Friday, October 5, 2012

The Ruggedly Refined

I wanted to take a post to honor the life of Professor James Valiant and extend my sympathies and condolences to his family and friends, as well as my York College peers who share grief in his passing.

Professor Valiant was indeed one of a kind. I'll never forget seeing him for the first time during my freshman year Opera Theatre workshop and considering him pretty imposing. A straight-postured bearded man who entered stealthily from stage right of Wolf Hall, smiled without showing any teeth and nodded slightly upon being introduced, and largely never said a word unless spoken to. When he did speak, I was a bit taken aback by how truly soft spoken he was. Having spent a great deal of my social/academic hours (especially at that point in my life) amongst music and theatre enthusiasts, a social circle which at times, no offense, seemed to center around competitions for attention and as a result, was anything but quiet and conservative, Professor Valiant seemed to clash with that perhaps unwarranted generalization. However, his demeanor was not that of a timid man, but of a confident and self-assured one. His reserved demeanor did nothing but add more weight to the thoughts and opinions he did express.

Professor Valiant was anything but an overly serious man as well. He was, as you would expect, a very clever guy, who every now and again would catch you off guard with a little pun or observation of some sort that would (at least in my case) send you into a fit of laughter. I think his wordplays were more situational than anything else and would be tough to relay via this blog, but I will share one time when I walked in on a conversation he was having with other students regarding his weekend and he said something to the effect of "one of my friends got married and I'm still trying to piece together the weekend. Yesterday I wasn't exactly up for the piano." His polite way of saying that he got totally smashed on Saturday was incredible and made him all the more relatable to his students. Not the drinking aspect, obviously, but his openness and willingness to share of himself. I feel like this is almost cliche to say about the deceased, but Professor Valiant was a man who truly seemed to have a joy for life and the wisdom to know when to work hard and when to sit back and enjoy it a bit.

His talent leaves me at a loss for words as a painist, vocalist, and overall performer. His turn as Elijah in the oratorio by the same name was moving to say the least, and his abilities as a pianist and organist were incredible to see and hear. The thing I believe I'll remember most about Professor Valiant is his willingness to teach and share with anyone who would care to learn.

To be fair, Doctors Woodfield and Muzzo were also beyond generous with their time and efforts with me as a musician and I'm left in awe of the fact that they continue to bring that passion for teaching and improvement to York College with them everyday, but as a non-music major with quite simply a passion for music, I always kind of considered my advancement in music kind of secondary to those within the major. That's not to say that I didn't bust my hump in my musical endeavors and milk all the knowledge I could out of these great professors during class time, but I kind of figured that the out of class time would be reserved for those paying for the music space and trying to make a future living out of it. When professor Valiant complimented my voice freshman year and asked if I wanted to work with him on some things, I quickly said I was a writing major, essentially giving him cause to help out someone else. He aptly replied, "so what?" and we went to work later on that week and a couple more times over the course of my time at York as performances with Rhapsody and otherwise came up. His desire to go above and beyond to help me made me want to go above and beyond and meet his (again Muzzo and Woodfield included) expectations. That kind of attitude is contagious and was everything you could want out an instructor and to a degree, mentor.

Professor Valiant's personality was so unique that Dennis and I took to forming a scale of ruggedness with his name at the top. Other notable names on the list he beat out were Kimbo Slice, Grimace, Popeye the Sailor Man, and the inscrutable Chuck Norris. When we told him about this list, he laughed heartily and gave the same humble nod I'd seen on the first day I'd met him.

In short, I know of few others as classy, talented, and professional as Mr. James Valiant and his impact on my life, as brief as our interaction was, will never be forgotten. In truth, I considered Professor Valiant a role model, which I feel are harder to find at 21 after you've found your own opinions and voice in the world, but I think that's just further testimony for the quality of Mr. Valiant's character. His passion for life, sense of humor, open heart, and ability to leave the stage on the stage and be a listener off of it are qualities I try to live by every day. Professor Valiant personified, in my opinion, how a man should conduct himself and I'm honored to have known him and grieve with the rest of my classmates and peers.

Song of the Day: God Bless The Child-Blood Sweat and Tears
Jazz Song of the Day: Spanish Fantasy Part III-Chick Corea

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