Police Taser Victim Named Gifted Pianist and Composer – Slipped DiscSlipped Disc

Norman Lebrecht

April 28, 2022

A man named Herman Whitfield III, 39, died early Monday after Indiannapolis police used a stun gun on him after he was called by his father for an emergency mental health issue.

BNC reports: The police department said officers tried unsuccessfully for more than 10 minutes to negotiate with Whitfield before he “walked quickly toward an officer.” The officer used his stun gun, punching Whitfield in the chest… Continue reading here.

Pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi writes:
There are things that are too difficult to accept, even in the unjust world in which we live. Herman Whitfield was a wonderful human being. It’s shocking, sad, horrific and so preventable! All of us who knew Herman remember him as the gentlest of giants. Besides his immense natural power, he could produce on the piano the most exquisite pianissimos of Fauré, a composer whom we both loved deeply. His hands even made mine look small, and the keyboard looked a bit like a toy. Perhaps because of this, the impression produced by its soft, sophisticated and delicate shades was even greater. He was kind, caring, compassionate, intelligent, gifted in many ways, and he would never hurt a fly. He was an extremely talented composer. I am grateful to have known him and to have had him as a student. His passing, at such a young age, would have been a tragedy anyway, but the way it happened is unacceptable. This should not happen in a civilized world, and yet it continues to happen throughout this nation. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, but I can’t help but feel that we need change, and we need it now. Something must be done. We need to stop sending police to medical emergencies and we need to stop using violence to defuse situations like this. We need to train responders and send more medical personnel instead of police with guns and tasers.
The world has lost a great soul.

Conductor Charles Latshaw adds:
I feel like I kind of have an obligation to share Herman’s story. He and I did several small musical projects together in 2005-2006, and he was the nicest, sweetest, most intimately-personally-honest musical person I know.
When I had a youth orchestra in Indiana, Herman was the first person I asked for a “mini-commission”; I was looking for composers to write short 2-3 minute pieces, so that students could get to know a composer directly and work with them to create a new piece. What a joy it was to see the faces of the children after reading a piece by this new composer, and there presented itself the following week, a full set of contradictions and subverted expectations. He was huge – 6’2″ and quite heavy, with hands like oven mitts, but spoke so softly and softly and wrote calm, peaceful music and played the piano with real patience and finesse.
I had asked him to write a play for children under 3 minutes, and I had given him parameters like “the sharp keys are better, up to 4 sharps.” Faster is easier than slow. Do not ask children’s string players to hold a note longer than 4 beats. They can play just about any beat, as long as they all play the same beat.
He returns a few days later with a piece of about 5 minutes, in 6/4, quarter note=52, for contralto and strings, sung in Japanese, IN G-FLAT MAJOR! He said simply, “I couldn’t help it. That’s what came out.” And it was beautiful, and it was all written just the way it should be written, despite all my picky instructions. I have to go get that piece. I must have hid it somewhere.
Herman’s death is a tragedy. And it brings up painful memories of Eric Garner and other needless and preventable deaths of black men at the hands of the police. I’m just lost. I’ve been silent about this for years, but I just can’t keep this one to myself. We must do better.

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