Paul Rosenfeld and the ‘music of life’

Lifelong musician talks history of ‘togetherness’

Paul Rosenfeld, 87, is a French horn player for the Cottonwood Community Band. The Cottonwood resident refrains from tooting his own horn too much, but his lifelong musical career is nothing to scoff at. VVN/Kelcie Grega

Paul Rosenfeld, 87, is a French horn player for the Cottonwood Community Band. The Cottonwood resident refrains from tooting his own horn too much, but his lifelong musical career is nothing to scoff at. VVN/Kelcie Grega

Ever since Paul Rosenfeld was a young boy in Austria, he has always been interested in “musical things.”

As a child, Rosenfeld, now 87, learned the “many meanings music could produce.”

The first instrument he ever played was an accordion his father bought for him when he was just 6 years old.

He played that accordion while on board an immigrant ship, as it approached the New York Harbor. It was there where he saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time.

“I didn’t know at the time it was a gift to the U.S.,” he said. While learning English, he learned The New Colossus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Today Rosenfeld is a French horn player for the Cottonwood Community Band. The Cottonwood resident refrains from tooting his own horn too much, but his lifelong musical career is nothing to scoff at.

At one time, Rosenfeld ran a college of 14,000 students in the heart of New York City. Before that, he was a professor at Delaware State College where he ran their music program. At the time, the school was predominately African American.

In 1986, he retired from his position at Bronx Community College and later moved to Sedona in 1995. There, he would build the Sedona Chamber Orchestra.

Although born in Vienna Austria, Rosenfeld’s New York accent is still evident as he reflects on his life and music in his Cottonwood Village apartment.

He calls himself a “civilian veteran.” He admits that it’s true he never fought in any war, but he has seen war – and survived.

He remembers when the Nazis first invaded Vienna in 1938. Before that, Austria was a democratic republic.

He attended kindergarten at a Jesuit school, although the curriculum he said was secular for the most part. 

“This was all working out very nicely. I was one of two to three Jewish kids in class.”

Like every other child, Rosenfeld would greet his professor each morning; “Good morning, Herr Professor.”

But in 1938, things changed.

He remembers neighbors displaying Nazi flags and propaganda outside their homes. The swastika at the time did not have a profound effect on the young boy. Instead, he found it peculiar.

“It seemed awfully strange,” he said.

In class, he remembers his teacher walking in with a solemn look on his face. A man in a black uniform told the students to greet their teacher with a salute and a “Heil Hitler!”

“’Except for you,’” he said pointing to me,” Rosenfeld said.

The world he knew was about to change.

“My father and mother began to think it was dangerous to be Jewish in Europe because of what Hitler was doing in Germany,” he said.  

Rosenfeld’s family was able to get an affidavit to leave Austria and immigrate to America. Rosenfeld said if they hadn’t gotten that affidavit, he is certain they would have ended up in a concentration camp.

Growing up in America, he witnessed the civil rights movement in real time. He remembers African American students in his class being treated differently. This was something he said never made sense to him.

“When a black boy (in class) answered questions, he had better answers but the teacher just pushed him aside,” he said. “This made me aware of the business of racial discrimination.”

Rosenfeld said he even remembers instances where his mother would express prejudice toward African Americans despite escaping religious persecution herself.

Today, Rosenfeld embraces life’s many contradictions – music is one way he makes sense of all of it.

“Sometimes we write more than one pitch at the same time … it is called harmony,” he said. “In some respects the work seems pleasant together. Other times … different pitches don’t sound well or aren’t harmonious, we say that’s dissonance.”

But both consonance and dissonance must exist in both the music world and the real world, Rosenfeld said.

“It’s what I call the music of life,” he said. “There has to be some dissonance that is true for all of life.”

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