I got the news about Luciano Pavarotti and David Hobbs dying at around the same time. It is really funny how the death and very public grieving over the death of a musician who lived musical life in a big way (perhaps the biggest way) pales to the deep sadness that comes with the death of a musician who lived his musical life primarily in the service of helping others achieve their musical goals.
David Hobbs was a piano professor at Eastern Illinois University, the university in the town where I live. He was a wonderful man: always excited to talk about nearly anything, able to gossip without maligning anyone, and always interested in everything musical. I feel very fortunate that, in addition to knowing David as a person, I was able to know him as a teacher. As an adult without childhood piano lessons I always thought that playing the piano was just one of those things I would never be able to do. David removed the mystery from the process, and now I can play the piano (not well enough to perform, mind you, but well enough to play for myself). Through lessons with David I began to understand more about the violin, and more about chordal and polyphonic playing in general.
I feel grateful for the friendship we had over the past 15 or so years. I feel fortunate to have had to the chance to work with him as a colleague, and to hear him play. I feel fortunate to have heard his consistently excellent (especially after a few years with him) students play over the years. I feel fortunate to have know such a truly good person.
Pavarotti's death at 71 from cancer is very sad. I enjoyed hearing his lovely voice and exquisite diction from a great distance, both in time and in space. David Hobbs' death from cancer at 53 is more than sad. This disease he had (and it went into remission for a time before the final assault) took away one of the finest human beings I have ever known. A great tenor voice like Pavarotti's is rare. A great human being like David is just as rare, and being one of the lucky people to have known him as a friend is a great gift.