Fourth-year Asher Goldman found dead

Goldman, a philosophy major and music minor from Poquoson, VA, was remembered Sunday as a gifted musical composer whose passion and ability extended across musical genres and instruments.

By Michael Lipkin

[img id=”80734″ align=”alignleft”] Rising College fourth-year Asher Goldman was found dead in his Hyde Park apartment Monday, September 8. He was 21.

Goldman, a philosophy major and music minor from Poquoson, VA, was remembered Sunday as a gifted musical composer whose passion and ability extended across musical genres and instruments.

Goldman is the second College student to die this summer. On June 27, the body of rising third-year David Stein was discovered by police in his Hyde Park apartment after he took his own life.

Goldman began his musical career at an early age, learning classical piano. He developed his talents at Poquoson High School, which provided a strong avant-garde jazz environment and opportunities in jazz improvisation. Even his cantor from the synagogue where he had his bar mitzvah eight years ago cited his “keen musical sense.”

According to the medical examiner’s office, one of Goldman’s friends found him unconscious on his bed Monday morning. The official cause of death is undetermined, although friends and the medical examiner have indicated that it may have been drug-related. No drugs were found in his bedroom, according to the Cook County coroner’s office, but a toxicology report is pending.

By the time Goldman arrived in Chicago in 2005 he was eager to develop his compositional talents, so he signed up for a computer music course with Howard Sandroff, a senior lecturer in the music department and director of the University’s computer music studio.

“He took his first class his very first quarter and continued working in the studio as recently as last week,” Sandroff said. “I always looked forward to my time with Asher.”

Sandroff said that Goldman’s “quirky musical imagination” made his compositions particularly interesting.

“Asher was a jazz pianist with a propensity to do experimental work with [popular] forms,” he said. “He had kind of an offbeat sense of what he wanted to do musically and it was provocative—it called attention to his ability to make the audience think about the piece.”

One of Goldman’s pieces, “Whippany,” was improvised on an old Whippany Dart organ. “It has drama,” he told music professor Kotoka Suzuki, another of his teachers.

Ben Goldman, Asher’s brother, said that Asher had originally planned on majoring in music but switched to philosophy later on.

“He got a little frustrated with the formal music major. He was mostly interested in composition, not music history,” Ben said. “This may not come out the right way, but philosophy was more of a way for him to graduate.”

Ben, a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Michigan, added that while the University wasn’t Asher’s first choice of schools, when he got here, he was enamored with the Core Curriculum.

“He was a little disappointed when he got there, but he became really wrapped up in the Core and really threw himself at it. He found it really rewarding,” Ben said. “He loved the Great Books structure.”

Suzuki said that one of Goldman’s most impressive talents was his aptitude as a performer in multiple musical disciplines. In addition to his jazz and computer music work, he spent a year working on acoustic sound in a NASA anechoic—echo-free—chamber. He also played the oud, a lute-like instrument, in the University’s Middle East Music Ensemble.

Charles Greenberg (A.B. ’08) said that he met Goldman as a first-year when he was an O-Aide, and the two became fast friends.

“Asher was one of the most interesting people I knew, even by U of C standards,” Greenberg wrote in an e-mail. “He also had a fantastic dry wit—I loved his sarcasm, which was especially funny because he had such a quiet voice…. We took Core Bio together and I honestly wouldn’t have made it through without being able to exchange jokes with him in the back of class.”

Suzuki mentioned Goldman’s penchant for humor as well.

“I just noticed on your MySpace page that in the last paragraph of your ‘about me’ section that cites your academic credentials that you’ve misspelled ‘She’ with ‘Shei.’ Perhaps this is an intentional esoteric reference,” he wrote to Suzuki in an e-mail.

His brother Ben said that one of Goldman’s defining characteristics was his zeal for the uncommon.

“This past July 4, Asher told me he went biking up the lake from Hyde Park to see the fireworks in the city. And he rode north [to the city], and then he kept going. He didn’t stop until Milwaukee,” Ben said. “My relationship with Asher was one of the most intense relationships I’ve ever had in my life. Being with him was amazing—he would really push you.”

Sandroff said that Goldman had planned to pursue musical composition in graduate school. They had had conversations about the kinds of study Goldman would need to pursue this year to “better equip him,” Sandroff said.

According to an e-mail sent to members of the College by Dean of Students Susan Art on September 9, the University will organize a public memorial service for Goldman in the fall. Goldman’s family is also planning a memorial service in Virginia on September 21.