Prof. Paul Hickfang, RIP
I met him when I was 13 years old, outside Linworth United Methodist Church. I wanted to sing more solos at my middle school, so my mother dutifully sought a voice teacher. Prof. Hickfang, all 6 feet 7 inches of him, unfolded out of the car. He had me sing a few scales inside the church's choir wroom, and suddenly I was a voice student. Thus began a beautiful 25 year friendship. And, I immediately began getting more solos! (The first one: "As Long As He Needs Me," from "Oliver.")
I remember so many Sunday afternoons, standing in front of the Steinway in his carpeted living room. Teenaged me, trying to make sounds that he approved of. Occasionally succeeding. Him, shoeless but wearing dark socks and dress pants, long legs crossed and swiveled away from the keyboard, pointing to his mouth and saying, "Meh! Like this! Meh!" Or, motioning me toward him so he could punch me in the stomach to see if I was supporting adequately. Or, shouting down to Laura Lee in the basement, "Could you play this for Eden?" Or, holding my hands in one of his and saying, "Good job, Miss Casteel."
Prof. Hickfang truly changed my life for the better. I saw him perform in "La Boheme" and thought, "I want to do that." He understood. He also discovered that I had perfect pitch -- I thought everybody could identify notes without hearing them being played. He sent me to University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music to study with his old friend, Patricia Berlin. He sang at my wedding. He named one of his sons after his voice teacher Chase Borromeo, so I named my son after him. He coached me through recitals, roles, performances. He also coached me through life. "How are you singing?" he would always ask. "What are you working on?" He always wanted to know.
After years of really wonderful health, and 22 years of post-retirement voice teaching ("it keeps me young," he said) he suffered a stroke. I visited him before Christmas. I am so glad that I got to hold his hand, and tell him all the wonderful things I was doing. He knew my singing was good and my life was great. And he knew I loved him. And, despite his paralysis, he flirted with my mother as always. He flirted with everyone. Including Laura Lee, his wife.
In two days I will sing at his memorial service. I am honored to do it. Every time I sing a note or teach a student, he is with me. That helps.
Good night, my dear Prof. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.