Throwback Thursday: Citizen at the Piano

Findlay Cockrell at the piano, circa 1970, and at the Troy Music Hall in 1982. (Photos courtesy of UAlbany Archives)

ALBANY, N.Y. (October 19, 2017) — Nobody ever gave the University at Albany as much music as did Findlay Cockrell — and virtuoso-level music, at that.

From the moment the Julliard-trained pianist joined the Music faculty of the University in the Fall of 1966 — the dawn of the Uptown Campus — to his retirement at the conclusion of Spring Semester 2006, he was among the most visible and contributing community members in the institution’s history.

He taught more than 250 piano students, nearly every one graduating with abiding affection for his counsel and understanding. He volunteered to aid University events (along with countless Capital Region causes) at the drop of an arpeggio, lending proper elegance and conviviality to every one.

He gladly made seven concert trips on behalf of the University and the City Albany to the latter’s “sister city,” Tula, Russia. His Tuesday noontime mini-concerts in the Recital Hall were cherished interludes for many faculty, students and staff for decades. When the University was between orchestra conductors because of a three-year financial crunch, Findlay took the baton.

Findlay Cockrell in Tula Russia

Cockrell performs in Tula, Russia, in the early '90s, Stars & Stripes gracing his torso. (Photo courtesy of Findlay Cockrell)

The campus was graced as well by his bespectacled, gangly form, striding across the Academic Podium or curled over his piano, implausibly long fingers working in concert, eyes peering down as if scrutinizing the keyboard for traces of lint. Campus and Capital Region audiences got used to the unexpected when it came to a Cockrell performance, including his walking onstage dressed as such great classical musical icons as Mozart and Beethoven and adding a dance around the piano during a George Gershwin concert.

“Citizen of the University” was an award that could have been instituted with him in mind; he received that, along with the 1987 Collins Fellow, UAlbany’s highest honor.

Upon Cockrell’s retirement, Provost Susan Herbst (now president of the University of Connecticut), commented: “As a faculty member for 40 years, Findlay has served the University with brilliance and tremendous energy, touching and enhancing the lives of students and colleagues . . . He has been a pillar of the arts and humanities at UAlbany, helping to shape the very nature of artistic endeavor here."

Retiring in ’06 . . . well, he didn’t. He made recordings, gave concerts in San Francisco, Russia and many other spots, and continued volunteering his talents to aid worthy causes and uplift public events.

After some years, he retired from that schedule as well. At 82, he lives with his wife Marsha at the Beverwyck, a local seniors residence, whose Terrace Community Room can accommodate his prized harpsichord and two grand Steinways. Starting in November, he'll entertain fellow residents (public invited) in Beverwyck's community room with two performances the third Friday of every month. He'll also give a May noontime concert in the Troy Music Hall.

Of his workplace for 40 years, he said, in 2006, "I will remember most of all that this university offered me a place to be myself, to do what I do and to develop as I wished.”

All listeners, colleagues and students were the beneficiaries.

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