The Embroidered Truth

An ongoing search for inspiration and the good life.

Remembering Alfonso Levy

on July 6, 2011
Dr. Alfonso Levy

Dr. Levy at the "Messiah" performance at St. James, December 2006

There are headlines a writer hopes she never has to write; this is one of those for me.  It’s silly, of course – everyone’s time comes, eventually – but it’s nice to dream while we still have the luxury to do so.

The Lake City community lost a dear friend this weekend with the passing of Dr. Alfonso Levy, former school principal, comedian and musician extraordinaire, a man I called “the Boss.”  Nearly everyone who lived there for any amount of time, and especially those of us who grew up there, have a story to share about something funny he said or how he influenced a music career.  Everyone loved him, and he loved them too.

I was eight years old when I joined the Summers Elementary chorus, and we were warned right off the bat about Dr. Levy and the Christmas concert.  Each year, the various schools in Lake City gathered to perform a holiday concert, and at the end of the evening, the school choruses and the audience would be led in the singing of “O Come All Ye Faithful” by Dr. Levy.  This was the highlight of the evening, and an event in itself.  We were cautioned to watch Dr. Levy like a hawk, because he had a habit of doing silly things like cutting the song off mid-phrase and then telling a joke, or holding notes extra long or not at all, and we’d better not embarrass Summers by singing an unintentional solo. (We were kind of afraid to sing at all after that.)  It all proved to be true, and my memories of those years are of Dr. Levy dressed in his ever-present Santa hat (later with a ball on the end that glowed different colors).

Dr. Levy also recorded some music for me when I entered the school talent show in the fourth grade, singing “I Just Called to Say I Love You” (dressed as Barbie from Barbie and the Rockers, thank you very much, due to my talented mom – and no, I will not post pictures).  He had an electronic keyboard that made much more realistic sounds than a piano ever could have, and I remember having a good time recording it at his house one day.

Fast forward several years.  I did not sing in a chorus after the 8th grade; Norman Choice, our highly respected high school choir director, was killed in a car accident when I was a freshman, so I chose to focus more on academics during school and took to performing musical theatre as an extracurricular.  College and my sports information internship edged music further out of my life until I moved back to Lake City in 2001.  Around the same time and by some miracle, Dr. Levy had agreed to direct the choir at St. James Episcopal Church, the church I was born into and still attend.

My father had to drag me to the first rehearsal (and probably a few after that).  School choruses and musical productions had given me a healthy horror of group music rehearsals, because often the other singers were there to do everything but learn songs and a lot of time was wasted. I also was not keen on the idea of the St. James choir – at that time it mainly consisted of my dad and one or two ladies  – but I went because I liked Dr. Levy, and he is why I kept going.  His instinct for music direction was impeccable, finding the emotion in each piece and playing to the strengths we had, even teaching us something about music in the process.  The choir grew, and the church grew, and soon our little group was being compared to the “Sister Act” choir.  We performed some simple songs and some difficult ones, some well-known and some new ones; we performed three or four years’ worth of Handel’s “Messiah” with the help of some friends in the community, all because of Dr. Levy.

I found my own voice again, the one that should have been trained years earlier.  He pushed me to attempt vocals I was sure I could not perform, Bach and Handel and Verdi, and to test the limits of my range (the upper is now around a high E).  He forced me to rely on my sight-reading abilities more often. We fussed and argued when he didn’t remember the changes he made to a piece of music, but I always knew he was pleased with my performance by the look in his eyes.

I have remembered many things about him over the past few days: how he insisted that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was every American’s national anthem, and showed us his ring with the first notes engraved on it; how he gave a ride to some supposed Hurricane Katrina refugees, who held him up and stole that same ring, and how our choir collected money and had a new one made that he was so proud of; the way he laughed at his Christmas present of an animatronic Elmo that sang “Shout” and danced (a choir in-joke); the game he and my mother played every Sunday, when he would play a Baptist hymn instrumental during the early part of Communion, and my mother guessed it almost every time.

We will miss his energy, his laugh, and his sheer delight in living.  The St. James choir is still singing, and the people of Lake City are going on with their lives, but we cannot replace what we have lost in Dr. Levy.  We can only hope to make him proud of us.

“This child here” will miss you, Boss.

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4 responses to “Remembering Alfonso Levy

  1. What a beautiful tribute, Laurel. My heart goes out to you for your loss. And my personal gratitude goes out to Dr. Levy for helping you become the amazing singer you are. Hugs, chica.

  2. Sarah says:

    “This child here…” – I love it. Oh how I will miss him too.

    I loved my family’s Friday night jaunts to Costa del Sol, and how my dad would talk Gracie (or Nuvy- if she was here) into putting a quarter in the tip basket. Dr. Levy always got a kick out of that, and never failed to play kids songs for us so that our little urchins could dance the evening away, crunching their tortilla crumbs into the floor in the process. 🙂

    However, I do regret never fulfilling my promise to him to reclaim my alto chair in the choir. I loved singing with you all under his direction, and being a part of something that he made great. His constant harassment to rejoin the choir gave me a smile each Sunday that he approached me. I wish I had made the time to be touched by a little bit more of his love, humor, and genius.

    You and the rest of “his” choir are in my thoughts especially, as all of us mourn our loss.

    S

  3. Beautiful tribute, Laurel. He was truly an extraordinary gem!

  4. Shah says:

    He was my rock and inspiration while i was in the city that many still were not so friendly and nice to colored people. i gave up, but he never… you will be always in my heart Mr. Levy, my Master.

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