Today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer has an obituary for John Mack, who died on Sunday at the age of 78, after surgery and further complications for brain cancer. He was the principal oboist of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1965 until his retirement in 2001. He was revered by performers and former students and audiences. Probably no other oboe teacher has as many students in prominent positions in orchestras, including the Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, among others.
I only met John Mack once or twice, following performances he attended that I gave with my English horn performing colleague Cary Ebli, now English horn in the Toronto Symphony, who was a Mack student, and continued to play for Mr. Mack regularly when Cary came to Cleveland to visit. I was always even more nervous than usual if I knew that John Mack was going to be in the audience, because I never wanted to let Cary down in front of his discriminating teacher. Cary’s many stories about Mr. Mack gave me an “outsider’s insider” view of John Mack as a demanding teacher who was willing to lavish attention on his students to make them the best that they could be.
I also knew him as a chamber music partner to the late John D. Herr, organist/director of music at Plymouth Church of Shaker Heights. They gave countless recitals together, when ended with Herr’s death several years ago.
Like all the best teachers, it is ultimately their students and the students’ students who continue their teacher’s legacy. John Mack will be remembered not only for the brilliance of his own performing, but also for his teaching legacy.