When I entered Eastern Washington University in the fall of 1985 as a freshman music major, I had no idea what I was getting into. I just remember that the possibilities seemed endless. I literally believed that I had a chance of playing in a major symphony orchestra.
It was a different time, of course. Professional orchestras were still economically viable, for one thing. And doesn’t every eighteen-year-old have more confidence than sense?
One of the things that sticks out from my first week of classes was the humorlessness of the professors. Theory, aural skills, music history: it was a dour bunch, with maybe two exceptions. The first was Richard Obregon, who, in a moment of weakness (and, in retrospect, somewhat irresponsibly), gave me his recipe for cactus coolers; the second was Travis Rivers.
Travis, who died last week at the age of 81, was every bit the nattily dressed walking encyclopedia that people remember. But he was also a kind, thoughtful, and extraordinarily funny man. As chairman of the department, he’d frequently roam the halls, hands behind his back and a twinkle in his eye as he’d chat up students, offer a wry observation, or crack a joke so dry it would sometimes take a day or two before you’d get it.
He was a hell of a writer, too.
Around 2001 – more than a decade after I’d left EWU – I began writing music criticism for The Local Planet, a short-lived alternative weekly that handled news more irreverently than the Spokesman and covered arts more seriously than the Inlander. It wasn’t the sort of publication you’d imagine Travis would read, and yet, a day or two after my first piece appeared, there it was: a congratulatory email from the man himself. I was surprised he’d remembered me at all, to be honest. But he knew I had a talent, he wrote – not so much for musicianship, as it happened, but for writing. And he’d always known I’d find a way to do it for a living.
Travis was one of those quiet people who made an outsized difference in a lot of lives. And I’ll be forever grateful for the time I knew him.