John Stump, composer of Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz
My uncle, John Arthur Stump, who was my father’s youngest brother, died on January 20, 2006. His memorial service was held at a Vedanta monastery in Hollywood, where my other uncle (known there as “Jnana Chaitanya,” but to me as Uncle Dave) serves as a monk. I was not at the ceremony, but my family brought back some memorabilia from the service and from Uncle John’s “estate,” including a large piece of paper densely printed with musical notation.
It was a sheet of music for a work entitled “Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz (from ‘A Tribute to Zdenko G. Fibich’)” that John had put together, obviously as an unplayable and satirical parody. The notations on the score included absurd directions such as “release the penguins” and “Like a Dirigible” and “Gong duet.” It was an incredibly creative, erudite and rigorous act of nonsense, which felt completely consistent with other creations I had seen from my uncle. He was famous in our family for his non-sequiturs (sending a sympathy card from a fictitious professor to me on Christmas), stippling artwork, and his fascination with music. He had worked in the field of “music engraving” for most of his life, beginning in 1967, and I remember looking with fascination at his “music typewriter” in his office in my grandmother’s garage, so it didn’t surprise me that Uncle John would have created something like this fake musical piece.
What surprised me was the fact that this piece was actually something of a musical legend, but to my knowledge, Uncle John had never mentioned it to anyone in my family before. When I received the copy of “Faerie’s Aire,” I showed it to one of the college students I worked with who was a music major (who has become a talented composer in his own right!) and he told me he remembered seeing this piece posted on the band room wall when he was a high school student…in Washington! I asked some other musician friends and they all told me they had seen it as well. When I searched the internet, I found it rife with references, accolades, imitations, and questions about the mysterious composer, John Stump. It saddened me to think there was nothing that revealed anything about my Uncle John’s life in the public sphere, so I thought I would provide some facts & anecdotes here that could serve as a source on this brilliant, hilarious, and reclusive man.
- John was born to Homer & Mildred Stump on March 24, 1944 in Kansas City, Missouri.
- He grew up in Lakewood, California, studying composition and orchestration at Long Beach City College.
- John also attended Cal State University Long Beach, where he played French Horn in an orchestra led by Aaron Copeland.
- He was an obsessive fan of many musical groups (Beach Boys, The Carpenters, Olivia Newton-John, The Go-Go’s), but none more than The Beatles. He actually sent corrections to the early 1980’s published Beatles song collection “The Compleat Beatles” because he knew the minute details of the songs and scores so well (Uncle John would also test me when I was a kid on who wrote which Beatles song, as well as on which songs Paul played instruments other than the bass, etc.). Though John loved all the Beatles, the one who shared his name was obviously his favorite…
- The only known composition of John’s to be publicly performed was a three-part work for men’s choir based on the Dylan Thomas poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” (of which I have a cassette recording somewhere) which was put on by a choral group at the Vedanta Society in Hollywood. He also wrote “A Suite for Four Trombones and Four Trumpets” and he mentioned to me that he had written a pop song for Karen Carpenter (he knew a friend of her’s through CSULB) but nothing ever came of it.
- Finally, John was a large man…by that, I mean profoundly obese, which may have contributed to his public shyness. I often felt like he actually had something of a disdain for society and didn’t care what people thought about him, but to those who knew him, he was a thoughtful, funny, and brilliant man. It’s sad that he was never able to see his talents and creativity celebrated while he was alive…perhaps he would have preferred a mysterious posthumous legend to any kind of recognition in his life. Whatever the case, I applaud you Uncle John and happy 66th birthday on the 24th!
UPDATE: I have posted more material and images regarding John here. Enjoy!
Sources: some background information taken from John’s obituary in “Vedanta Voices” Vol. 8, No. 3, March 2006, along with John’s “A Family History”.
Other compositions by John: