The Knoxville Symphony and Knoxville in general have lost a great friend and advocate in violinist Norris Dryer, who passed at age 71 on Thursday morning, October 30, after almost three years battling cancer.
Norris lived through a million changes in the KSO, having joined in 1968, late in David Van Vactor’s tenure. He saw Arpad Joo, Zoltan Rozsnyai and Kirk Trevor all come and go from the podium, and had begun Maestro Richman’s final season. His KSO experience was threefold: as a violinist, a board member, and a management team member. He served as personnel manager and, until about three years ago, as audition proctor, the friendly face that every nervous auditionee saw before and after their audition time slot.
Tchaikovsky and especially Mozart were his favorite composers, but when I asked him if he would be interested in playing his violin during his last weeks, he replied that “the last notes I played on my violin were by Brahms, [the 1st Piano Concerto, which closed out the September, 2014 Masterworks concert], and that’s just fine with me.”
Also starting in 1968, he was an announcer and Program Director for WUOT-FM, and a champion of broadcast classical music, which was and still is facing cuts in both airtime and funding. He had the privilege of interviewing hundreds of guests on Dialogue, part of his afternoon show, ranging from every guest artist the KSO ever engaged during his tenure, to political figures, to athletes. (He said his 1998 interview of Pat Summitt was a most uplifting experience). His challenging Monday Evening Music Quiz was a popular and fun tradition with Knoxville’s listeners, and his eloquent, distinctive voice and musical selections woke thousands of people up via clock-radio on Saturday and Sunday mornings all across East Tennessee.
Upon retiring from WUOT in 2003, he devoted himself to waking people up in a different way – through politics. He ran for Knoxville City Council as a Green Party member, receiving 4,251 votes, 17% of the total tally. Unafraid of taking on Goliath, he ran for the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2012 against Representative John Duncan, receiving 5,733 votes, and is actually on the ballot for that same post in this year’s elections. Involvement with the Green Party, with campus organizations such as UCW-CWA (a union for college employees), and with the Progressive Student Alliance garnered him many trusted friends. Some of these friends joined the team of KSO members, WUOT staffers and other friends that comforted and cared for him in his last days.
This is all well and good, to speak of what he did. But he must also be remembered for what he was: a steadfast advocate for classical music with an openness to appreciation of all musics; a gentle, caring soul with a firm belief in good old-fashioned courtesy and a crisp sense of humor you could count on; a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about not just baseball, (as has been publicized) but also college basketball and college football; a humble, gracious listener with a knack for knowing exactly what to say and what not to say, and a friend – Knoxville’s, the KSO’s, and my own best friend.
Who will wake us up now?