Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

My Teacher and Mentor, Tim Bell, dies at 75

with 4 comments

Folks, it is with profound sadness that I write this blog. Just yesterday, I wrote about how Tim Bell, my teacher and mentor for many years, was going to play very difficult and challenging parts for the Racine Concert Band on one rehearsal, and that I was sure he’d do well, after our normal first-chair clarinetist could not play due to an unexpected and unfortunate event.

And Tim did just that. He was brilliant on the Surinach. He was phenomenal on the Copland. And he sounded great on the other three pieces we played, too.

Then today, Tim died of a heart attack. He was seventy-five, and he lived the way he’d wanted to live, and he played music at a high level until the very end of his life. (All of that is good, and true, and real…but I wish I hadn’t had to write them just yet.)

Plus, Tim was the type of guy who’d do anything for anyone. (I’m so upset, I nearly wrote that the other way around. Tim would’ve laughed at that and told me not to worry about it, no doubt.)

After I started playing again in 2011, I reconnected with Tim. We played in the RCB together, though he almost always played clarinet and I almost always played the alto sax. (Note that I also play clarinet and oboe, and Tim played all the saxes plus clarinet and, I believe, a bit of flute. Though he didn’t necessarily feel confident with his flute playing.) And Tim knew what I was going through, as a too-young widow with health issues, and that I’d felt I’d wasted my time and wasted my talents.

Tim told me more than once that I hadn’t failed. No matter what it looked like, I hadn’t failed. I did what I could. I got my Master’s, against long odds. I found the right man and married him, again against long odds. And that so much had gone wrong, that so much had been difficult, that it was impossible for me to play for years after Michael died as I was too sad to even look at the instruments…well, Tim told me the important thing was to keep going, and keep doing. And that I still had the skills, and he was glad I was using them to my fullest.

Even last night, Tim told me I played well. As I was playing the second parts again, and most of the time no one cares when you play the second part, I was a little surprised. But if anyone could tell when I was playing and when I wasn’t, it would be Tim…he was my teacher for almost three years after I returned to get a Bachelor’s, and after I got it, for the rest of my life he was my admired mentor and friend.

(Yes, I told Tim he played well. He did, too. He sounded great, and he covered the parts he’d learned as if he’d been playing them all along. He was uncomfortable when I told him he played well, too, just saying a gruff “Thank you” and then turning the conversation aside. That was Tim’s way.)

Tim was a music educator, played jazz and classical music, and could do anything at all as a musician that was needed. He was smart, funny, sometimes acerbic, enjoyed going to have drinks after concerts with the band (whenever I went, I was always charmed by Tim and Tim’s stories, too; he had the best ones), and was a genuinely good and caring person.

Tim was full of life, and full of music. I thought the world of him, and enjoyed learning about music and life from him. He was a phenomenal teacher, who never forgot his students and always tried to encourage them, even years after he’d last seen them.

I don’t know of any better epitaph than that.

If you knew Tim, or want to talk about other admired mentors, teachers, or good friends who’ve passed on, go ahead and leave a comment. I’ll appreciate that. (And if anyone can come up with a good way to help Tim’s name and talents live on with the next generation of Southeastern Wisconsin’s musicians, I’d appreciate hearing that, too. Something has to be done.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 18, 2017 at 7:09 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Oh Barb, we’re so sorry for your loss. Tim sounds like a he was a wonderful man. *hugs*

    N. N. Light

    October 18, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    • Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. N. I appreciate your kind words and thoughts. Tim was a wonderful person and a very fine musician. And he was always supportive of me, which I appreciated no end.

      Barb Caffrey

      October 18, 2017 at 8:18 pm

  2. I’m sorry to hear he passed away; he sounds like an incredible guy. Here’s a digital hug that I hope will comfort you at least a little. 🙂❤️

    Nicolle

    October 20, 2017 at 6:31 am


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