all the rest of Tovey’s music. He has sung in several symphonic choirs, and actually performed on stage the bell part in what used to be thought of as a Bach Cantata (#53).
 
Upon retirement he moved to a tiny country town in Idaho, less than an hour’s drive from a university with a huge music library. His arrangement for four guitars of the Bach Passacaglia in c was performed by the university guitar class. He sold his harpsichord and clavichord to buy a Yamaha DX7s synthesizer and has recently worked with computer MIDI files, and with computer digitization and restoration of classic LP recordings.
 
In addition to music and writing he has been involved seriously in astronomy, spirituality, photography, Egyptology, exploring the natural world, tattooing, gardening, and astrology.
 
Paul first contacted me after he read the articles I had written about my work with computer MIDI files and Donald Francis Tovey in the 1997 journal of the British Music Society and we regularly corresponded with each other via email. In 1998 I was scheduled to give training courses at the subsidiary in Montreal, Canada of a major Swedish telecommunications company where I worked. Paul decided to drive across America from his home outside Boise to Montreal to meet me which he did. In the few days he was in Montreal we attended a symphony concert and an opera and talked and listened to music throughout most of my free time. I came to realise just how vast and extensive Paul's knowledge of music was and how much it meant to him. Of course he had read everything by and on Tovey that had hitherto been published. On my return to Sweden and he to Boise the email correspondence continued unabated.
 
I retired in 2005 and could now devote my time and energy to recording the music of Donald Francis Tovey, my paternal grandmother's first cousin. Paul continued to be a source of inspiration; listening to all the recorded material I sent him and reading all the notes I prepared for the CD booklets to which he added his own comments and advice. We had corresponded on many occasions about my wish to visit him in Boise and for him to show me all those parts of the Western United States that he loved and cherished. The opportunity came in the spring of 2007 and I booked a flight to Boise Idaho.
 
Paul met me at the airport and we hired a minivan and drove to his apartment outside Boise. The apartment was filled from floor to ceiling with Paul's massive collection of LPs, CDs and books. I now understood why Paul was able to make so many comparisons to previous recordings in his reviews. He had almost all of them and those he didn't have he borrowed from the university music library in Boise. In his study/listening room he had the latest in surround sound technology and a well stocked library of pocket scores. He took his reviewing very seriously but there was always a glint in his eye and the understanding that it was as much his job to entertain as well as criticise. He also believed that he should not review anything by a composer whose music he did not like or have empathy with. A trap that seems to befall so many reviewers who do not comprehend the subjective likes and dislikes music instils in the listener.
 
Our journey took us westwards into Oregon where we could see Mount St. Helen, Mount Ranier and Mount Hood on the horizon then down to Crater Lake. Then down the main California highway past Mount Shatka to Oakland. Paul had been brought up in Burbank and spent most of his working life in the Los Angeles conurbation. When he retired Paul decided to resettle in the countryside of Idaho far away from the large conurbations which he detested. I had agreed that we would avoid large cities where possible. The next day we met my younger son David who was in San Francisco for an IT seminar. We drove round the bay to the Golden Gate bridge and across it to a park on the opposite side. That was as far into San Francisco that Paul was prepared to go. Back over the bridge we then drove north to the Napa Valley where we visited the vineyards and tasted the grape of the vines. David returned to his seminar and we headed in the direction of Yosemite National Park with its cascading waterfalls, forests and impressive rock faces like El Capitan. The road out of Yosemite to the east was still closed because of the snow so we headed north as far as Carson City to join the highway south towards Mono Lake. From there we headed to Death Valley stopping off at Badwater Basin 282 feet below sea level and from there onward to Las Vegas. I was allowed to drive along the Interstate 15 highway which runs parallel with the strip and saw as much of the man-made jungle of Las Vegas as I wanted to see. Our journey took us over the Hoover Dam to the south side of the Grand Canyon where two elderly gentlemen sat in silence at the edge of the canyon contemplating the wonders of mother nature, including a coyote, but declined to attempt the descent to the Colarado river. We then headed north through Monument Valley where we became stuck in the sand at the side of the highway because I wanted to stop to take photographs of this unique natural landscape. We were rescued by friendly Navajo Indians who towed us back onto the road so that we could continue our journey to Bryce Canyon National Park, which the elements have sculpted into a myriad sandstone columns. We made a detour to the North Side of the Grand Canyon which give an entirely different perspective of this wonder of nature. Passing through Zion Canyon we headed north, bypassing Salt Lake City on our way to our final destination in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone Caldera is the largest volcanic system in North America. The current caldera were created by a cataclysmic eruption that occurred 640,000 years ago. There are 300 geysers in Yellowstone and a total of at least 10,000 geothermal features altogether. We visited 'Old Faithful', the most famous geyser in the park. There we saw an abundance of park wildlife including bison, deer and black bears. After Yellowstone we headed back into Idaho and our journey came to an end.
 
Back in Boise Paul introduced me to Geoffrey Trabichoff who is Concertmaster of the Boise Philharmonic and former concertmaster of the BBC Scottish Symphony and cellist Samuel Smith of the same orchestra. Paul managed to persuade Sam Smith and pianist Robyn Wells to perform Tovey's Elegiac Variations for cello and piano at a chamber concert in Boise. This was typical of Paul - in his quiet and unassuming way he was able to make things happen and impress us all by his erudition and unbounded love for music.
 
Under a somewhat 'bohemian' exterior; white bushy beard, tattoos and sloppy clothes, lay a man of great compassion with an enquiring mind, a passion for music and a deep love of nature and the natural world. He did not take himself seriously and his bubbling sense of humour was never far below the surface as witnessed by the amusing comments which were a hallmark of his reviews. ”Music is fun! How can you take it seriously?”
 
I am proud to have known Paul and to call him my friend.
 

Peter R. Shore
Stockholm 2010

 


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