Saturday, July 12, 2008

Kurt Bestor

When I first met him, Kurt Bestor was a gangly 17-year-old kid at Orem High School. I was a 19-year-old college junior at BYU embarking on two semesters of student teaching, one of which was with Mrs. Hill's Honors English class at Orem High School.

Kurt was then as he is now an enormously talented musician, but he was something much more curious at the time, a lone Catholic in a school filled with Mormons. His father, Rollie Bestor, was diving coach at BYU, and the family had moved from Wisconsin to Utah and transplanted themselves in a place where they were very much the minority. Difficult as it might be to believe now, there were parents who wouldn't let their daughters date him because of the difference in religion at the time.

Although I sat in on the instrumental music program while doing my student teaching at Orem High, my primary focus was Mrs. Hill's English class, and the slow, plodding reading we were doing of her chosen paperback for the semester, William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying." Slow. Plodding. Did I say it was slow and plodding? It was.

I stayed up until 2 a.m. most nights grading papers, a task I took seriously, during a semester where I had an extremely heavy load of classes in addition to significant church responsibilities. Kurt was easily my best student, and his papers were a pleasure to grade.

Mornings I would meet him and a friend at the Joseph Smith Fieldhouse on the lower campus of BYU very early, sixish, and watch them dive, then together we would drive out to Orem High School together to spend the day, and repeat the process again the next morning.

I knew Kurt as a trumpet player. I hadn't a clue at the time he played piano, although it would have made sense for that to be the case.

As part of my student teaching, I had to also teach junior high, and did that under the mentoring of Kurt's mother, Phyllis Bestor, who taught English at Orem Junior High. Phyllis was an inspirational teacher to her students and involved them in all sorts of projects, like creating television commercials, to spark their young collective imagination.

At the end of his senior year, Kurt was a finalist for the Utah Sterling Scholar Award in Music, and a violinist friend and I drove from Provo to Salt Lake City to see him compete. He finished as runner-up to Kelly Clark, a young violinist from Provo High School who later married a friend of mine, Brett Parkinson.

After graduating, Kurt came to BYU, where I would run into him from time to time in classes or in the hallway or in the BYU Bookstore. I remember well the day he told me, with great excitement, that he was "being baptized," along with his whole family, as converts into the LDS Church. Some months followed, and again I ran into him, and he told me, with equal excitement, that he was being called to serve on a mission for the LDS Church.

I don't think I saw Kurt again after that. He went on that mission, to the former Yugoslavia, came home, got married.

Sometime later I was living in Wisconsin and went into a local music store in the mall at Christmastime. Beautiful seasonal music was playing overhead, and I asked the clerk what it was.

Kurt Bestor.

For many years since I followed Kurt's career as a professional musician, buying each new Christmas CD as it was released, in addition to others, and noting the many projects with which he was associated, the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, ABC Sports, film soundtracks and original scores. Every year at the Christmas holidays he undertakes a popular concert tour in the Intermountain West that is the season's hot ticket.

I've always fancied a certain symmetry in our lives. Kurt was a Catholic from Wisconsin who moved to Utah and became Mormon. I was a Mormon girl living in Utah who moved to Wisconsin and became Catholic. I've been enormously proud of what he's accomplished with his significant talent, not just in music, but in his writing, and wondered if ever at all there was a time he looked back and thought I had any influence with the red ink scrawled in the margin.

Kurt Bestor Brand Video#1 from Kurt Bestor on Vimeo.


Neil said...

As I Lay Dying is one of my all-time favorite books!

Barry Morgan said...

Probably one of my favorite musicians/composers/performers of all time. He has such a way with painting a picture with his music - something difficult to do. The world is a better place because of his music.