Who was Allan Blank besides a man who filled over forty boxes with papers?
Well, a few weeks ago I had the pleasure to correspond with several of Allan Blank’s former colleagues, friends and even family. What I discovered is the person behind the paper. Too often one opens a box of papers and cringes at the disorder and condition. Empathy and respect are key to a historian; these are not simply pieces of paper in disarray, but a man’s creativity and feeling written in pencil and ink.
Wonderful new details about his life emerged. Allan Blank practiced the violin for two hours every day; he was small in stature and liked to astonish friends with compositions. According to Dr. Ardyth Lohuis, Allan Blank truly surprised her and Dr. Robert Murray with two scores “Elegy” and “Dualisms”, after hearing them rehearse down the hall. “He said that he had written them for us though we had no prior indication that he was even contemplating doing so. He told us that Elegy was written in memory of his father. I vaguely remember a comment that he made about Dualisms — that he had set himself a composing challenge to see what he could do with two instruments which were so very different in resources and power.” I was amazed to learn this information and even more delighted when another colleague presented me with contact information for family members.
Stupefied is the only term that comes to mind when I learned that Allan Blank still had living relatives. When I was first given funding for this project, no familial information was given. All my knowledge concerning Allan Blank was researched, or found in his papers. Later, I would process a poem written about eyeglasses by Allan Blank’s nephew, the beginning of a lead. Upon further inquiry, however, I was saddened to discover that his nephew had passed away. That was the end of that…or so I thought.
As I emailed back and forth with Allan Blank’s former colleague Melissa Marrion, she gave me the contact information to several other individuals who had worked with him. A day later, Mrs. Marrion reached out to me again asking if I would be interested in speaking with Allan Blank’s relative. Umm…yes! This is where I learned the true history of my only clue to the composer’s elusive family. (I’m starting to feel like a history detective!) While his nephew did write the glasses poem, there has a pivotal part missing. The poem was in reality written by Allan Blank’s great nephew! Mind blown, happy dance ensued and finally a phone call.
Affectionately, when Samuel Blank is displaying stretches of creativity, his mother will comment that his Uncle Allan’s genes are showing. Perhaps creative genius runs in families! Samuel’s father made it a point to keep in contact with his Uncle Allan, a man very much wrapped up in the Richmond music scene. Occasionally, the family would attend a concert where one of Allan Blank’s pieces was being performed. His great nephew laughingly recalls the composer bringing the score with him. He loved observing his work played and followed along with the musicians, often watching for mistakes. With the final note finished, Allan Blank would stand and bow. Speaking with Samuel gave me a greater sense of Allan Blank’s personality and quirks. He was terribly passionate and protective of his compositions, a viewpoint that evidenced in the boxes of scores.
Now, to address a misconception that has plagued my blog since the very first post: did Allan Blank receive his doctorate? The answer is maybe. It was my failure as a researcher not to look deeper into my sources and I relied upon inaccurate information, without finding out the truth. I assumed he was Dr. Blank based solely on one biography, which was wrong and terribly lax of me. At this juncture, I have not found any evidence to support that Allan Blank earned, or received an honorary doctorate. Beginning with this post and all the posts hereafter, I will refer to him as Mr. Blank until I discover proof to the contrary. I want to thank Melissa Marrion, for pointing out my error! Here is what she told me:
“And, for your info, I’m not aware that he ever received an Honorary Doctorate. I know that he did not have an earned doctorate because it was not necessary for his work… He WAS awarded the Sigma Alpha Iota National Arts Associate distinction. This is for national known artists in music.”
I am incredibly grateful to all of Allan Blank’s family and friends who took the time to answer my inquiries! Currently, I am still roughly twenty boxes away from writing a biography, which will be included in the finding aid for this collection. Yet, when I do finally begin to write, the impersonal facts such as dates and number of compositions will be supported by his life experiences. My work is encompassed by his paperwork, but now I can picture the man behind the musical notes.