Woog's World / Remembering Cameron Bruce
Published 5:43 am, Thursday, December 2, 2010
It takes a village to raise a child.
It takes an even larger community to say goodbye to one.
That community -- Westporters young and old; musicians from around the East Coast; teachers and coaches and mentors -- gathered Saturday night for a poignant, loving, music- and laughter-filled tribute to Cameron Bruce. The talented, outgoing and beloved 18-year-old died in September in an accident at Queen's University in Ontario. A freshman, he had been there a week.
The site for the service was the conservative synagogue in Westport, and that in itself says something about Cameron and his hometown. The Bruces are not Jewish -- they have ties to both Saugatuck Congregation and Christ and Holy Trinity Episcopal churches -- but in the aftermath of Cameron's death the temple reached out to their family. The sanctuary is spacious, welcoming and warm. Celebrating Cameron's life there seemed natural and right.
The community effort to honor Cameron involved hundreds of people. Ronald Wimer helped plan it. Starting with Facebook, the idea spread virally. College friends of Cameron's -- scattered across the country -- offered to help. Communicating largely by Facebook, they chose musical selections -- or wrote some themselves. Over the Internet, they formed duos and quartets and ensembles to perform them.
They gathered Saturday afternoon to rehearse -- but up to the moment the service began they were making changes, joining new groups and fine-tuning their work. Cameron -- a jazz aficionado himself -- would have loved the improvisation.
Stephen Sasloe of the Westport Music Center directed and stage-managed the event. Robinson Batteau -- a Staples grad now attending the Conservatory of Music at SUNY-Purchase -- served as sound engineer. Jim Honeycutt, Staples' video guru, taped the tribute.
The Mitchell and Kowalsky families, and Roger Leifer, donated their parking lots for the overflow crowd. The Westport YMCA offered shuttle buses. All that help was needed, for Cameron touched countless people. All of them, it seemed, were there.
The evening was a gathering of Westport's best and brightest -- which Cameron certainly was. It encompassed the many facets of Cameron's life, showcasing his astonishing talents and gifts.
The evening started with the Staples swimming and diving team. For four years, Cameron had starred on the squad. Led by coach Jeff Schare, current and former athletes marched together, clapping as they do before every meet. The team cheers that resounded through the halls were loud, loving reminders that bonds forged in competition last long after a race, meet or season ends.
Cameron's father Iain served as host. Leading a memorial for a son who died must be one of the hardest tasks imaginable, but he did it with grace, courage, even plenty of humor. Describing a memorable hiking trip the family took to Iceland, Iain said his 11-year-old son later revealed that his suggestion of the destination had been a joke. "Dad," Cameron said, "I never thought we'd actually go there."
Iain took note of the timing of the celebratory service -- two days after Thanksgiving, shortly before Christmas and Hanukkah. Those are all important family holidays, he said. And though Cameron's death leaves a gaping hole in the Bruce family, the memories of his 18 joyful years sustains them through devastating times.
The first musical selection was "God Be in My Head," by the Staples Orphenians. Cameron was not a singer -- well, behind the wheel of his car, his father said -- but everyone in Staples' music family knew him. How fitting that retired choral director Alice Lipson returned, to lead the elite choral group in that hymn.
Staples' chamber orchestra performed the lilting "Molly on the Shore." High on the list of Cameron's many passions was Scottish and Irish music. Many people know him as a trumpeter, but his first instrument was the violin. The musicians forsook their traditional formal wear for colorful clothes -- and sneakers. Both were Cameron's trademarks.
Violinist Sam Weiser fiddled fabulously. Though two years younger than Cameron, he revealed that they were in an early band together, when Sam was 8 and Cameron 10. Those early experiences helped form Sam's musical eclecticism, and his strong admiration for Cameron. On Saturday, Sam performed a piece he wrote for his friend, a haunting solo called "In Our Lost Time."
Another Stapleite who admired Cameron was pianist Joey Genetti. He graduated a year earlier but, he said, Cameron was the first younger person he ever looked up to. Joey played and sang an original composition, memorializing "the bugle boy with a fistful of dreams."
Cameron's longtime best friend, Kevin knew him better than nearly anyone. Their endless hours playing music in Kevin's basement included plenty of hard rock. Kevin, his brother Chris Copeland and `08 grad Dexter Garcia pounded out Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun." That may be the first time it's ever been played in a Jewish temple, anywhere -- but no other classic rock tune would be more appropriate.
On and on the words and music poured. Kim Wiggin -- director of Cameron's beloved New England Music Camp -- announced that the many generous donations in his name will endow a trumpet scholarship for decades to come.
Max Stampa-Brown and Jeff Cheng played the Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize??" The song "asks questions about life," Max explained. "Cameron constantly asked those questions, so I felt it was appropriate to ask them back."
The evening ended with two very appropriate pieces: "Bugler's Holiday" and "Peace of the River," New England Music Camp's signature song.
Cameron's too-short life is over. But Saturday's tribute has reassured the enormous community of his friends and fans that his memory will live on -- in all of us -- forever.