This is one of those “there but for the grace…” Kaddishim.
Keith Abbott Conant died suddenly of a heart attack last week, at the tender young age of 49. He was principal violist of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
He’d started playing at the Lyric in 1987, the year I moved to Evanston to attend grad school and begin my career as a freelance hornist. I wouldn’t say I knew him, exactly, but I knew who he was, and he’s the kind of guy who probably would have managed to remember my name even though I was just an infrequent sub at the Lyric and other orchestras where we both freelanced.
I remember him as humble and kind despite his great and early success in a demanding field.
He was only a few years older than I am.
He too was openly gay at a time when being so was a risky choice for a professional musician—well, for anyone, really, but moreso for a musician than other professions. Musicians are judged constantly and on mostly subjective factors; if someone doesn’t like your artistic choices or the kind of axe you play or how you look or the way you take your coffee, you can be in trouble. Not hiding in a closet when you work in that kind of environment is brave, and it’s an act of service to others who have less courage and fewer advantages.
John von Rhein, classical music critic for the Chicago Tribune who’s not exactly known for his kind words had this to say:
His many friends and colleagues in the Chicago musical community remember Keith Conant as a superb and dedicated musician whose gentle soul shone through his performances.
I’d say that’s about right.
A Kaddish for a fine musician and a fine human; may Keith rest in peace, and may his partner, family, and friends be comforted by the recordings they have of his soul shining.