Remembering Alfie Kunz – U of Waterloo music director

Alfie Kunz

I was sorry to learn that Alfred “Alfie” Kunz, noted composer and conductor, passed away last week at 87. Here’s a bit about him from the University of Waterloo, where he was music director for many years, and a career retrospective from the Record.

He had a huge musical career all across the K-W area but I remember him most from his UW days. And I want to share some memories of a time before the Internet when nothing ever got written down in a way that it could be searched for later.

Alfie was one of the first people I met when I started at Waterloo in 1977. I hardly knew anybody and had no clue about extra curricular activities but somehow learned that there was a UW Concert Band that rehearsed on Wednesday nights in the Arts Lecture Hall, and I quickly signed up – and also joined the UW Stage Band, that he also directed, and I think I might have even been in the UW Orchestra at one point.

Waterloo actually had a full time Director of Music on staff and it was Alfie’s job to run all these ensembles, up until UW president Burt Matthews eliminated that program in 1979. We were upset! I recall we even wrote a protest song about it –

Tune: Yes, Jesus Loves Me
Matthews hates us, this we know
For the budget tells us so,
Peripheral programs gotta go,
Music's of priority low.

Burt Matthews hates us,
Burt Matthews hates us,
Burt Matthews hates us,
The budget tells us so.

It didn’t do much good though. UW killed its extracurriular music program, and although I was grateful that Conrad Grebel College picked up a few of the pieces – and even made concert band a credit course, which it never was in my day, not that I’m bitter – it was never the same.

I made some great friends in Alfie’s concert band – in fact, it was through the concert band that I learned that the Warriors Band even existed. All I knew about the Warriors Band was that they were a total bunch of goofballs occasionally on TV, and as a proud new student, there was no way I’d ever join that ragtag ensemble.

Needless to say, many members of that ragtag ensemble were also in Alfie’s concert band, including clarinetist Ken Fudurich, who talked me into coming to my first Warriors basketball game one night after concert band practice. We trudged through the snow from the arts lecture hall up to the gym, only to find it deserted, and Ken concluded “Oh, maybe tonight’s game is actually at Laurier, not here.” And we hiked down to WLU, found that the game had already started, Ken introduced me to Warriors Band CCWB Mark Hagen, who was overjoyed to find another trombone player besides himself… and when someone in the WLU crowd held up a sign saying “Waterloo’s Band Sucks”, I knew I’d found a new home.

But that’s kind of another story.
Back to the Concert Band for a moment.

I met a lot of great friends in that group, many of whom I stay in touch with today. I recall an end of year banquet at which Alfie thanked the graduating seniors, and I thought “I gotta stick around, I want to hear that speech about me some day.” Alas, we never got the chance after UW pulled the plug. But, we made some great music. Popular tunes, Christmas selections, interesting Alfie compositions – including one Oktoberfest-themed overture where the trombonist had to stand up and play a drunken, wobbly version of “Ein Prosit”, and I think Rob Gibson had seniority and got to play it instead of me. I hoped we’d do that one again a few years later so it could be my turn but it never happened.

I can recall a raucous concert with the UW Concert Choir, in which they were all behind our Stage Band, singing “Hey Jude” by themselves, and we begged Alfie to let us play along on the chorus even though we weren’t quite sure what key it was in, and it sounded great and Alfie loved it.

I remember a grand afternoon concert Alfie called “Tea and Symphony”, and we all had special “Tea and Symphony” T-shirts, and it wasn’t until much later in life that I understood that that title was some sort of pun on a movie title.

I can remember recruiting some of my new Warriors Band friends to join the Concert Band too. The concert band was chronically short on percussionists and I told Alfie I might know some – thinking, of course, of the many skilled musicians in the Warriors Band, and also thinking of the drummers in the Warriors Band – and I brought Jim Snyder along one time to help out. Except Jim couldn’t make the practice before the big concert, but he came along to the big concert, and I can still recall the shocked look on Alfie’s face as he cued the percussion section at some crucial spot in the opening number and BOOM, there was a huge crash on the cymbals played by someone Alfie had never seen before.

I also remember one weird band rehearsal when we were roaring away on something, triple-forte, and an older man we had never seen before barged into the room, yelling, and grabbed Alfie and threw him to the floor. Huh? We found out later it was a professor whose late night research was being disturbed, and he was of course totally out of line and had to apologize later to the whole band. But the band persevered.

I sure had friends in that band. It kept me sane while I was trying to figure out how university worked. It was a refreshing counterpoint to the disorganized mayhem of the Warriors Band – and Alfie was always a great supporter of that other group too. He composed The Black and White and Gold, UW’s official school song, and of all his hundreds of serious compositions, I bet that one’s been played the most.

Jim Spence. Rob Gibson. Rosalee Mitchell. Ginny Lyons. Ken Fudurich. John Oldfield. And many more great friends from that group and I’m adding their names here in case they stumble across this post in a google search some day. I’ve got some pictures at home that I’ll scan and post when we get back.

A few years later when I was still in the waterloo area, Alfie called me, looking for a trombone player to help out at some gig at one of the German clubs, and I hemmed and hawed and then didn’t actually show up. I felt guilty about that for twenty years afterwards – and was happy to discover that Alfie was on Facebook, so that I could apologize to him – and he forgave me, much to my relief, and we had a good chat about how much fun we’d had.

Thanks, Alfie.
A lot of us wouldn’t have made it through UW without you.

Rest in peace.


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