Through my good friend Sue Snyder-Maher, I learned that on September 4th, 2018, my very 1st in-school music teacher—Julius “Jules” Sposato—passed away. He was 93 years old.
I had already been out of touch with him for probably over 20 years (and especially after he and his wife had moved out to Los Angeles), but now that his Earthly-life is over, I was surprised to realize how little I know of his actual personal life & bio. There was also apparently no obituary posted for him, so I really don’t have a lot of info to share with you in that regard. What I can say is this: Mr Sposato had an enormously profound effect on me & my musical development right from the start.
In 1976, when I entered the 4th grade at Holy Rosary (a Catholic elementary school located in Hawthorne NY–Westchester), I had the opportunity to partake in learning an instrument. Like most kids, I wanted to take up the drums; my parents quickly said “NO WAY”. My best friend at the time said that he was going to try the trumpet, so in order to hang out more with him, I did too. Mr Sposato was 1 of the 2 teachers in that small but very productive music program. Mr Frank Turso (also deceased, a long time already) was the band & ensembles director, while Sposato ran all the individual & sectional instructional rehearsals. Turso had owned a small basement music store in White Plains, and Sposato had worked for him. Twice a week, the two would come into the school and run the music program during school hours.
Almost immediately, I fell for the instrument. Sposato must have quickly realized this and saw something of maybe a natural inclination in me, because already by our 2nd sectional lesson, he had ‘branded’ me as his ‘right hand man’ in the 4th grade trumpet section. I remember this specifically, because I had to correct him…I was actually left handed!
As a professional trumpet player himself, Sposato had already established several other proteges from the upper-classes in the program, and he must have sensed that I could be the next one, because he always made sure to give me more challenging material to work on than he did for the rest of the sectional players. And through the guiding musicality of my own father (a German-Bavarian Zither player), I was also already an avid music listener—so Sposato was very impressed & supportive whenever I expressed my interest in buying (listening to!) records that he could recommend to me. While everybody else seemed to be listening to Rock-n-Roll, this young kid was self-immersed in Bach; the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble, the New York Trumpet Ensemble, the Canadian Brass, and Maurice Andre!
(I still eventually ‘found’ some R&R, only much later.)
My parents never had to ask me to practice. On ‘playdates’ with other classmates who were also in the music program (and especially with my aforementioned best friend at the time, Jimmy Roina), I always brought my trumpet along to hopefully coax them into playing duets with me. Two years later, my cousin Karl Joseph Kehrle (who had been in the Ossining public school district), also took up the trumpet while in 4th grade…and even to this day, we still play duets whenever we get together! Karl now lives up in north-eastern CT (near the RI border) with his own family, and he plays in several concert bands up there.
Although I continued to have the in-school instructional music classes with Sposato, for years I was begging my parents for private lessons, which they finally awarded to me in the 8th grade—with Mr Sposato. Despite the very modest chariot he always arrived in (a tan station wagon, the trim of which was often held in place by masking tape), I remember feeling like it was an absolute honor every week when he walked into our house and gave me of his time & expertise. We worked on A LOT: scales, scale exercises, theory, writing & arranging projects, MMO (Music Minus One) solos, duets, ear training, Classical music, 20th Century Avant Garde music…even a brief introduction to Jazz, etc. I ate it up! But probably more important than the actual lessons, Sposato really instilled in me the ‘love of practicing’. I studied with him all the way through high school—which included 2 years of braces.
When I entered 9th grade at Archbishop Stepinac High School (in White Plains NY) with kids now coming from all around the entire county, I almost immediately walked on (into that music program) as the #3 trumpet player in a section of over 16 players! The other two ahead of me were Peter Ercoli (a Junior—also from Holy Rosary) and Jim Goebelbecker (a Sophomore from Valhalla)—and they both had also been private students of Sposato! So I knew I was on the right path…with the right teacher.
I had specifically chosen to go to Stepinac because their music program was so strong…and because I was chasing after Peter Ercoli, who had been my music/trumpet hero in Holy Rosary. He went to Stepinac (and was probably one of the main reasons why the music program there was so strong), so I wanted to go there too. Although maybe I was often a nuisance to him (he certainly couldn’t relax in that #1 spot, because I was always there—musically shadowing him), he knew he could rely on my playing…so whenever there was a need for another trumpeter, he would ask me to join him. We played together in the orchestra, the jazz/stage dance-band, a brass ensemble, and for 2 years, in the Spring musical pit-orchestra (we did “South Pacific” and “Guys & Dolls”). Needless to say, we were a very musically tight & strong trumpet section together.
Then in my Junior year—after Ercoli had graduated, the music director at Stepinac (who had his own set of issues, not the least of which being a severe drinking problem) suddenly decided to drop the entire music program—citing that there was nobody ‘good’ left. I was crushed. The reason why I couldn’t convince him that I was worth sticking it out for? I had gotten braces on my teeth over that summer. I had already been playing at a significantly high level when I got ‘my wings clipped’ by those damn braces. It was an incredibly frustrating (and depressing) time for me, but Sposato was still patiently ‘there’ for me; he even modified his lesson plans to help accommodate my new limitations (& yet so I still could keep progressing), and he was always, always, encouraging. Thankfully, I didn’t quit (although there were several close calls). During that time and with his help, I still achieved NYSMA orchestral status (having performed the Hummel Trumpet Concerto), and then I also auditioned for & actually won the #2 trumpet spot in the Westchester Youth Symphony—with Victor Leonti (who had also been very patient with me & my braces).
Ironically, 2 years after I got those braces off, I had been studying a year abroad during college and got into a bar fight over in Munich Germany. I got my jaw broken in 3 places—so my teeth to this day don’t look like I ever even had braces…!! Go figure, but that’s a whole other story for another time.
Although I of course continued to study & perform music during & after college—Mr Sposato & I parted ways when I graduated from high school. For a while we kept in touch. He was always happy to hear that I was musically ‘soaring’ again after my braces came off…but then we eventually lost contact—as I mentioned, especially after he & his wife had moved out to Cali.
Fast-forward to May of 2017; I finally released my very 1st major solo album, entitled “My Classical Passion”. On it I honored many of the people who had influenced me along the way—including Mr Sposato, of course. Shortly thereafter, I wound up running into my friend Sue—who told me that she was heading out to California on a vacation with her own family, and that they were planning to see Jules. Of course I gave her a copy of my CD—one for her own family (Sue’s father was Fred ‘Moe’ Snyder—the infamous area session trombonist & trombone teacher, who had also been one of Sposato’s closest lifelong friends; Moe had also been a very musically influential person to me, so he too is honored on my album. He himself pssed away on 6/5/2016 at the age of 94), but then I also gave her a 2nd copy—to please bring out to Mr. Sposato.
Sue took that top photo (the only one I’ve got!) of Sposato when she gave him my CD. Although he was already old, Sue told me that he still had all his mental faculties…and that he had remembered me.
Although he died now only about a year later, I am comforted by the sense of some closure; that he had gotten to see (hear!) what I had done with all that he had instilled in me over 40 years ago—the product-fruition of a seed that he had planted in me. I’d like to think that he was proud of me, as I am one of probably only a very few of his (MANY) students who had actually continued on with the trade-craft of his own passion—and even followed through with it. Although I also had lost touch with Ercoli & Goebelbecker when they graduated high school, my understanding is that neither of them had even continued on with Music. They were both very good players (especially Ercoli) and had also showed signs of significant potential—so they probably could have, if they had kept at it; but I think by now it is clear that my passion for Music was, and is, much deeper than it is for most people—including them. Almost all of the decisions in my life, have been made with the continuation & progression of my music in mind. And to think that it all really started back in the 4th grade…
I really hope Mr Sposato is at peace now, but not necessarily at rest—as I’m sure he’d be much happier if his music skills were still in demand…and maybe they are, just on a much higher level. -PjB 10/2018
P.S. Jules—I’ve got my own 2 kids playing music now too! I am honored with the task (no—the privilege, really) of passing your legacy & life’s work onward to them…til we meet again, I will keep up the ‘fight’ down here. Thanks again for everything!