I'm still stunned about Dennis Monroe's passing. But through the disbelief and pain come so many memories of his music, his voice, and his unfailing humanity, and such strong affirmation of what he meant to Rochester.
For those who didn't have the good fortune to know Dennis - well, you missed one of the most genuine human beings around. He was a master of strings: guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, you name it. And he sang up a storm, too, everything from lute songs to blues and rock. Above all, he was a man of community, one who lived for his students, friends, family. Certainly his kids and wife Joni are devastated by their loss. But hundreds, if not thousands of Rochesterians are in mourning still.
I knew Dennis for more than 30 years. In the early days, we played Renaissance and Baroque music together once in a while. There was a memorable Christmas concert in Mendon Center one year; I attempted a couple Polish carols, with Dennis accompanying on guitar. Now I think we didn't do enough of these collaborations. Nor did we hoist as many beers together as would have been ideal.
He and I shared a love of nature and the outdoors, too, and the hikes we took were spiritually the flip side of the music. On the trail, Dennis was as genuine as he was when holding a fiddle. I recall one hike especially (it became an in-joke). We were climbing up through the streambed in Clark's Gully, near Naples, and soon enough we found ourselves stuck above a waterfall that seemed impossible to go down, though we’d scrambled up the thing safely, or maybe foolishly.
Anyway, we had to improvise a way up and out via a steep, gravelly wall dotted with foliage. Dennis started up the wall up first. The gravel gave way a little, but soon he found some handholds and called back down to me: "No problem. There's plenty of stuff to grab onto." I followed tentatively. A minute later it was smooth sailing. But suddenly we realized the handholds were clumps of poison ivy. We stuck to the upward path, though. What else to do? But at the top, we had to furiously scrub our hands and arms with soil to remove the sap before it could do its dirty work. Then we laughed like crazy, as we did many times afterward, thinking about that Laurel and Hardy moment.
Well, I can’t say why this sticks in my mind. I do know I always admired – and tried to learn from – Dennis’s humor, his sense not so much of the absurd but of the delights of silliness, boyishness. He had a way of breaking through the small stuff. I’ll try to keep my eyes on that prize, as Dennis would want.
All of us can seek comfort in the music, of course, which, as Dennis knew, means a lot more than notes on a page or physical sounds.
(I urge you all to check out the tribute page soon to be at http://gitfidmando.com.)