AMSGNY Announcements

Remembering Ronald Cross

This is the text of the tribute given at the April 27th meeting by Chapter President Jeff Dailey:

The Greater New York Chapter of the American Musicological Society mourns the loss of one of its long time members, Ronald Cross, who died this past February 22nd, several days after his 84th birthday.   In remembering Ron, let us examine his accomplishments as a scholar, as a teacher, and as a performer.
 A native of Forth Worth, Texas, Ronald Cross came to New York in the 1950s to study in the musicology program at NYU.  His primary mentor there was Gustave Reese, but he also studied with Curt Sachs and Dragan Plamenac.   American musicology was in a growth spurt then, focusing heavily on early music, and Ron started out in the field assisting Reese with research for the book Music in the Renaissance.  He ultimately concentrated on the life and works of Mattheus Pipelare.   Reese devoted one paragraph to this contemporary of Josquin; Ron expanded that into a dissertation, several articles, and the three-volume opera omnia published by the American Institute of Musicology, which has never been superseded.  He also wrote the New Grove entry on Pipelare, and gave an update on his research most recently in 2010, when he read a paper at this chapter’s spring meeting.  He based his work on his travels throughout Europe as a Fulbright Fellow from 1955 to 1957, when he studied in Venice, Siena, Florence, and Vienna, examining first-hand the sources of Pipelare’s music.

Nor was he attracted solely to Renaissance music.   He had wide ranging interests in musics of all times and places.  A great lover of Bach, he liked to explore the number symbolism the Baroque master’s works.  In recent years, he expanded his horizons into American music and opera.  In addition to being a member of the AMS, he also held membership in the Society for Ethnomusicology, and loved to listen to and study non-Western musics of different cultures. 

As a teacher, Ron was an inspiration to generations of students.  He started teaching in 1958 at Notre Dame College  – a school that is now the Staten Island campus of St. John’s University.  Ten years later he moved down the road to Wagner College, where -- first as associate professor, then professor, then holder of the college’s first endowed professorship --  he remained until his death.  He taught a wide range of courses over the years –music history and theory, appreciation, rudiments – and started the Collegium Musicum there, providing opportunities for the performance of early music for twenty years.  When Wagner embraced a new interdisciplinary curriculum, Ron eagerly joined in, team-teaching courses with colleagues from other departments.  He was also an early exponent of online learning, and had a tremendous facility for instructional technology.  He had the wonderful ability to make the complexities of music interesting to the uninitiated, and interspersed theory and analysis with amusing anecdotes about composers, as well as his personal experiences as a performer.

Ron was an amazing performer.  Early in his career, he earned an associate rating from the American Guild of Organists, and performed as organist at St. Paul’s – St. Luke’s Lutheran Church on Staten Island for over forty years.  The parishioners there got to hear his virtuosic performances on a weekly basis, which others got to hear only infrequently, although he did give occasional recitals at other churches.  Between 1986 and 1991, the Staten Island Council on the Arts awarded him six grants to give harpsichord recitals, the programs of which ranged from Renaissance and baroque masters to modern works (he also received grants from Meet the Composer), with the occasional addition of novelty pieces by composers such as Leroy Anderson and John Philip Sousa.  It often seemed like he did not realize how good he was at the keyboard.  Sometimes, he would look at a very complicated piece of music, say “Oh, that’s easy,” and then sit down and play it perfectly.  Conversely, he would look at an equally challenging piece, say “Oh, that’s hard,” and then again sit down and play it perfectly. 

Although primarily a keyboard player, he also had a great love of stringed instruments.  He played the viola da gamba, and, through his efforts, arranged for the New York Consort of Viols to give annual summer workshops at Wagner College for some years.  As director of the Collegium Musicum at Wagner, he also performed on other early instruments.  As a conductor, he directed works ranging from plainsong to Stravinsky, and also composed music for choirs and the organ. 

But apart from his technical and scholarly abilities, Ron was an advocate of seeing music as a way of understanding people and civilization.  He was a great lover of nature and animals, and encouraged the preservation of both the environment and human culture.  He will be sorely missed.


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