A Memorable Birthday Card
from Ruth Caron Jacobs, Friend and Patroness

A Remembrance by Christopher Fulkerson

Ruth Jacobs and I became friends when I joined the Wagner Society of Northern California in the early 1990s. She was a lifelong opera lover of the (to me) conventional but very passionate sort, but she always respected my thoughts about the musical side of opera.

Ruth was my principal patron. She paid for the concerts I did in 1998, and for the one that I did in May of 2009. That is to say, Ruth paid for the only two programs yet to be dedicated to my music. I am sorry to see her go.

Ruth was of very slight build. She had told me for years that she had very weak bones. Three and a half years before her death she was walking to the Opera House and fell and broke her hip. This left her in great pain and generally traumatized the remainder of her life. Since I drive a cab for a living, and through that time I drove a dedicated wheelchair van, she called upon me regularly during this time. I drove her as often as three times a day. She was always utterly grateful for my help, expressing herself in absolute terms. I in turn was grateful for what she did for me. Once she had recovered enough to do so she made sure I saw the Ligeti GRAND MACABRE from a box seat. I was nervous about this because of Ligeti's occasional flirting with minimalism, but since his opera uses no such fraudulance, and is Ligeti at his best, I loved it.

Ruth was very proud of her middle name, Caron, and when she spoke it she would look deep into your eyes as though that was where the secret meaning was. I saw her do this with others than myself. She made sure you understood this was not an alternate spelling of Karen; it was a family name, which she said meant something like "Wolf." I did not remark that Charon is the name of the ancient divine ferryman who takes souls across the River Styx, and I did not fail to mark the correspondence between that and the fact that I am named Christopher, after the saint who at peril to himself carried people across a river; and that I work in the most dangerous job in America, as a taxi charioteer, that is, a ferryman. Ours was in some ways a curious relationship that I took for granted people misunderstood. I dedicated my harp solo L'UCCEL DIVINO to her; it is a portrait of the captain of the Ship of Souls in Dante's Purgatory. I think she liked it, but when she had a little too much to drink she would say to people that I had dedicated my HARPSICHORD CONCERTO to her, which I had not. I'm pretty sure she preferred the Harpsichord Concerto.

Patronage mixed with friendship is quickly misunderstood by a noticeable percentage of the populace. The women in my life, and other people as well, assumed that Ruth and I were more intimate than we were. This angered Ruth alot, but she saw the humorous side of it as well. One woman I dated for about a year invariably accused me of lying about my relationship with Ruth. This sort of problem is only encouraged by modern ultra-politicized commissioning policies that discourage any appearance that commissioners and the commissioned know each other. Public money is not supposed to have personal strings. But the arts are all about personal attachments, and the belief that patrons have in artists is most visionary when it is personal. A fake sheen of professionalism is substituted for the ancient necessity that people who are really generous have a right to know the people they give their money to. Ruth was not wealthy, she lived very modestly and then splurged on things that meant a lot to her. But unlike the really wealthy, in my case she did not give to foundations which would make her gift tax-deductable, and therefore, in an important sense, not an act of generosity. Her gifts to me were given out of genuine generosity. A legal secretary's gift of a few dollars that cannot be deducted from her taxes is a greater act of generosity than an oilman's million dollars that would go out to the tax man anyway. Ruth fought vehemently to continue volunteering her time at San Francisco arts organizations. She was a saint.

Six weeks before her death, after she had given me a grant to help with the May 2009 expenses, she sent me this birthday card. I noticed that there was an extra serious tone to her writing. I think you'll agree it's a pretty serious birthday card.

After Christmas I began work on one of the pieces for the program, CELESTIAL SIXTIES II, which had been projected in 1990 and which contains a version of the Ordinary of Saint Stephen, and concludes with my setting of the song text "Saint Stephen," written by Robert Hunter for the Grateful Dead (and used with his permission). It concludes a project I had begun twenty years before and perhaps could not have brought to a conclusion without Ruth. I didn't plan things this way, but in 2009 I finally did begin the real work on this Stephenesque piece on December 26, which is Saint Stephen's Day.

Unknown to me for another several days, Ruth had died on that very day. I learned of her death from the President of the Wagner Society... whose given name is Steve.

Ruth's message reads "Happy Birthday to my dear friend Christopher without whom I could never have survived the last 3 1/2 years."

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Posted November 2, 2009

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