Remarks at a 4.29.18 memorial service for John R. Merrill, longtime music teacher at Gilman School in Baltimore, MD.

Good morning. My name is Judah Adashi. I’m a composer on the faculty of the Peabody Institute here in Baltimore, and a member of the class of ‘94; I was a twelve-year man at Gilman. I’ve only spoken at one other memorial service in my life, and that was for another musical mentor. So while today is a difficult day, I’m grateful for another opportunity to honor someone who has shaped the course of my life.

I met John Merrill in 1990. I sang in the Glee Club and the Traveling Men all the way through high school and, thanks to John, I directed the Traveling Men as a senior. I also took his introductory music course, as all first-years were required to do at that time, and his AP music history class. I can still vividly see and feel all of the hours spent in those rooms downstairs.

For those of us who were passionate about music, this was our world: the Merrill Conservatory of Music. There weren’t as many of us as there were serious athletes, but we were committed, and John created a space in which we could be openly and earnestly ourselves. As conductor Kirk Smith, class of ‘76, put it a recent phone conversation, “John was our sanctuary.”

Almost 25 years later, and a teacher myself for over 15 years, I now see John in a way that I couldn’t have put into words back then. As the concept of toxic masculinity has entered the mainstream, I think about the ways in which an all-boys school can sometimes foster narrow ideas about what it means to be a man, and the consequences for those who don’t fit the mold.

Looking back at my memories of Gilman through this lens, John Merrill stands out as the epitome of non-toxic masculinity. He was a gentleman, in the most literal sense of the word: a gentle man. He modeled what it was to be kind, gracious, witty, and vulnerable. He treated the young men in his care not only with respect, but with genuine tenderness.

On March 25, I learned from a mutual friend that John appeared to be in his last days. Thanks to his niece Linda, I was able to spend some time with John at his home on the 26th. He was sedated, but possibly able to hear. I was troubled by the fact that John wasn’t surrounded by music: his dear friend and colleague Anton Vishio told me that the arts channel to which the TV was usually tuned had mysteriously gone out.

So on March 27th, I came back with my wife Lavena, to make some music for John. Lavena played, beautifully, the Sarabande from Bach’s Second Cello Suite, with Linda, Anton, and I looking on. Lavena and I then moved out to the living room to John’s beloved Steinway, and played, together, the opening invocation from a piece of music that I wrote in 2015 called Rise. I told John that I loved him, and that I carry him with me in everything that I do.

I’d like to share with you now that last piece that Lavena and I played for John, before he passed away in the early morning hours of March 28th. [listen]