A Mentor Gone

If you were to ask me who my most important teachers were, E. Scott Bryce would have been on the short list, perhaps at the top. During one of the most important seasons of my life – the autumn of 1975 – he guided me through maybe the most important class I’ve ever taken. I wrote about it a few years ago:

Among my classes that fall quarter was one in the history of the documentary film. We spent hours watching documentary films – from Robert Flaherty’s 1922 masterpiece, Nanook of the North – considered by most historians as the first true documentary – through 1971’s The Selling of the Pentagon, a television effort by CBS News. Some of the films were art; I think of Rain, a 1920s film by Joris Ivens (and the fact that these titles and names come back to me unbidden makes me realize again how important that class was to me) that detailed an everyday rainstorm in his hometown of Amsterdam, Holland. Some of them were something darker: The Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl chronicled the 1934 Congress of the German Nazi Party at Nuremberg and was – viewed with knowledge of the tragedy and horror that ensued – a chilling, powerful and dark piece of work.

Not only did we watch films, but we wrote about them. Each student was required during the quarter to submit a certain number – eight, maybe? – of brief critiques of the films we were seeing and one longer critique. The short papers were required to be two to three typed pages, double-spaced, and the longer paper, about ten pages. Not yet being skilled at composing my work at the typewriter, I wrote – actually printed – my critiques on notebook paper. And as I pondered and assessed the films we were seeing, I realized that, although writing was work, it was work I enjoyed, because it gave me the opportunity to move words around into forms and orders that were mine alone.

I remember the first time I realized that: I was writing a critique of Rain, the brief film shot in 1920s Amsterdam, and I was assessing the pacing of the film. I wrote that the film moved through the streets “with a calm urgency, like the rain.” I paused and looked at my words on paper, especially that “calm urgency.” Something about the way those words looked, sounded and read together gripped me tightly. . . . I’m sure other writers before – many others – had found that combination of those two words and gone ahead from there. But for the moment, that set of two words was mine.

That was the moment that I began to think of myself as a writer.

And that moment would not have happened without the guidance of Mr. Bryce. His penciled comments on my papers throughout that quarter helped me sharpen my skills. He pointed out logical fallacies, unclear pronouns, singular/plural disagreements, and wandering and fuzzy thought. He also complimented me for things I did right, some of which I had no idea I was doing. (He wrote once something like, “I love your use of thesis and antithesis where it’s least expected.” I never told him it was a happy accident.)

Along with the course on documentary film and courses in filmmaking, Mr. Bryce taught broadcast newswriting, announcing and radio production. I took them all, and although I never worked professionally in broadcasting, I gained from all of those classes an appreciation for attention to detail. And I gained from the newswriting and announcing courses an appreciation for the sounds of words, a sense that served me well when I added a print journalism minor and headed toward the world of newspaper reporting and editing.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that everything I’ve ever written since the autumn of 1975 has on it the fingerprints of E. Scott Bryce.

I last saw Mr. Bryce about ten years ago, when the Texas Gal and I met him and his wife for dinner in downtown St. Cloud. We thought about getting together again with the two of them, especially after Mr. Bryce and his wife moved into an assisted living center not far from us. But that never got any further than thought, and now it won’t happen: E. Scott Bryce passed on yesterday. He was 87.

Mr. Bryce was one of the moving forces in getting KVSC, the St. Cloud State radio station, on the air in 1967. The station’s primary programming for its first five years was classical music, which he loved, and it was a painful day for him when, in the spring of 1972, we on the radio staff voted to play rock instead. In my later college years, as I got to know Mr. Bryce, I always wondered if I should apologize for my small part in that decision. And in the late 1980s, when he and I were teaching colleagues for a time, I thought frequently about thanking him for his guidance and encouragement – in other words, for being a teacher.

I never did either, and, of course, I can’t now. All I can do is offer a farewell. And I’ll do so with the Largo movement of Symphony No. 9 “From The New World,” written in 1893 by Antonín Dvorák, a movement often called “Goin’ Home.”

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2 Responses to “A Mentor Gone”

  1. Any idea who the orchestra was?

  2. Yah Shure says:

    A beautiful tribute, whiteray.

    Don’t beat yourself up too badly over your role in the KVSC format coup. Rock made a lot more sense, from both a staff and listener recruitment standpoint. Wasn’t KSJR doing its share of classical programming just up the road, anyway?

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