Larry Hartzell

In the latest edition of my college‘s alumni magazine, I learned of the death of Dr. Lawrence Hartzell this January of cancer.

I first ran into Dr. Hartzell in the summer of 1974. I’d gotten a scholarship to attend the B-W Summer Music Clinic, and among the activities were classroom sessions on music theory and music history. Dr. Hartzell was the professor for our group. In my week there he turned me on to music as varied as Penderecki’s “St. Luke Passion” and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” and in general kind of infected me with an interest in all things cutting edge (whether they were cutting edge then, or cutting edge in 1793).

After being accepted at B-W my senior year of high school, I entered as a music education major — the typical path for reasonably smart students who weren’t terrific performers. But after a year I had other things on my mind than teaching school, and my exposure to L.H.’s class in sophomore year convinced me that I wanted to major in music theory. So I did, and he became my faculty advisor for the rest of my time there.

He was the kind of guy who could be scary-smart, but never arrogant; and always generous with his time. His door was always open, and if you had a question about something he’d be the guy to buttonhole you for the next hour not just answering it, but explaining the deep background of why the answer was what it was. He had his opinions, but if you could convince him otherwise he’d graciously concede the point, good training for students to learn to think on their own.

But the real talent of the man was that he was a Master Pedagogist. Let me explain what I mean by that. Teachers teach things that they know, and most of the time teach them the way they know them.

That last sentence makes sense. Take a second to follow along. As an example, there are a lot of really great “naturals” at a subject who are lousy teachers because they don’t know how they know what they know, or how they’re able to do what they do. They make lack the insight, or the patience, to help others acquire the knowledge they gained so easily. For others, they have only a few standard approaches to the material.

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When my kids first entered elementary school, there was a lot of controversy over the “multiple intelligences” approach to learning that the system fostered. It’s built around the idea that different kids learn in different ways. This was for me immediately comprehensible because I’d studied with a Master Pedagogist.

Master Pedagogists want you to learn the subject material, and they make it their business to find a way to get it across that works for you, the student. If a way that they’ve taught a subject successfully in the past doesn’t work for you, they delight in finding another way. Or another. And they’re proud of it.

I remember a couple of episodes. One, we were learning about 13th chords. He told us the day before that he had a great way to teach 13th chords that never missed. Then the next day he played up his way of teaching 13th chords that never missed. Then, he showed us the way. And to this day, if a car drives by and there’s a 13th chord for a brief distant instant on the radio my head will snap around. The leadup was of course part of the trick, and that’s the point. Deriving the method, and getting it across.

I also took an actual Music Pedagogy course junior year in which we went over a lot of this. He especially was proud of his ability to teach monotones — people who were literally tone deaf — to recognize and sing individual notes.

The text for that class wasn’t a music text at all. It was Gilbert Highet’s The Art Of Teaching. And that says it all.

From his graduation date of 1964, I gather that he was only 15 or 16 years older than me. Too young.

4 thoughts on “Larry Hartzell”

  1. Well said. My Freshman year was his first year at BW. My class survived a few issues during our tenure. By graduation, we were calling him “The Good Dr.”, because he was always willing to listen to our issues, and tried to help us find cures for our ills.

    Class of 1977

  2. This is sad news indeed for me. I was in one of his first classes at UW-Eau Claire in 1968. He was an inspirational teacher and the background he gave me served me well through grad school and even my profession. I ended up teaching many Theory Classes at my University and found my hands still knew their way through most of the progressions he required us to learn in every key.

  3. This is indeed sad news. I got to know Larry when he was at Eau Claire and I was principal trumpet in the Minnesota. He wrote a work for string quartet and trumpet for me, and I premiered it at the University of Toronto in 1974, with Larry present. As far as I know, that was the only performance. I have always thought that it would be a valuable addition to the repertoire, and I recently mentioned it to a publisher, who seemed interested. I would appreciate it if someone could give me contact information for his family, so that I might follow up on this.
    Stephen Chenette
    Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

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