Time Limit

Zippy playing washtub bass in 1981

Zipp Lang’s Friends; Piano Pieces for Children

by Don Skoog

     Three friends of mine have died recently. One was a guitarist, an evil genius whose devious imagination created a vast and completely useless alternate universe which made my world a richer place. The second was a bass player, an enlightened, gentle soul who was (and still is) on a spiritual journey. The latest was Zipp Lang, a composer, a funny man whose perverse sense of humor bespoke a badly misspent youth and an ironic intelligence. All three were good musicians, though not well known. All three had an influence on my life. All three were more-or-less my age.

      When we lose our teachers we feel the loss of their guidance, but it is part of a natural progression. As we take on their role they live on through our students, as their teachers do through us. But losing your fellow travelers is an entirely different thing. Each of my friends had a unique voice that resonated with the voices of those around him. Now their voices are still, and ours stick out more. The chorus is less harmonious, thinner sounding.
     While I can convince myself that this, too, is a natural progression, I have a harder time accepting the lesson their deaths have made so painfully obvious: there is a time limit.
     Years ago, I won a chance to solo in front of an orchestra. I was scared, so I started logging my practice hours on a calendar. When I didn’t practice I marked down a big red zero. I recently came across that calendar and was shocked by all the red zeros on it. What was I thinking? If the gig was so important, why hadn’t I focused harder? Awareness dawns only slowly, if at all.
     Musicians are “gifted” more by what they receive from the art than by what they contribute to it. My teacher once told me that to be a musician I would have to make myself worthy of the privilege. Those red zeros are artifacts of my struggle.
     Think of the coolest gig you ever played and of the amazingly talented people you’ve met through music. Most importantly, think of what you’ve learned about yourself through playing your instrument. Then think about the players you know who have put theirs down and moved on. At what cost do you close the door on a part of your soul?
     Your awareness of music’s gift can be lost in a sea of scale exercises, in having to practice the same pieces every day, or in the wedding band gig that pays too much to turn down. But the truth is that each time you open your horn case, or pick up a drumstick, or lift the piano lid you are being given an opportunity that many don’t have––an opportunity that someday will be taken away from you. Valuing this gift will help you make the most of it.

     Henry Zipp Lang III died of cancer on August 15, 2004. He was forty seven. Zippy left behind a loving wife, two beautiful daughters, and a stack of manuscripts. The Contemporary Music Project is proud to publish one of those works, Friends; Piano Pieces for Children. All proceeds will go to The Gathering Place, an agency which provides education and support to those touched by cancer. They did much to care for Zippy and his family, and we want to thank them for helping to ease the pain.

Ten Piano Pieces for Children

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     Buy a copy of Friends. Put it somewhere safe but bring it down now and then and play it, or have someone play it for you. Or give Friends to a child in hope that it will spark a creative flame which will carry Zipp’s music to that child’s future students many years from now. The music he left behind is a tangible reminder of who he really was. By remembering it we can remember him, and by valuing his work we will be reminded to value our own.

     The Gathering Place is a caring community that supports, educates and empowers individuals and families touched by cancer through programs and services provided free of charge.

     I am so sorry to hear about your friends. it seems that time has marched on and is now sweeping up our generation and tagging us with the loss of our contemporaries. it is no longer my mother's friends, but mine who are moving on to the next world...and again, the loss of an artist and teacher is somewhat cushioned in that there is something tangible left behind, music and students. I believe that the only immortality available is the length of time we are remembered after our passing. through children and students, teachers have that advantage...you give more than you take.. 
     As my own son's teacher and mentor, I thank you and am in awe of how you have enriched my son's life and therefore ours and the world at large...

My thoughts are with you...
Michelle Springer

     What a beautifully written, touching essay. I'm so sorry about your friends. I know the feeling though, it's so hard to be the grown-ups. I love much about it--maturity, perspective, educated lack of morality instead of just stupid lack of morality, casual savvy, lack of self-consciousness--there's a lot, but with it comes illness, end of life issues, seeing friends we thought would be pillars be weak and fail, worrying about kids and knowing that in 25 years, they have to go through the same awareness, the pain and realism of the political process and people's vulnerability and stupidity, and more.
     The Buddhists would say that awareness of loss and shortness of our time here on Earth is what makes the rest of life poignant and precious...that without death there is no life. I don't know. It sounds good in an email, but loses a lot when applied to real men with real names. I'm your age (exactly? almost? not quite?)--48 now--life and death both seem so close sometimes, don't they?
     Anyway. . . thanks for sharing this article and I really am very sorry about the loss of your friends. Look forward to the concert this week. I guess we can look to your performance as a reminder that the better parts seem to be here!

All the best.....
Kaye White


Hello good people,

     I was part of Zipp Lang's badly misspent youth. He was two years ahead of me in music school and he took me under his wing although juniors are officially allowed to stomp freshmen. He had a punk band called Nasty Boy which he graciously invited me to join. The music was objectionable to those with gentle sensibilities, but it was big fun. We often referred to him as Zippy The Pinhead after an underground comic book character. He didn't mind. There are a number of us from Zipp's music school days who have rekindled our friendship as a result of his passing. We all miss him and cherish his memory.

Jay McSloberts

Jim Colemon and Zippy (at right) at Ithaca College, 1980
photo by Faith Dominy.

     Zipp Lang and I were good buddies in graduate school at Ithaca College at the dawn of the 1980s. We took part in a good bit of misspent youthfulness (to coin a phrase) outside the classroom during the year and change that we were around each other. Besides the fun and games aspect, though, I also had the honor of being asked to perform a couple of his more challenging vocal compositions in recitals at the college. As often happens, though. . . and unfortunately. . . Zipp and I didn't keep in touch after graduation.
     Oddly enough, over the past few months Zipp had popped into my head a few times (as old classmates often do) and I eventually Googled him out of curiosity. I found a bunch of results involving marathons, and I found myself thinking how times had changed! I suppose had I dug a little deeper into the Google results I would have known the rest of the story, but it was only this past weekend, when my copy of the latest Ithaca College Quarterly arrived and I read the class notes section, that I learned of his untimely passing. To say that I was both shocked and very saddened would be a huge understatement.
     I have very fond memories of Zipp — not only was he a delightful and really good-natured guy, he also introduced me to some off-campus friends of his who changed the direction of my life in unexpected ways that ultimately brought me to the area of the country where I live now.
     After I learned of Zipp's passing, I did a little more searching on line and read some very touching articles. It certainly sounds like his was a life well lived. . . he packed a lot into those 47 years. My heart goes out to his wife and children as well as the folks who were lucky enough to know him in later years, long after our adventures at Ithaca College.
     I wanted to thank whoever posted the washtub-playing picture from 1981. That was the time period during which I knew Zipp, and that picture is exactly how I remember him, with that big shock of blond hair. It was very touching to find the image on line of him kissing the ground at the Boston Marathon — still with that same head of hair that I remember from 20+ years ago.
     So in closing, rest in peace, Zipp. I know you are missed by many.

Faith Dominy
Asheville, North Carolina

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