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Honoring a Beloved Brother

After getting to know a trio of Juilliard musicians, an Aiken, S.C., couple endowed a percussion scholarship in honor of his late brother. From left: D.M.A. candidate Mike Truesdell (M.M. ’11, percussion), Sam Budish (B.M. ’11, M.M. ’13, percussion), Hornor and Freddy Davis, and Ian Sullivan (M.M. ’12, percussion).

 (Photo by Brent Cline)

As performing artists, we never know how the next moment will impact our lives. One transformative moment for me began on September 8, 2011, when I was asked to perform at the Juilliard in Aiken (S.C.) Festival. The idea was then hatched for me to assemble a crack team of two additional percussionists (Ian Sullivan, M.M. ’12, and Sam Budish, B.M. ’11, M.M. ’13) to perform and teach during a weeklong residency in Aiken. Questions abounded about instrument rentals, cartage, stage space, reception, and, of course, our name (we decided on Triptych Percussion). 

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Upon our arrival in Aiken the following March, Freddy and Hornor Davis, our hosts for the week, welcomed us into their astounding home with open arms—and delectable Girl Scout cookies. We felt an immediate connection that has only grown over the past three years.

Each spring that I’ve been back, I’ve gotten to know these two wonderful people and their family better. This past year, we learned about the tragic death of Hornor’s creative, energetic, and loving brother, Caldwell, in February 2013. Hornor subsequently asked me if Triptych would be willing to perform at Caldwell’s memorial service, which took place in Delaware. I agreed immediately—but then I began to wonder how our high-energy style could be appropriate for a reflective service. But Hornor eased my fears, saying, “Just do what you do in Aiken, and it will be perfect.” As the service began, we interspersed a few groove-based improvisations as incidental music before we were asked to get up in front of the standing-room-only group of Caldwell’s close acquaintances and lead an interactive performance. I started off with simple, repetitive call-and-response rhythms. Though people were slightly hestitant at first, soon the room caught on and we were trading four-beat rhythms. Then Sam, Ian, and I each took a third of the room and led them in a three-layer groove. I directed the energy from the front, leading the pulsating rhythm from an insecure mezzo forte down to a calming piano, finally ending with a raucous fortissimo cadence.

A few weeks after the service, we were approached by many of the friends and family with smiles, hugs, and thanks. And as we packed up and headed out of the room, Sam pointed out something we hadn’t noticed earlier—there was a conga drum by the altar, a sign of Caldwell’s love of drums, percussion, and rhythm. We knew that we were in the right place after all and that Caldwell would have been grinning from ear to ear. 

Hornor later told me that the spark he and Freddy “first witnessed with Aiken’s Juilliard audiences and school kids ignited in a tent in Delaware into uniquely healing vibrations for the many present from all phases of my brother’s life. The spirit and imagination, from leading hundreds in a clapping experience to the resonant undercurrent of African drums and the uplift of other beautiful rhythms were a perfect tribute to a creative person who was gone too soon and so suddenly.”

The year before the memorial service, we had sat around the Davises’ kitchen table and talked about, among many other things, Juilliard scholarships. And then at some point after Caldwell’s service, Hornor left me a message that the Davis family and some friends had decided to honor his brother’s memory with the Caldwell Davis Percussion Scholarship for an incoming student—a gift that he said he wanted to acknowledge “the work and talent of these artists and the aspirations of those to come in the uniquely creative venue of New York City that also meant so much to my brother.” That generosity means so much to me and the trio—and also to our colleagues at Juilliard and the countless number of students yet to apply, audition, and be accepted to Juilliard with the honor of receiving the Caldwell Davis Memorial Percussion Scholarship.

Percussion doctoral candidate Mike Truesdell (M.M. ’11) is from Verona, Wisc.

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