An Unfinished Life David Hogan's career as a composer was just beginning its cresecndo when his life was cut short by the explosion of TWA Flight 800.


DUBLIN, N.H. -- Nansi Carroll sits in the creamy light of the empty concert hall at the Walden School, struggling to explain her lost friend, David Hogan.

She knew him nearly 30 years, going back to the days when they were voice students together at the Peabody Conservatory. Still, the words don't come easily.

"He didn't speak about himself a lot," she says. "He would share his music. That was our way of knowing what he was thinking."

The idea is hard to make concrete, she admits. But, then, there is something else on her mind: this evening's choral concert.

It will be dedicated to Hogan, a composer who helped found this school for young musicians and composers almost 25 years ago. He kept it going in the lean years, cultivated it, seeded it with young talent. It may prove as lasting a monument to him as his music.

Many of the students shown in the old snapshots pinned up in the lobby are on the faculty today. Some of them run the place.

As Carroll reminisces, the rain continues to fall over the oak and beech forests outside, as it has all day. But people are coming anyway, through the fog seething over Route 101, to be at this concert. Many are coming to say goodbye to David Hogan, who died last month when TWA Flight 800 exploded off Long Island.

He was a man, his friends say, who never stood still. He was here, he was there. Motion, fast, unceasing, defined his character.

"Hoagie was always moving," says his Peabody colleague, Leo Wanenchak. It was Baltimore, Washington, San Francisco and, lastly, Paris.

He was always in flight: He fled the Baptist religion he was born into. He fled his marriage after 10 years of it. He fled his native country for France.

Carroll sees him as "a man on a spiritual search." No doubt: He started out a Baptist, considered becoming a Presbyterian minister, even a monk, and wound up a Sufi.

One wonders about all this self reinvention. Was he running away or toward something?

Whatever the answer, David Hogan died an unfinished man. The circumstance of fate, or agent of evil, that contrived the TWA disaster would not have known him or of the promise annihilated with him: the extent of what was left undone.

At 47, David Hogan was a serious composer of choral and theater music as well as an accomplished pianist, organist, tenor and teacher. His most conspicuous achievement in this country was his Festival Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, choral pieces composed for and performed at the consecration of Washington's National Cathedral in September 1990, and later recorded on the prestigious Angel/EMI record label.

In Paris, Hogan wrote music in collaboration with Coline Serreau, a French actress and author of plays and films. He also was a tenor soloist at the American Cathedral in Paris and the director of the International Gay Choir of Paris.

In some quarters, all this adds up to considerable professional success, if a modest sort of fame. Hogan never won any of the major prizes for composition: no Guggenheim, no Broadcast Music Industry awards. Brighter stars have come out of the Peabody. But Hogan was getting better, moving closer to the promise so many saw in him.

Now it was over. Which accounts for the melancholy so evident on the Walden School campus this evening; it is almost as if it has rolled in with the fog. At least there is music to look forward to, the language and words of David Hogan.

Never happier

Everyone who knew David Hogan says he had never been happier with his life than at the moment it was taken from him. The war within him over the true nature of his sexuality had been resolved. He had found a life's partner in France, Christian DuMarty, a Normandy school principal. His career was ascending.

"There is no way to look at his death other than as a tragedy," Carroll says. "But what one can say is that he had entered on a phase of pure contentment. These last few years of his life, in Paris, he was able to make his living doing what he loved."

What was he like? The question draws the conventional accolades: he was "a sensitive teacher;" he had "a wonderful spirit;" he was "self-effacing," "humble," "modest," "nonjudgmental," "a master musician," "full of life."

He went everywhere and at every moment with music in his mind; it spilled out of him. He whistled, constantly. It is not something musicians or composers routinely do, though one might think they would. But this is something everybody remembers about Hogan: his whistling, humming. His sister, Anne Emory, remembers it from their childhood in Northern Virginia.

"He hummed all the time," she says. "He added a little bit of whistling, but I remember he was always humming."

Hogan's friends are certain they knew him well, even as they admit he rarely revealed himself. His modesty and self-effacement, charming qualities, also served to conceal much.

In the mid-'80s, he suffered a lymph cancer which cost him a kidney. But some of his closest friends learned of it only after he had defeated it.

Patricia Plude, Hogan's student at Peabody who joined Walden's faculty in 1977, says: "He was a very private man about his spirituality, his sexuality. He didn't speak of his Sufism."

He had converted to Sufism in the mid-1970s. It is, by the standard definition, a mystical form of Islam. Terry Hogan, David's divorced wife, also a Sufi, defines it differently.

Sufism, she says, "is a philosophical discipline that focuses on the study of all religions as one, all beliefs as one."

From his friends, one gets the impression that Hogan listened a lot, was a congenial if unforthcoming man when it came to anything personal. He seemed to keep the innermost part of himself to himself.

Terry -- who had been his voice student, and who married him in 1980 -- says their divorce was amicable. The separation, she says, grew not out of any incompatibility, nor was it a consequence of his changing sexual inclinations. It came about simply because he was spending more and more time in Europe with his music, and expected his absences from California to increase.

"The principal issue was that David was doing what he felt he needed to," she says. "He needed to be free, without ties that obliged him to return" to California, where they lived with their daughter, Hilary.

The divorce, she adds, was not difficult, nor apparently even disruptive. "My own daughter approached me over a year later and asked if we were separated. There was no tension, no ugly resentment. I'm not saying we didn't have to work through difficult periods."

Nor did he speak much to her, or anybody, about the religion he had embraced. It, too, remained behind the curtain of his tacit personality.

Had he always been that way? Perhaps, but nobody knew for sure. What they did know is that David Hogan had traveled a great distance from his hometown of Nokesville, Va., to Paris, France.

Nokesville is about 10 miles south of Manassas. It is a small, plain town, but well taken care of, all trimmed lawns and marigold beds.

None of the suburban junk architecture -- the food franchises, malls and vinyl-encased tract houses that blight much of the landscape of northern Virginia -- has arrived to spoil the view. There are few people afoot on its one main street, no shoppers in the two run-down antique shops. The beauty shop has gone out of business. There is the elementary school Hogan attended, the rancher he grew up in on Burwell Road, which twists and plunges deep into the Piedmont farming country.

Some of the friends he made at Peabody believe Nokesville was not a place full of happy memories for David Hogan. They presume -- or perhaps are just relating what he told them -- that a vast gulf yawned between him, a sensitive and exceptionally talented child, and those more ordinary beings around him, including his family.

As Leo Wanenchak puts it: "I've seen it. A child who falls in love with classical music in a family whose highlight is Lawrence Welk." Such a child, he says, is alone.

"I imagine that for Hoagie, his piano lessons must have been a lifeline."

Early learner

Others, like his first piano teacher, Edna Armstrong, describe him as a normal if modest boy. She remembers that his family supported him in his study of music, were actually proud of him.

His maternal grandmother, Helene French, introduced him to the piano at the age of 3, and he took to it. She bought him a piano when he was 5. When he went to Edna Armstrong at age 13 he was well on his way to mastery of the instrument. The organ came later.

The singular tragedy of his life occurred when he was only 6: his younger brother Patrick fell into a well and drowned five days shy of his fourth birthday. David was with him when it happened. They were close, in age and affection.

"David was very affected by that," says Terry Hogan. "He spoke of it often."

She and his friends believe that was the reason he was never comfortable in the water.

The Hogans were not well off. There was not much higher education spread through the family. David was the first to finish college (he earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Peabody). His father, Harry, was described as a harsh disciplinarian. He worked in warehouses in and around Nokesville. Mildred, his mother, stayed home with their children, but occasionally took jobs to help the family. They were simple people, and religious.

But they were not unmusical. And their tastes were more elevated than Lawrence Welk. Helene French is said to have studied voice at Juilliard. David's sister, Anne, sang folk music and played the clarinet. Another sister, Cindy, played the viola. Mildred sang in the choir at the Oakdale Baptist Church in Nokesville, and so did David's third sister Carolyn. David's first public performance was in the Oakdale Baptist Church.

On closer look, David Hogan's upbringing might well have contributed to his development rather than retarded it. It certainly gave him his taste for liturgical music. This is the music he favored as a composer. He even wrote music for his Sufi faith.

"Music celebrating the divine was all one to David," says Terry Hogan.

There have been numerous memorials for David Hogan, including one in Paris, where the U.S. Ambassador, Pamela Harriman, read the First Lesson, and another attended by his brothers and sisters at the Manassas Baptist Church in Virginia. Two others were held at the Walden School in New Hampshire, a formal memorial service and the choral concert earlier this month.

It is 8 o'clock on that foggy evening when every faculty member and student come together as the Walden Chorus. They file into the hall, down the side aisles, embracing the audience.

Leo Wanenchak conducts, and the program offers four pieces by David Hogan, the last one a composition written when he was a student, an assignment from Grace Cushman. She had been his mentor at Peabody. Just before her death she had asked him and two colleagues, Lynn Hebden and Pamela Quist, to create a place for young composers. This they did at Walden.

Hogan was only 20 when he composed "Come, Close the Curtain."

Come draw the curtains of your eyes

And I will sing you lullabies

For God has leaned from Paradise

To close the gates of day.

At the end of the intermission, the concert hall is bright wit tear-streaked faces, and Nansi Carroll's point, the one she could not articulate earlier that day, is clear. Hogan has spoken to his friends and students through his music, and they understand.

David Hogan's career as a composer was just beginning its crescendo when his life was cut short by the explosion of TWA Flight 800.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad