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In Memory

Hiram Titus

Pianist and composer Hiram Titus of Decorah, Iowa, died of cardiac arrest at age 66 on September 14, 2013, survived by his brother Anthony and two nephews.

I first met Hiram when he played for Betty Lind’s dance classes. There he was in the corner at the grand piano at the end of our diagonal leaps across the floor. Betty would give us a combination, say, “OK Hiram, I need a bar of 4, then of 7 with the accent on the 2nd beat, then a measure of 5, with the accent on 4, and I want a rising feeling like a mountain coming out of the sea, but at the end it sinks back down.” Hiram would nod as though someone had asked him to pass the salt, lean into the piano, mark it out, and in seconds begin playing it full out.

I didn’t get to know him at Oberlin, I was too much in awe. It was only after college when I was in grad school at the U of Minnesota. I went to a concert he did at the Walker, feeling an unearned pride that a wider audience could now find out how amazing he was. See, he can improvise a whole concert and be calm about it!

My husband at the time, Phil Rutter and I greeted him afterwards, and he was so pleased to see us, that we began a real friendship. We saw his shows, like “Rosina” which was called a worthy sequel to the Marriage of Figaro, amazingly Mozartian. He could play in any style, but his own was always recognizable. Full of surprises, often soaring, lots of whimsy, many textures and emotions. No wonder he was so sought after, especially for theatrical music. He wrote many shows for the Children’s Theater. His “Christmas Carol” was a staple at the Guthrie for years.

When Phil and I moved to a piece of land in southeastern MN, we kept up our friendship and he came to visit every so often. I have a recording of him playing Bach on the upright that took up half our living space in the little log house we built, in the background the sound of me cutting up onions, and an occasional squeal from a toddler.

Minneapolis remained his center, but he had adventures in other places. For a while he lived in Hollywood where he wrote music for cartoons amongst other things. I visited my parents in Santa Barbara in January for several years, and when he was a Californian he came up one day with his two huskies. He was surprising not only in his music. Why huskies in southern Cal? Why two? They were beauties, and seemed to do fine without sleds to mush. Years later he rented a farmhouse near our land, where he lived off and on for a few years, raising amazing tomatoes and squash in an old barnyard full of rich soil and abundant weed seeds.

Every time I got together with Hiram I’d forget how good he was at punning, and he’d always get me, until I got attuned again, and would try out some of my own. A writer of lyrics and stories, he and I read each other’s work once in a while.

The last visit I had with him, in August of 2013, we had an energetic talk about writing. Then we walked around Powderhorn Park looking at all those pots and paintings, our $4 lemonades in hand. Later he showed me his pear trees that were so loaded that year. I advised him on his wildflower plantings, identifying this and that. And then we hugged goodbye. That was five weeks before he died, of what was probably a heart attack.

The funeral was a who’s who of musicians and artists of the Twin Cities. The big church was crowded with several hundred people and the music, performed live, was all his own. If he could have seen it he would have raised an eyebrow and rolled his eyes, but he wouldn’t be able to suppress that closed mouth smile of his.

(Submitted by Mary Lewis)



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03/01/19 12:05 PM #1    

Tamme Haskell

When I was a Freshman in the Con, Hiram Titus was THE PIANIST!!!!!  He had a stellar reputation and I remember hearing him practice (I'd sit outside his practice room).  What a gifted musician !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  What a loss.  I will look him up on the internet, thanks to your wonderful tribute.

03/02/19 12:59 PM #2    

Barbara 'Bobbie' Sproat

Thanks so much for this remembrance, Mary. I remember him, probably also from modern dance class, but didn’t know him. What an interesting and talented guy.

03/03/19 11:56 AM #3    

Walt Galloway

I loved seeing Hiram tooling around campus in his cape.  I loved singing in the 1967 Freshmen Show with amazing music by Hiram, book and lyrics by Jeff Moore, directed by Gideon Schein and David Crosby, with Andy Meltzer as chorus master and a number of others from our class in other roles.  I loved talking to him when he actually would answer the phone when I called as Class Agent.  I loved tooling around Las Vegas with him when he visited us in the late 80s.

I had talked many times to him about performing some of the Freshmen Show at our 50th, for example If You Can't be Loved on a Saturday Night, What Good is the Rest of the Week, and he always demurred. I was greatly saddened to learn of his death, and will miss him and his music at our reunion.  All of those listed above except Gideon, '68, are no longer with us.

03/04/19 12:02 PM #4    

William Natale

Walt:  Reading the multiple wonderful comments about Hiram, I was feeling a sense of loss for simply not having known him during our days at Oberlin; it's a position I've regrettably found myself in after having looked at other entries marking the loss of several classmates.  But your mention of his cape flying behind him as he traversed the campus revived my lost memory.  Thank you, both.

04/01/19 09:55 PM #5    

David Gottlieb

My first meetings with Hiram preceded Oberlin.  Our senior year of high school Hiram came from Minneapolis to Evanston to study with a piano prof. at Northwestern.  He blew into the music department at Evanston Township High School like a hurricane.  The teachers wisely gave him the chance to play a concerto with our high school orchestra.  Hiram chose the last movement of Prokofiev's Second Piano concerto, a piece that is hellaciously difficulty even for virtuoso pianists. We provided one of the worst orchestra accompanyments in the history of music, but it was jaw-dropping to listen to him. 

05/09/19 01:15 PM #6    

Eve Goldberg (Tal)

I too remember Hiram from Betty Lind's dance classes. At our 25th reunion, he surprised me by telling me how he remembered the enormous leaps I made. I've remembered his comment warmly all these years and was sorry to learn that he wouldn't be at our 50th. 

It was good to read Mary's remembrances. 

05/10/19 04:11 PM #7    

Max Bragado-Darman

The performance of Schönberg's Piano Concerto with the Oberlin Orchestra still resounds in my memory. His wit and unassuming outstanding talents were evident since the first moment I met him. My admiration for him never stoped. 

I wish we had kept our youthful contact but we didn't. During a conversation with my wife, in the summer of 2014, praising him, his genius 

and his achievements, I went to the internet and found that he had just passed away. What a terrible surprise that was!

He will remain in my memory as one as one of the most outstanding minds I have ever met and his memory witty smile will be everlasting in my heart.


05/21/19 12:58 PM #8    

Tom Witheridge

I moved back to the Twin Cities (where Hiram and I both grew up) in the '90s but didn't reconnect with Hiram until the last year or two of his life. It was quite by accident:  His across-the-street neighbor by Minnehaha Creek happened to work with me, and his name came up when I mentioned Oberlin.  I sat next to Hiram at the dress rehearsal in St. Paul for a musical he'd written, and it was great to catch up after so many years.  I've lost track of the timing, but before his death he planned and executed a wonderful "chamber concert" featuring some of his favorite personal compositions in the grand entrance hall of Minnehaha Academy, the private high school on the west bank of the Mississippi that he'd attended before Oberlin. The place was jammed with his many friends.  It was a brilliant occasion, with several accomplished musicians backing up Hiram, who introduced each piece with his usual charm and good-natured wit.  I learned of his unexpected death from the neighbor.

Epilogue:  Almost exactly four years later, the venue of Hiram's last concert blew up, also without warning.  The natural gas explosion killed two and injured nine, one critically.  I'm so glad I had a chance to renew my friendship with Hiram.  We just never know what will happen, and when.

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