Sunday, October 12, 2008

Remembering Edward Catton

Many years ago I began spending my summers in northern Michigan near the little town of Northport. Over the years I was vaguely aware of the Interlochen Center for the Arts and the Interlochen Arts Academy music and arts boarding school and summer camp. As I grew older, I began to listen to WIAA, Interlochen Public Radio, a service of ICA. One of the most memorable voices of the radio station was that of Edward Catton, who was not only their announcer and host for many programs, but their program director as well. In 1978, when I got a job at a radio station in nearby Frankfort, I finally got to meet Ed, and we became friends. I left the radio station in 1979 for a teaching job and grad school, so it wasn’t until 1990, when I moved to Petoskey, Michigan, that I reconnected with Interlochen and Ed. Although I lived over 80 miles away, the station had a repeater in nearby East Jordan so I could hear the station and all its music, news, stories, readings, and everything else that brought a touch of culture and beauty to an already-beautiful (if not wintery) part of the world. Quite often WIAA was the only station I listened to in the car, the house, and in my office, and when “Music By Request” started on Saturday mornings, hosted by Ed, I was there with something, usually a bit off-beat, like a piece by Leonard Bernstein or Jerome Moross.

For the five years that I lived in Petoskey I volunteered for the station’s biannual fund-raisers, answering phones and taking pledges. And under Ed’s guidance, the fund-raisers were fun. As opposed to the beg-a-thons and guilt-trips you get on most public stations, WIAA had contests, challenges, musical games, all with Ed’s deep voice-of-God baritone on the air or in the background as he kept track of the money coming in. He would “vultch” over us as we answered the phone; Ed invented the word “vultch” as the verb form of “vulture,” as in hang over us like a hungry buzzard, and then, after consulting the “Sacred Scrolls,” he would report sonorously, “We have met the challenge. Onward.” I think that WIAA had the distinction of actually increasing their listenership during their fund-raisers.

In 1995 I moved to Albuquerque, and in 1997 Ed retired from Interlochen so he could spend his time with his partner Nancy and they could do more traveling, especially to his beloved England and Scotland where he would explore the hills and climb the moors. And it was there in York on October 13, 2004, that Ed died suddenly of a heart attack. He was in a place he loved doing what he loved.

I did not hear about Ed’s death until nearly a year later when a friend from Michigan mentioned it in passing. I never got the chance — until now — to pay tribute to a friend and fellow lover of theatre — he participated in many local productions in Traverse City and Benzonia and was a regular attender at the Stratford Festival in Ontario — and a man of great humor, humility, and deep love of all things beautiful.

I wish I had a recording of his voice saying, one last time, “this is W-I-A-A, Interlochen.” But the closest I can come is a piece of music from Interlochen with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra and the rest of the musicians from the camp playing the Interlochen Theme by Howard Hanson. For many years Ed hosted the broadcast of the summer concerts, and in my memories I can hear him announcing the final concert of the summer from the outdoor theatre among the cedars and the evergreens of the northwoods.


Rest in peace, friend.