Kit Dodd holds a handmade violin at an art gallery in Oregon. “That picture was just taken on such a whim, and so many people talk about that picture,” Becky Dodd said. “We were just at an art gallery and somebody had made that violin and they said, ‘Can you believe, I’ve never heard somebody play it.’ And I go, ‘Oh, well we both know how. Can we try?’ So Kit picked it up and started playing.”
By Sarah Hall
The former Becky Wilbur might have been Kit Dodd’s true love, but music was his first.
“He started playing viola in the fourth grade, and like many kids, me included, [music became] kind of his way to define himself,” said Becky, Kit’s wife of 40 years. “It just sort of shaped his whole life.”
That love guided Kit and Becky to Syracuse, where Kit was a violist and music librarian for Syracuse Symphony. When the orchestra folded, he helped to found Symphoria, where he also played the violin and served as music librarian.
“He didn’t want classical music to die … in Central New York, and without a symphony, that’s what was going to happen,” Becky said.
But as Syracuse’s orchestra was coming back to life, Kit himself was faltering. He passed away on Sept. 1, 2016, of a fast-acting brain disease at the age of 61, leaving behind his wife, his two sons and countless friends who continue to feel his absence.
This weekend, in his honor, Symphoria will wrap up its 2016-17 season by dedicating Mahler’s “Titan” symphony in Kit’s memory.
“[It’s] his favorite symphony,” Becky said. “He was the librarian for Symphoria, so he programmed it and was very excited to play it. He was looking forward to that so much, and so they have dedicated the concert to him.”
In addition, the Liverpool village garage sale is taking place this weekend. Several members of Symphoria have dropped off wares to be sold, and the proceeds will benefit the orchestra in Kit’s memory.
“About 15 to 20 Symphoria people are going to bring their things over, so it’s definitely a Symphoria community-type experience,” Becky said. “We just thought it would be a great all-around day for Kit to raise money through a garage sale, which he loved. He loved garage sales and estate sales, and then that night [he’ll] have the concert dedicated to him.”
Becky and Kitt Dodd were childhood sweethearts. The two grew up seven houses apart on the same street in Eugene, Oregon, and started dating in high school. Both were drawn to music as an outlet, and it formed the backdrop to their love story.
“When we started dating, when we were 15 or 16, we were just kind of the little music couple at school,” Becky said. “I knew I wanted to be a teacher. He knew he wanted to be a performer.”
The pair attended the University of Oregon together, and Kit went on to get his master’s in music from Wichita State University. He auditioned for a spot on the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and won it, something Becky said is exceedingly rare.
“It’s only 3 percent or something like that of people that want to [perform professionally] get to do it, so wherever you get the job, you go,” she said. “We came here and gave up a lot to be here.”
The Dodds packed up and moved to Liverpool, leaving behind their families on the West Coast to follow Kit’s dream. Becky got a job teaching music in the Liverpool Central School District; she still teaches strings at Liverpool Elementary and Liverpool Middle. They had two boys, Nicholas and Aaron, while Kit spent more than 30 years in the Syracuse music community: he was featured as soloist with the Syracuse Symphony and as chamber soloist with the Skaneateles Festival, the Syracuse Camerata, Civic Morning Musicals and many other venues all over the East Coast, and he spent 33 years with the Clinton String Quartet. He also served as the SSO’s music librarian and taught at Le Moyne College.
“We were doing exactly what we wanted,” Becky said. “Life was really good, because a lot of people don’t have that ever, and we both had it and we were both really happy.”
But in the spring of 2011, the bottom fell out: facing a financial crisis, the SSO declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy, canceled the rest of its season and dissolved. Its 77 professional musicians were left jobless.
“It was awful,” Becky said of Kit’s reaction to the orchestra’s demise. “His whole soul just got ripped out from under him. I had never seen anyone so sad in my entire life. Part of him definitely died that day.”
And Kit wasn’t the only heartbroken musician: the orchestra had also employed many of the Dodds’ friends. As the months went by, they watched their friends start to look for other jobs and move away from Syracuse.
But the former SSO musicians couldn’t let classical music die out in Central New York. They started to build a new symphony from the ashes — and Kit, who’d had music in his heart since the fourth grade, was no exception.
“He brought it back to life,” Becky said. “He brought a symphony back to life, and truly, Symphoria would not be like it is right now without Kit. He was the librarian and he worked 10 to 12 hours a day every day, seven days a week and devoted everything to get that back.”
It certainly wasn’t easy — the Dodds housed the old SSO equipment in their home for 18 months while Kit and the other Symphoria founders worked to get it off the ground. They waded through orchestra politics, financial dilemmas, community doubt, one roadblock after another, but still they remained undaunted.
“That’s when Kit started saying ‘onward’ all the time,” Becky recalled. “‘Nothing’s going to stop us.’ [We’d come up against] a terrible hurdle, but he’d say, ‘No, we’re going onward.’ Then he started every Facebook post and anything he’d do, he’d write ‘Onward’ at the bottom of it.”
Onward they went, for four years, bringing classical music back to the Syracuse area. One of only two musician-led cooperative orchestras in the country, Symphoria employs 50 musicians and conductors and performs more than 50 concerts each year. Last year, the orchestra brought back one of SSO’s grandest traditions, the July 4 concert, which was a dream of Kit’s.
Not long after, the illness that would claim his life struck.
“They thought he had a stroke, but … we found out he had a terminal disease,” Becky said.
With the help of friends and family, Becky was able to bring Kit home for the final weeks of his life.
“It was the most amazing thing I will ever experience in my whole life. I had people begging to come over and begging to help,” she said. “At first, I was saying no … then I figured out how important it was for them to come, so we did let them.”
Becky said she had to limit “visiting hours” to six hours a day. Still, people flooded in.
“There were at least 10 people a day and sometimes up to 15 people that came, different people, just to say goodbye to him and to talk with him,” she said. “I have not been around a lot of people who have died, but for him to draw those people to say goodbye to him like that is pretty amazing.”
The disease progressed rapidly, altering Kit’s ability to walk, eat, talk and more within hours each day. But those who loved Kit were able to say their goodbyes — and now they’re able to go onward.
“We know that’s what he would want,” Becky said.
But moving onward doesn’t mean forgetting, and part of Kit’s legacy is certainly keeping Symphoria alive. While the dedication of the last concert of the season is a nice tribute, donations from the village garage sale will provide a more tangible benefit for the orchestra in Kit’s memory.
The idea for the garage sale stemmed from a conversation Becky Dodd had with former Liverpool Review editor Linda Loomis earlier this year. Loomis was preparing to sell the home she and her husband have lived in for more than 50 years and mentioned to Becky that she had a lot of things she wanted to get rid of. Becky suggested that she participate in the village garage sale, but Loomis thought it would be too much work.
“I told her she should do it at my house because doing the village garage sale happens there are hundreds of people on our street because we’re right on a main street,” Becky said. “I had a lot of friends do their garage sales at my house.”
Loomis agreed, on the condition that her portion of the sales go to Symphoria.
“I said, ‘Oh, that would be a wonderful tribute to Kit,’” Becky said.
Once the idea got around to members of the orchestra, several others decided to clean out their homes and join in on the effort, as well. Becky said it’s a way for them to express their continuing devotion to the man who shared their passion for music
“He was definitely a huge part of that orchestra in so many ways,” she said. “Those musicians that have been together for more than 30 years … they would do anything for each other. That is something I don’t think people really realize, how close all those people are.”
While the village garage sale goes on village-wide May 12, 13 and 14, the Symphoria sale will take place May 13 on Second Street; follow the signs. The concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. that evening at Crouse-Hinds Theater.
“The 13th is going to be a big day,” Becky said.
It’ll also be a tough day for Becky and for her sons, who will be home for the tributes, but they’ll get through — because of their love for Kit.
“One of the reasons I’m doing okay is because I promised him I would,” Becky said. “I promised him I would continue to do Symphoria’s work, and I promised him I would continue spreading classical music and keeping it alive, and I promised him the kids and I would be okay. I really feel an obligation because I told him I would. So that’s a good thing.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club’s Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.