This cursed virus has taken far too many who are special to some or many. We’ve lost musicians who are internationally known and some from smaller communities. This past week, Statesboro lost one of the most exceptional musicians I have ever met.
Pierce Dickens may not have been well known “in the scene,” but he had impacts on so many artists, musicians, and community members. Since 2010, he and his family have been a part of this community. He was an adjunct professor of organ, piano, and music theory. He was also the organist and, eventually, music director at First United Methodist Church in Statesboro. But I met him back in 2001 when I began taking classes at Brewton-Parker College, where he was my theory professor and piano teacher. Now, at 60 years young, he’s gone because we have failed to contain and successfully fight this virus. I could share all of my views on this. As crazy as it seems to call a conversation about an illness a political conversation, that’s what it would become, and that just wouldn’t be the way I want to honor this amazing musician. Instead, I will share my words from the day I learned of his passing.
He was so angry with me when I dropped my music major for Communication — this after I failed piano with him because I simply refused to practice. For the record, singing came easily to me. Piano does not. But he believed in my ability and wanted me to succeed.
In theory class, his dry, dark sense of humor was savage, and we ate it up. The goal in ear training was to avoid making him raise an eyebrow and cock his head to one side — a sure sign you were flat.
Later, when we moved back to Statesboro, I was overjoyed to find out that we would be serving in a church where he was the organist. I remember saying to him, “it’s weird to be calling one of my college professors by his first name.” He responded with “it’s weird for me as well,“ in a way that simultaneously said “don’t call me Pierce.“ “It’s strange to think that you’re an adult with your own family now,“ and “I guess we are peers now.”
In my life, I have had the privilege of meeting less than a handful of people who were so incredibly talented as well as being incredibly skilled. He was definitely one of them. It was an absolute honor, as well as a little unnerving, to have the opportunity to perform with his accompaniment. It was an honor because I knew it was a privilege that not many would get to experience. It could also be a bit nerve-racking because it always seemed an impossible task to meet such a high standard. As his students, we tried not to let him down musically.
Never one to lavish on praise unduly, you knew you nailed it when he would offer a simple “it was very good.”
Damn this virus for robbing the world of this gift and so many others.
He will be missed by so many.
He had a list of accolades and accomplishments, each impressive in its own right. It’s very easy to say COVID-19 took this one or that one and go on to talk about all they accomplished. But we must remember that every single person this disease takes is music that will never be played, songs that will never be written, arias never sung, lives not touched. As we try to continue to wade through this period in history, please do everything that you can to stay safe. We have lost so many music makers already. Be safe, friends.