Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 15 January 2019

Happy Birthday — and Thanks, Malcolm!

This is going to sound like a “medical” post, but it isn’t. Please bear with me…

As part of my second career (late ’70s to early ’80s), I lived in Hartford, Connecticut, where I was the General Manager of a professional chamber orchestra. And being only about 90 minutes away, I went as often as I could up to Tanglewood to absorb the incomparable music amid the glorious Berkshire surroundings.

At that time, my new doctor had done a routine EKG on me, and discovered what he called “an abnormality” in the results. He told me there were two likely possibilities: (1) that this abnormal thing had newly and suddenly appeared, and if so, it could be extremely serious — or (2) it might have been something I was born with and lived with all my life, in which case it wouldn’t mean much at all. (Turns out, it was the latter, but we didn’t know that at the time of this story.)

Tanglewood parking lot

“The unpaved field that served as the parking lot.”

An opera singer friend of mine and I drove up to Tanglewood during the summer of 1980, enjoyed the evening concert mightily, and returned to the unpaved field that served as the parking lot, only to find that I had a flat tire. I had never changed a tire before, but in a spirit of “how hard can it be?” I proceeded to get out the jack and the car’s little spare “baby tire.”

My friend frantically begged me not to “risk my heart” by changing the tire; “You could die!” she almost yelled. (Bless her heart. 😀 Did she major in Histrionics at Opera School?) But I forged ahead. By this time the parking lot had emptied, and it was quite dark.

Malcolm Frager, pianistA car traveling on Interlaken Road slowed down, saw our obvious dilemma, and pulled in. The driver got out, and the usual sort of “Having trouble?” / “Yes, flat tire” conversation ensued. My friend practically flew over to the man and begged him to help, as I had a “serious heart condition” and shouldn’t be doing such heavy work!

I said something like, “The only condition I have relevant to this situation is that I’ve never changed a tire before!” The man gave us a truly engaging (and comforting) smile, and he immediately set to the repair task at hand.

In what seemed like record time, he had the car and us good to go. I stuck out my hand, identified myself, introduced my friend, and thanked him profusely and repeatedly for his help. We again witnessed his smile, this time self-deprecating, as he shook my hand.

“I’m Malcolm Frager. And you’re very welcome!”

In a millisecond, my mind raced through a million thoughts: Frager. Malcolm Frager(!) Concert pianist. A brilliant musician. Changing my tire!! HANDS! I’ve ruined his career! Oh NO!!

And the only two words I could urgently stammer were, “YOUR HANDS!!!

His third smile was the charmer. He assured us that he routinely did all sorts of normal things with his hands besides playing the piano, and that he (and they) were no worse the wear for having changed my tire.

As it turns out, Frager and his family lived in the nearby town of Lenox, and he was returning home that evening from (as I remember it) a trip to the grocery store. It was a good reminder and object lesson that even famous people like Frager are human, need to buy groceries, and (in his case) can be extraordinarily and humbly giving, caring people.

So today, on what would have been his 84th birthday, I say, “Thank you once again, dear man, for the kindness you once showed me, and for the music you gave the world.”

Watch the excellent short documentary (below) to learn more about this great man, who (at age 56) was taken from us too early. Oh yes, and there is considerable conversation in this film, particularly in the beginning, about his hands — the hands that changed my … tire!!



Malcolm Frager






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