Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Fall 2012 Vol. 107 No. 4 OAM Home | Oberlin Online


Donald Sobol

Donald Sobol, the creator of the million-selling Encyclopedia Brown series for young readers, died July 11, 2012, from gastric lymphoma. Sobol interrupted his Oberlin education to join the army, serving in the Pacific as a sergeant before he returned and graduated in 1948. He was a copyboy and reporter before publishing his first Encyclopedia Brown book after being rejected by two dozen publishers. Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme, the 28th book in the series, is being published this fall. Sobol was well known for purposely not being well known: He declined requests for television interviews and photographs throughout his prolific half-century career to allow his books, which total more than 80 and have been translated into 12 languages, to speak for themselves. He did make one recent exception: "I don't do interviews, but for the Oberlin Alumni Magazine, I will," he told our writer. Instead of allowing a photo shoot, however, he sent in an eight-year-old snapshot with a note attached that said, "I trust it will not scare away students applying for admission." Among his honors was the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Sobol was writing up until the month before he died. Two sons, a daughter, and his wife, Rose, survive him. A son preceded him in death.

Ken Moore

Kenneth Raymond Moore was a multitasker of the highest magnitude. He was a professional musician on the clarinet and the bassoon, an ensemble performer in orchestra and chamber ensembles, a conductor of orchestras and ensembles, and a teacher of all these skills. In addition, he was a bicyclist, a hiker, and an expert sailor, as well as a lifelong curmudgeon—and I mean that in the best sense. He was a husband, a father, a friend, a colleague to many of us, and a mentor to hundreds of musicians both young and old, many of whom hold esteemed positions in our most important national and international musical organizations.

Ken was born in Harrisburg, Illinois, in 1928. He came to Oberlin in 1955 after earning his undergraduate degrees in music and music education from the University of Illinois and his master's degree from the Juilliard School, where he studied conducting with Fritz Mahler and Pierre Monteux. From 1943 to 1946 Ken was in first the U.S. Army Air Corps Band, and then the U.S. Naval Academy Band. Prior to Oberlin he taught at Davidson College in North Carolina and the University of Wisconsin. He retired from Oberlin in 1987. In the 19th century it was normative for musicians to be autodidacts as well as highly versatile. A musician typically played multiple instruments, many self-taught; they also sang and played the piano, and they all wrote music. Today, professional musicians, almost without exception, play a single instrument throughout their careers. Ken started as a clarinetist and made an impressive career start on that instrument, playing in many professional organizations, among them the Cleveland Orchestra. Then in mid-career, while at Oberlin, he took up the bassoon, went on a sabbatical to study it, and played in the New Orleans Philharmonic to gather his musical chops before returning to Oberlin, where he taught bassoon to a large and impressive crop of students for decades.

He also began to conduct more seriously, founding the Oberlin Wind Ensemble as his ensemble base in 1958. This ensemble specialized in 20th-century music and became the most important resource for this genre's development in the conservatory. Over the years this group performed hundreds of new works, introducing new art music to thousands of Oberlin students, faculty, and residents while also touring the country. This new music was quite thorny to deal with, inasmuch as there were no templates nor models to follow, as there had been for the European canon that made up the core of the conservatory curriculum. A conductor has to work closely with composers to decipher material so hot off the composer's desk that even they struggle to make the material come to life in its initial hearings. While most conductors work to tweak the accepted performance practices of already known works, new music proponents have to step into the unknown and take enormous risks in a constant sea of trial and error.

Ken worked closely in these endeavors with dozens of local composers as well as the many guest composers sponsored by the various faculty committees responsible for new music presentations. These guest composers included the most renowned living composers of the 20th century: Olivier Messiaen, Igor Stravinsky, Lukas Foss, George Rochberg, Aaron Copland, John Cage, George Crumb, Yannis Xenakis, Morton Feldman, Ned Rorem, Ernest Krenek, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and many, many more. Frequently he made recordings of their music that remain today as models studied by other conductors and performers. All of these composers left Oberlin with glowing reviews about Ken's assiduousness, sensitivity, and expertise in the handling of their music. He really was one of the most important and foundational figures in the evolvement of the Oberlin Conservatory as it became the center of new music in the United States, and this is not hyperbole. He was the go-to guy for new music ensemble performance at Oberlin for decades.

Continuing the theme of Ken's versatility and growing aesthetic range, he founded and conducted the Pro Arte Orchestra of Oberlin, made up entirely of community players. With the instigation of this orchestra and in order to increase his already extensive knowledge of instruments, he began to study the violin. Later on, he even took up the baroque bassoon, and thereby added a totally new and highly contrasting literature to his already prolific repertoire.

Ken was elected by his colleagues many times to serve on our governing and hiring committees and councils, the general faculty planning committee, and the general faculty council. He also chaired the new music committee and other curricula agencies on numerous occasions.

D.H. Lawrence wisely wrote: "Life is a question of what you thrill to." Ken Moore lived a full and abundant life that was saturated with intelligent, lively, and interesting choices that thrilled him. Those of us who knew and cared for him were likewise the beneficiaries of those choices and commitments. He will be missed by all of us.

Randolph Coleman
Emeritus Professor of Composition and
Music Theory