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. Linden Lane
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The gift

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Kia Rozier's senior recital

Kia Rozier, 1981-2003. Courtesy of Caroline Kita

Kia Rozier, 1981-2003. Courtesy of Caroline Kita

When Kia Rozier died suddenly of a respiratory ailment at St. Elizabeth's hospital in the middle of an October night, she was 21 years old, a senior music major, and a classical string player sufficiently gifted that she was awarded the principal viola seat in the BC Symphony Orchestra as a freshman. She was also a resident of Mod 12A, where, according to reliable reports, she uncannily exercised the responsibilities and authorities of earth mother, wry television critic, sensitive soul, and model student (already ill, she went to take a test before heading for the hospital emergency room on the last day of her life). And all the while she gracefully and slyly belied her purposefulness and her belief that the world was a serious place by claiming the phrase "You know me; I'm a good time" as her aw-shucks credo.

On the evening of April 4, 2004, close to the day when Ms. Rozier would have performed her required senior recital, 17 orchestra members, including two of her roommates in Mod 12A (one of whom was my cellist daughter, Sara '04), gave Kia's recital in Kia's name, in the room in which it would have been performed—Gasson 100—and for the very audience that would have attended, a crowd that included her teachers, her many friends, her fiancé, her parents—Sterling and Bernetta Rozier, of Lakewood, New Jersey—and Jamaal Rozier, the oldest of Kia's three brothers. Mrs. Rozier, whom Kia resembled, wore a pendant gold locket at her throat that framed a tiny photograph of her only daughter taken at Kia's high school graduation. Mr. Rozier, a tall, thin, dignified man in a light brown suit, took photographs of the musicians and occasionally drew the back of his hand over his cheek. Jamaal, a strongly built young man in a baseball cap and Stefan Marbury jersey, sat down as soon as he entered the room, as though he had suddenly lost his legs, and bent forward, his cap low over his face, his open hands covering his eyes.

The program, titled "For Kia: A Concert in Celebration and Memory," was drawn from chamber music Ms. Rozier had played at BC. It was orthodox material: the opening movement from the Schubert C Major Quintet; a cheerful slice of a Mozart clarinet quintet; Beethoven's "Ghost" Trio, in which music professor Jeremiah McGrann, who was Kia's faculty advisor, played the eerie piano part. Between musical numbers, friends of Kia stepped to the front of the room and read poems such as Byron's "She Walks In Beauty."

In an interview shortly after Ms. Rozier died, John Finney, the director of the BC Symphony, had called her "radiant, shining, brilliant, gentle." The recital reflected a similar spirit: intensely lyrical, with the young musicians in bright informal clothes (and not their customary "blacks"), playing not from a stage but from the floor, and with no dressing room but a section of seats near the east wall that they filled with their jackets, instrument cases, and swollen backpacks. There, those who weren't taking a turn playing sat listening to those who were.

The printed program the students had devised featured a brief tribute to Ms. Rozier written by Patrick Mercer, her fiancé and a college student in New Jersey, its references to Kia drifting hauntingly back and forth between past and present. A photo of Kia on the cover was clearly in the present tense. In a black dress that shows off the curve of her shoulders, she is beaming, robust, beautiful, with large, strong hands raising her fiddle and bow in front of her. She seems whole and certain in the photograph, which is how she seemed when I watched her play during orchestra concerts, a firm and steady pulse at the center of the swaying, sawing action all around her.

The recital concluded with four young women, Sara among them, playing the slow, circling conclusion to the third movement from Beethoven's late String Quartet in A Minor. It's a piece of music that has acquired the name "Holy Song of Thanksgiving" because Beethoven described its melody as a hymn he composed in gratitude for his recovery from a serious illness. It begins with a series of slow, unison chords, like human steps, before the five-note melody takes off and soars and dives, soars and dives, returning briefly to earth at the very end with another set of unison chords, before it takes off again. And then the music stops. The musicians sat what seemed a long time with their arms up and their bows on their strings. And then they lowered their bows, and then applause, and they went off to join the other musicians at the side of the room, and their chairs were empty and the room silent. Here and there people cleared throats, wiped tears with fingers, with Kleenex. Mr. Rozier was bent forward, his arms resting on his knees, his head bowed low.

Twenty-three seconds of silence passed—I checked the interval on a tape recording of the recital—and then Jeremiah McGrann's voice getting louder as he approached the microphone from the back of the room: "We wondered what was going to happen at the end of that." A nervous laugh from the audience. And then he said, turning to Kia's family, "This is our gift to the Roziers and to Patrick and to all of you who knew Kia; and if you didn't know Kia, it's a gift anyway."

Ben Birnbaum

 

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