A Letter To M

Being filled with emotion, I was having difficulty deciding what to say. I mean, how can you put into words the passing of a teacher who meant so much to you? So, what follows is the Facebook message I sent to Ed Milisits on November 10th, 2021. It was shortly after a group of about 75 singers, composed of several generations of students and friends, got together for a last minute flash mob in his back yard. It was our way of telling Ed how much we loved him.

For those who may not know, Ed Milisits played a huge role during my high school years. He was larger than life and, at times, almost felt like a celebrity to me. Blessed with perfect pitch and a love of choral music, Ed taught this fledgling rock guitarist the ins and outs of music theory and life lessons. Even though I’d find myself struggling, Ed was always there with encouragement or to answer any question. Often times we’d have deep conversations about the rules of part writing, and how that stuff didn’t jive with the music I wanted to play. But Ed said something that still sticks with me: “I know part-writing doesn’t line up with rock music, but you’ve got to first learn the rules before you learn how you can break them.”

I was fortunate to have connected with Ed again many years after high school was over. This was after he’d retired as a teacher and began conducting an adult choir which, to no one’s surprise, was comprised mostly of past students. My best memory of those days was requesting a piece for us to perform called “Os Justi.” It was one we’d done in choir my senior year and one that really resonated with me.

When I first made the suggestion to Ed, he said he’d put it up for consideration. Then, in the Spring of 2017, 30 years after last performing it, I received this message from Ed:

“Hey Jim…thought you’d be interested to know that Os Justi is ON THE WINTER PROGRAM LIST! We WIN…hahahahahahaha!”

I don’t normally share private email messages but this one seems fitting. It’s our last conversation, and Ed ended it with a heart/love emoji.

Godspeed, Ed. The best teacher / maestro I ever had. Save a spot for me in the bass section of the heavenly choir.

Ottawa, Canada May 1987

Hi Ed –

When they asked if I’d be interested in being part of a flash mob for you, I just couldn’t say no. You mean a lot to so many people, myself included. You may not know this but you played a big and important role during my formative years of high school. It took me a long time to “find myself,” but the choir and music theory classes meant everything to me.

Your teaching style and encouragement [“Talk to Me”] helped me to not only learn theory but also how to become a better person. Even the old lady smoke filled bingo nights we used to work for the concert choir were fun — ok, maybe that’s pushing it… lol.

You were the main reason I wanted to become a music teacher. I even remember you letting me shadow you one day while I was a student at West Chester. Sadly, I never wound up finishing college at all because I dropped out. Then last year, I finally decided to go back. I started taking classes at NCC and now have only one more class to take to obtain a degree in General Studies. It won’t do anything to help me get a better job but at least I can finally say I finished.

I’ve attached a photo from our choir trip to Ottawa back in 1987, one of the best times of my young life. I keep it in a large scrapbook along with programs and photos of my musical achievements and bands throughout the years. It’s my musical biography. Something very important to me all these years later, and it wouldn’t mean anything without you there.

I hope you enjoyed our little mini concert and wanted you to know that I think about you often and how much I love you.

Ed Milisits – December 31, 1953 – January 8, 2022

2 thoughts on “A Letter To M”

  1. Thank you for this. I was also in the class of ’87. M meant a huge deal to me, too. I even majored in Music Composition at West Chester like him, although like you I dropped out. But I learned so much from him, and music was only a small part of it.

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