Bruce “Monty” Montgomery was an extremely important man in the few years that I knew him. He passed away earlier this summer, but before that, I had many opportunities to see him at his most vibrant. I first got to know him through Gilbert & Sullivan, rehearsing shows with him for Penn Singers. But from there, I saw him often – through Glee Club every semester, and through the various G&S groups that he worked with outside of Penn. I got to meet and get to know a few members of his family, and was amazed at the constant support and respect he got from everyone. Hearing his stories, I knew that he had been everywhere and worked with tons of great people, and influenced thousands of students that tramped through Penn in the fifty years that he worked there… but it really wasn’t until earlier this year that I realized what it was about him. He did make everyone feel special and chosen amongst everyone else (as Brendan O’Brien says) and he certainly made me feel special and chosen, though I knew he did the same with many other people.
He talked of me often, and though I’m sure I was talented enough, he often spoke of me when I wasn’t around and pushed me harder than just another guy looking for competent musicians to work with. I often heard from people that he had been doing so and I felt great about it – and nervous, as his standards were very high and inevitably made other people expect more from me because they felt that anything Monty felt was great definitely WAS great. I know that when I played at the theatre christening ceremony earlier this year, I felt a great obligation to make it the best performance ever… as it was all his music, his life, his accomplishments that we were celebrating. The fact that a small theatre was named after him and that we’d been raising money for years with the Monty Singalongs (all of which I helped him with) was only incidental to the fact that he was getting recognized by everyone, from super-producers like Marc Platt all the way down to lowly baristas and nightshift workers who had momentary contact with him but couldn’t forget it.
Monty had engaged me to play in a performance he felt to be extremely important just before he left for Maine. He was organizing the concert for Princess Diana’s brother, Lord Spencer, held by Studio Incamminati of Philadelphia. Though the event finally only included Princess Di’s personal chief of staff and was a bit abrasive to everyone involved since we were forced to be there extra long, we were all held there by the fact that we had promised to do this for him. We performed well under strange circumstances (though my solo cocktail music from earlier in the evening went fine – I played happy birthday for some rich old knighted millionaire and could have used a tip jar as I probably would have got some). But the performance wasn’t the point – it was extremely important to him, for some private reason, and we all took that to heart. The day he came over to my house, extremely excited about the performance and babbling on about it and also about his forthcoming stay in Maine – I was very impressed by his energy and vitality and for a few minutes, joined him in his extreme pleasure at being asked. Maybe he was gratified that he still commanded a lot of musical respect in the society of the rich and powerful of Philadelphia. That was the last I actually saw of him in person.
Monty died July 21. I got the call about his death later that day, and then a followup call from his sister, asking me to play at his memorial service to happen sometime later in the year. I was in Chicago with Brenna, and I got the request early on a rainy morning. I was standing in her living room watching the dripping rain and really felt a burst of sadness and of pride, that I was going to be a part of his memorialization, that I could contribute with the one skill that I had to give. I played at his memorial service on October 5 at Irvine Auditorium. The place was full of his students, colleagues, family, friends and other passerby that knew him and of him. He was loved, and I felt that he would be happy knowing that he was so loved. When I go, I wish it could be with the wishes of thousands of people, honoring my works and my life with all the talents they have. The performance that day, at least from my side, was the best I ever gave for him. Everything was perfect, crisp, appropriate to the music and performers. The culmination of the entire performance was of a song that he had asked be done at his funeral, whenever it came: “Walk Him Up the Stairs” from Purlie. Though I certainly wasn’t in the mood to do a happy song at the penultimate part of the memorial service (aka the saddest), everyone got it up to do the song justice. For a few minutes, his beloved Glee Club put on the performance of their lives and walked him up those stairs.
On July 8th, Monty’s family released this open letter to Monty’s family and friends.
I don’t usually write so solemnly and so formally, but it comes out every once in a while for times that are really important to me. In a not so formal vein… I got to see Miranda Knowles again after no contact for at least 2 years. Back then, we parted on somewhat mysteriously bad terms. She’s not extremely expressive, so I feel now that I probably read the signals wrong – because this time around, she certainly was happy to see me, and to see me again in future. She was part of Singers and often saw Glee Club stuff even though she wasn’t in Glee Club in any capacity. I often wonder how I got to know her as well as I have by now – she’s at least 6 years older than I am, and our circles were and are wildly different. I also got to see a lot of alumni that I haven’t seen for ages, and a bunch I’m likely to not see again after this. I did see Katie McGill… she apparently knows Jim Potts from Camp Hill somehow, and I think I mentioned this to her before but can’t remember for the life of me now. She’s also someone I’m amazed I get along with as well as I have. Also older than me, rarely talked to while at Penn, but very interesting now. Maybe I’m a little more sociable these days.