Joe's Blog

In Memoriam

February 25, 2022

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Joe’s Obituary

From Catherine Steele:

Joe became my music teacher in high school.

Like many girls that age, I was devastatingly shy. I was uncomfortable in my body, overwhelmed by the boys, and plagued by feelings of intellectual inadequacy. And although I didn’t know it at the time, meeting Joe would forever change my life.

Joe became my music teacher in high school, and so much more.

Music may have been his medium, but his true gift was empowering others. Joe saw me—me—that profoundly unconfident high school girl who just wanted to hide—for exactly who I was, and who I could be. He nurtured the musical part of me that had begun to express itself through the double bass. He also validated my mind, taking with utmost seriousness the naïve ponderings of a young girl about the inner-workings of the universe. He made me feel like Einstein. He also validated my creativity by time and again welcoming me into spaces that were, I thought, reserved only for “serious” musicians and artists. Joe cultivated in me a sense of self-worth by believing in me before I believed in myself.

Joe became my music teacher in high school. But for me and many of you, he was so much more. This is the part of him that I will most greatly miss.

Joe sought a space where he could nurture beauty without distraction. Those of us that knew Joe artistically have experienced the exuberant magic that that pursuit produced. Part of Joe’s legacy, I believe, is having helped others become receptive to the aesthetics of everyday life—those nuances of time and space that tend to be flattened through the mundane rhythms and visual fields of everyday life. Joe teaches us that nothing is mundane, if you look deep enough, and listen long enough.

The worst part about Joe’s death for me, so far, is that I can ask questions of him, but I can’t get answers. The irony is that this is not too different from talking to Joe when he was alive! Joe was a stubborn man, and to his credit, he was aware of this. Often he would proclaim himself difficult, picky, provocative, finicky, and disorganized.

Many saw a side of him that tolerated only intermittent closeness. Joe was in this sense kind of like a cat: he asked to be treated gently and would bristle if he felt unsafe or unseen. He was cynical when something required him to trust—whether this be trusting in a friendship, a process, or in his own strength. But I believe this came from his exquisite sensitivity.

At his core, Joe, like all of us, wanted to be loved, appreciated and admired. Like all of us, he had a deep, visceral desire to be seen, accepted and understood as “ok”. Living in the shadow of his father, the great Julius Bloom, appeared to be, most often, a devastating experience for him for many reasons, most of which involve unattainable precedents set by growing up near musical greatness. What I wouldn’t give to see Joe recognize himself as a transcendent musician, and a transformative teacher.

As his friends, I think one of the most precious gifts we’ve given to Joe was to offer him a space to feel safe just as he was—even when he felt callous, testy, and particular as heck! And his most exquisite gift, in return, was his vulnerability. It takes courage to be vulnerable. And for this, I will remember him as one of the most courageous people I have ever met. I was able to remind him of this courage in our last conversation before he died.

In no small way, Joe has helped me become a better being. To me, despite his being a curmudgeon about so many things, he was the embodiment of compassion.

May we all take a lesson in Joe’s life: You may never know the effect you have on others. So, my request to all of you, on behalf of the memory of Joe as I knew him is to invest in “seeing” someone else. Today, tomorrow, the day after that. Really see someone. What are they going through in their own life? Can you accept them just as they are? Can you appreciate what it has taken for them to arrive in this moment with you? This, I believe, is the definition of love. This is what Joe did for me.

Joe became my music teacher in high school. And he was the greatest teacher of my life.

From Barbara Wilson:

Dear Joe,

I miss you so much. In a way I’m furious that you left us. Now when I hear especially piano music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Debussy or Chopin, I cannot get you out of my mind. I’m kidding of course for it is your warmth, profound empathy, commitment to me for just who I am, as if you were the best parent, indeed the best friend, that I was able to break through important barriers in piano and self-acceptance. Playing duets with you on your 2 concert grands was like being in the sandbox with my best friend, completely enraptured. Speaking of silliness who knew that you could be with a concert pianist/teacher, laughing through the lessons with with the wittiest, most spontaneous puns and metaphors. How about that “pick up and drop off” while transporting your whole hand to the lower keyboard register. Best of all you enriched and deepened my passion for classical music.

Beyond piano, you taught me how to have grace navigating life with multiple physical infirmities. One of them would have stopped me in my tracks. You kept searching for and finding new ways to express and support yourself. You never gave up on yourself or your students, giving your all to each one of us regardless of age. You leave in your wide wake a community of those you loved and befriended.

May you have peace, much exquisite music— you are intolerant of mediocrity—and laughter. May you dine on anything you want with your musical heroes. Oh and one more thing, Joseph, may you not have to always insert orange foam plugs in your ears when you go out of the house. The silence will be heavenly. We on earth assembled today will all be better people for having encountered you on your earthly journey.

I love you and will miss you forever.

From Odessa Goldberg:

Hello everyone, my name is Odessa Goldberg and I spent time with Joe last summer.

When I saw Joe’s inquiry on NextDoor, I immediately wrote to him.

“Dear Mr. Bloom,” I said, “I know this response is a bit late to the ad you posted on NextDoor, but I think we are kindred spirits. Deep philosophical discussions, good books, and nice walks are right up my alley.” And my statement still stands.

Joe and I were immediate kindred spirits. His home, a sanctuary where he introduced me to the NYT crossword, opera, Ulysses. Where we read Hamlet, philosophy, and history. Where we ruminated on Judaism, guilt and duty. Where he taught me music and I taught him technology.

I like to think that Joe and I were the perfect complementary pair for the New York Times crossword. I knew all the current pop culture references and Joe knew everything else. I was schooled in his delicate and expansive knowledge of French cuisine, composers, and historical events. While I introduced Joe to Mamma Mia 1 and 2.

But for the small sum of our differences, there were many ways we were incredibly similar. We both adored books. The first thing I did upon arriving at Joe’s house, when he was finishing a piano lesson, was acquaint myself with the many many books on his shelves. Books are the best way to get to know a person; and what a great first impression Joe made. I was immediately besotted with his philosophy section.

We took long drives together, planting ourselves in scenic locations to read together and discuss. We challenged each other, perhaps at times I regret my impatience. Joe and I felt so close intellectually that sometimes I forgot our difference in age. See, I like to say that at heart I’m 75.

Joe was incredibly curious, thoughtful, and generous with his stories and knowledge.

I wrote to him after leaving for school, saying that I was having crossword withdrawals. And he wrote me back the same. Doing the crossword is not the same without Joe at my side. I tried to complete the crossword on Friday, while ruminating about Joe, but I found myself unable. I yearned for our back and forth about each hint, squabbling about our methods for tackling the crossword. I want to skip ahead when we were stuck on a word, but he preferred to sit with it. I learned and blocked up the gaps in my own knowledge with his. I wanted to hear him give me little hints, guiding me to the answer. The click-clack of the keyboard. I wanted another afternoon on that piano bench, turned 90 degrees so we could sit side by side at the computer.

Joe was a mensch. A philosopher. An incredible musician. And my kindred spirit.

May his memory be a blessing.

From Ian Gray:

Excuse me, I’m late—this is Ian Gray. The consciousness of Joe Bloom is, was and will be ringing between my ears forever I am quite sure. We battled. I was young and arrogant and irascible and he countered me with the composure of a monk. Dickinson, Schopenhauer and the Haiku were our stock and trade. And then there was Beethoven, with whom Joe had the golden braid threaded through time and space, as pure and sure as the plainest white of the picketest fence. The clear and present dimensionality of his thought is and will continue to be that which buoys the boat of my brain. We commiserated over the articulation of Glenn Gould without saying a word, which would have been too much. A mere glance would do, as often it did; we communicated sometimes as bats or whales do, as through echolocation—I remember playing Scarlatti for him once and seeing along the edge of my periphery a downward shift of beard implicating the sustain (which I was overly indulging in) and instantly I threw my foot off the pedal as if it were on fire. We both laughed as I kept on playing. He told me once that when he was a boy he took the score of the Brahms D minor concerto into the woods, sat on a stump and read the heavenly Adagio, bringing himself to tears. He demonstrated to me, time and again, with unbelievable patience, this precious truth: that the music we make is real and actual—that through the agency of consciousness we manifest being each time we take up the keys—if we’re doing it right—and this being is as incontrovertible as a chair or pear or nun. Some twenty years ago I thought I was tough, adopting the habit of smoking a cigarette before a lesson in an inane swing-and-a-miss attempt at cutting a romantic figure. He braved it for the entire hour without a word as I putrified the air with the cigarette smoke he was allergic to, all the while meticulously sculpting my phrasing of the opening of Beethoven’s opus 110, before finally asking me apologetically if I would kindly refrain from smoking before the lesson. What a lesson that was—and there were hundreds more. The cosmos known commonly as John Keats said that this life is, “a Vale of Soul-Making,” and Joe was a maker born, a poet, from the Greek poiein, “to make,” and I believe he courageously seared himself into the atoms of this our universe.

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