Richard L. Higgins, 80, longtime Peabody educator, wind ensemble director

September 09, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Richard Lackland Higgins, retired co-chairman of the music education department at Peabody Conservatory of Music and director of the Peabody Wind Ensemble, died Sunday of leukemia at his lifelong Gambrills home. He was 80.

Mr. Higgins joined the faculty of the Mount Vernon Place conservatory in 1955 as a teacher of musical instrumental methods, and in 1969 was named co-chairman of the music education department. He retired in 1984.

He taught music appreciation at Anne Arundel Community College from 1988 until he retired a second time in 1995.

Described by colleagues and family members as a "quietly dignified and elegant man," Mr. Higgins made his mark at Peabody as a teacher and conductor.

"He was a firm conductor who had a dry sense of humor," said Paula Hatcher, a flutist and Peabody faculty member who had played in the wind ensemble under his direction. "He was so popular that no one ever wanted to leave the group."

"In addition to Paula Hatcher, Richard Nahatzki, soloist and member of the Radio Orchestra of Berlin, and Louis Lipnick, principle bassoon in the National Symphony, are among the many musicians who honed their ensemble skills under Dr. Higgins," said Elizabeth Schaaf, Peabody archivist and longtime friend.

Mr. Higgins spent his entire life in the Gambrills farmhouse built by his grandfather in 1865, and where Mr. Higgins was born in 1919.

He was a graduate of Annapolis High School and earned his bachelor's degree in music from the Peabody in 1949. He received a master's degree from Vandercook College in Chicago in 1954 and a doctorate in musical arts from Peabody in 1969.

An accomplished pianist, he also played the violin and clarinet, and before World War II, performed with area hotel dance bands as well as with the National Youth Association Symphony Orchestra.

"His taste in music ranged from the Renaissance to the avant-garde," said a daughter, Pamela L. Higgins of Roland Park. "And the spectrum of composers ranged from Wagner, Dvorak, Mahler and Beethoven to Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington and Cole Porter."

"A superb jazzman, he came to Peabody when that genre was considered anything but respectable," said Ms. Schaaf.

"He would often reminisce with his colleagues at Peabody about saving streetcar fare to go hear Ella Fitzgerald at the Congress Hotel in Baltimore back in the 1930s. He loved the music of Broadway and was an accomplished bandsman," Ms. Schaaf added.

During World War II, he was a warrant officer and bandleader with the 175th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division, and landed at Normandy Beach six days after the initial assault.

Mr. Higgins and his dance band members had a narrow escape from death earlier in the war while entertaining at a hotel in Bournemouth, England. "They had just packed up their instruments when a bomb from a German plane leveled the hotel. None of the men were killed, but some of their instruments were sprayed with shrapnel. He said the first thing he did was to raise his baton over his head," said Ms. Higgins, laughing.

An avid sailor, Mr. Higgins enjoyed entertaining family and friends aboard his 30-foot sloop, the Velero.

He was a communicant and choir director of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 1110 St. Stephen's Church Road, Crownsville, where a memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday

He is also survived by his wife of 56 years, the former Pamela S. E. Long; two other daughters, Jane E. Higgins and Mary H. Roberts, both of Chevy Chase; and six grandchildren.

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