It was my happy responsibility to meet Mel Powell in the parking lot with his mobile wheelchair before his first composition lesson of the day. One morning, I rode the mobi-chair out to the lot at the appointed hour. No Mel. Time passed. Still no Mel, which was unusual because he was always so punctual. Not sure what to do, I rode the chair back to his office in case he might call (this was before cellphones). After over an hour, the phone finally rang: Mel’s car had broken down on the highway. Unable to walk to an emergency phone, Mel had stood along the road with his handicapped sign, and said that three police cars had driven past before one finally stopped.
His car been towed at last to a repair shop, and he was renting a car and heading into school. “Wait!” I said. You’ve already been through enough; none of us need a lesson that badly. Please take the day off. Not to be dissuaded, Mel insisted on coming to school. Sure enough, a little while later, he arrived, his hair blown into a stormy cloud from having stood among the speeding cars. He taught his full day of lessons. It’s hard to overstate what it means when a composer all of us revered came in to teach in spite of every reasonable excuse not to. It was emblematic of the impression that Mel always gave that teaching didn’t get in the way of his creative life but rather added to it. For that, I will always be unwaveringly grateful.