playing washtub bass in 1981
Zipp Lang’s Friends; Piano Pieces
by Don Skoog
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
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.
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
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.
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.
so sorry to hear about your friends. it seems that time has marched
on and is now sweeping
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
My thoughts are with you...
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
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,
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,
Anyway. . . thanks for sharing this article
and I really am very sorry about the loss of your friends. Look forward
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.....
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.
Jim Colemon and Zippy (at right) at Ithaca College, 1980
photo by Faith Dominy.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Asheville, North Carolina
|| If you wish
to post up a good Zippy story, I will include it at the bottom of the page.