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Published: Thursday, 4/10/2003

Student crafts own good-bye to teacher

When Rob McClure sits at the piano, he's off on a journey with no map.

“I don't usually know what I'm going to do. I just kind of play,” says the Start High senior.

On a Tuesday in late February, Rob went home after rehearsing with the school band for an upcoming contest, and found himself at the keyboard.

“I just played the very first opening notes, and then I immediately started writing more [on the computer],” the young composer explains.

That night, Rob finished nearly half of the piece he calls Requiem, a work for full band and orchestra that debuts tonight - and which Rob no doubt wishes he'd never had cause to write.

When Start's band and orchestra perform tonight in the auditorium, they do so in memory of Robert Haddad, the 49-year-old music teacher whose death Feb. 25 sent students and colleagues reeling.

“We all knew he'd been sick,” says choir director Karen Vollmer, “but no one expected this.”

Awaiting a liver transplant, Mr. Haddad died the week he was to retire. Principal Mike Kedzierski called the hospital that Tuesday and hung up the phone under the impression that his music teacher was doing better.

For those arriving at school that night, news of Mr. Haddad's death shaded the music in ways no one ever expected.

“A lot of us, myself included, we didn't even know until we got to school,” says interim band director Andy Fritz. “It was emotional, but we decided Rob [Haddad] would have wanted us to go on. And I thought it was the best they've done in the two years I've been here.”

Nearly everyone with something to say about Robert Haddad makes two points: He set demanding standards, and wasn't always easy to get along with, and I bet the first point had a lot to do with the second.

“He was constantly getting on people who were slacking off,” says Rob McClure. “But I always felt like I had a good relationship with him, because I always wanted to live up to his standards. He wanted us to be the best.”

Robert Haddad, it seems, honored his students by treating them as serious artists.

When Mr. Haddad died, Rob McClure came to school that night to “a lot of tears flying around the room.” Describing his own numbness, he says: “I really didn't know how to feel.”

Later at home, the 18-year-old - who plans to teach high school band and orchestra after college - began sorting out his emotions at the keyboard.

Requiem has hymnlike qualities. It begins softly, with what its composer calls “a simple little melody,” then builds.

“Right when you think it's about to end,” says Rob, “all sound just cuts off, and you hear a string quartet playing. And that's what Mr. Haddad did most; he was a violin player and violist.”

Requiem is one of several pieces that are on the program, which begins at 7 o'clock tonight. Admission is free, but donations will go to a memorial fund.

“The concert was all the students' idea,” says Ms. Vollmer. “They wanted to pay tribute.”



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