Nights in the LP racks with Christopher Rouse

Nights in the LP racks with Christopher Rouse


norman lebrecht

September 23, 2019

On the late Christopher Rouse, by Donald Elfman:

I worked with Chris at Sam Goody’s in Philadelphia when he was studying with George Crumb. I was a jazz guy, or so I thought, but Chris shared his love and knowledge of orchestral repertoire and rock music with me. In fact most of what I know about Nielsen and Sibelius and Berlioz and … comes from him.

I stayed at his apartment in downtown Philly one night and we listened to Janacek, Nielsen, two full Berlioz operas and Led Zeppelin in addition to watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. We got to bed about 5 AM and made it to the record store for our 9 AM shift.


From the artist Suzanne McDermott:

Why do I want to start with an expletive? Why are there no online photos of the white bread, string bean, young Chris Rouse? (My ream of handwritten letters from Chris in our youth including a cartoon self-portrait are deep in storage.) How could I explain what a profound influence on my life and ears and music our intense relationship stamped upon me? Why has this come as such a shock? Oy. The long Philadelphia sessions at Pop Edwards with Donald Elfman​ over Elephant Beer or Vodka and soda with Rose’s Lime after work at Wanamaker’s Music Department, Tower Records, and George Crumb. The intense listenings to Symphonie Fantastique (and certainly more) where I really learned to hear every single note and every single bit of an orchestra and programmatic story. The presents that Chris and Don made me of the best and latest Mahler and Joni Mitchell recordings. My long bus rides to Ithaca where Chris insisted that I sit in on percussion with the Cornell Wind Ensemble through impossible readings of Hindemith and experimental music concerts at excruciating volume with doors locked and Karel Husa asleep behind me. And the downtime when I poured through Chris’s binders of correspondence from Varése, Copeland, Schumann, Honneger, and more (what fun!). Right. Copeland wrote to Chris as “Chip”. Chip Rouse knew what he wanted to do from age 11 (at least) and made a direct bee line through Oberlin, Crumb in Philadelphia, Cornell, and so forth. Chris learned everything there was to learn about orchestral (he was quite specific) composition, courted the greatest American (and more) composers from his pre-teens, honed his craft, taught what he was best at at the best schools (Eastman and Julliard), schmoozed the shit out of his profession because he was beyond worthy of doing so. He followed the imprints (in ridiculously intimate and spiritual ways) of his faves, i.e. Hector B. Christopher Rouse​ is the penultimate example of a fully realized life. From our intimate days in Philadelphia (with Mr. Donald), obsessed with music, we flowed into the realms of classical, jazz and folk. What magnificent joy we shared…listening. Thank you, Chris for everything you opened my ears to. You were the wonderful and whacky bridge from my father, Sam Goody, and Theodore Presser to the world beyond. Thanks, Don, for calling me right away. Good job, Chris. You hit all the marks and enriched my life along the way. Love you, honey. Thanks for inviting me to your Requiem in LA. It was a wonderful experience all around. May there be loads of white bread and mayo in heaven. Onze, onze. Sad face. Fare thee well, Christopher Rouse. Many thanks and lots of love. Rest in peace, darling. Oh, just realized. The good news is that you may be comparing notes with Hector, Anton, and okay, maybe Lenny if he would let you get a word in edgewise.


  • The View from America says:

    Fantastic memories — thanks for sharing them. +1,000.

  • Larry says:

    A very nice tribute.

    I’m curious if the author is related to Danny Elfman, a very talented film composer.

  • Adam Stern says:

    >> Christopher Rouse​ is the penultimate example of a fully realized life.

    So…who was or will be the LAST example?

    • The View from America says:

      Another candidate for SD’s “Pedant of the Year” award …

      • Adam Stern says:

        I’ll happily accept that award if it means impeding the erosion of the English language even a little bit.

        Also, for the record, I don’t attach any importance to anonymous criticism. I don’t think that truly meaningful discourse can take place under the invisibility cloak of a pseudonym.