Roger Ames, composer who taught at North High, dies at 77

Roger Ames, composer who taught at North High, dies at 77
North High Composer in Residence Roger Ames died last week at 77 from ALS. (Photo by Karen Rubin)

Roger Ames, a world-class composer who expounded his knowledge upon Great Neck North High School students for nearly three decades, died last week at 77 following a two-year battle with ALS.

Ames, who came to North High in 1992 to serve as a composer in residence, was born on Dec. 2, 1944 in Cooperstown. Ames’ passion for music and teaching it, according to his biography, most likely stemmed from his father being a self-taught church organist and first-grade teacher along with his mother being a teacher for more than 40 years.

After receiving a degree in conducting and music education from SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, Ames went to American University on a graduate music fellowship. During his fellowship, Ames worked as a minister of music at the Westmoreland Congregational Church as well as Street 70 in Bethesda, Maryland.

While working at Street 70, now Roundhouse Theater, Ames founded the Montgomery County Masterworks Chorus, which performed classical choral and orchestral pieces. Ames then moved to Europe, becoming drawn to the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton.

Ames, while in Europe, began to work on “Amarantha,” a musical composition that ultimately led him back to the United States to co-found the Berkshire Ensemble for Theater Arts in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Ames also served as the chair of music theater at the Hartt School of Music, Theater and Dance at the University of Hartford.

With the inspiration of Sexton’s work, Ames created an oratorio titled “A Requiem for Our Time,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Ames spent time teaching music to children in Germany, Italy, Mexico and Sweden. Ames’ brother, Don, said a typical day for his brother included waking up at 4 a.m. and composing for a few hours before heading off to North High. There, Don said, Roger would lead choral groups and other rehearsals until 9 p.m. 

“His family, community and the world of music has benefited from his creativity and devotion,” Don said in a Facebook post. “His family, community and the world of music is diminished by his passing.”

During a Zoom memorial service on Friday, former North High students and colleagues of Ames reflected on his life and the impact his passion for music had on them.

“We were spoiled in the halls of Great Neck North. Roger Ames was no ordinary high school music teacher,” former North High student Jake Levy said. “He is the kindest, most passionate man that thrives on seeing his students succeed. Having gone forth into a profession surrounded by music and performance, I carry with me Roger’s enthusiasm and all the lessons about life, music, and everything in between that he taught me.”

“You were always proudest of what we accomplished together, with each other and for each other,” North High English teacher Jeffrey Gilden said. “Your love for the people in your life was boundless, as was your ability to find goodness everywhere. But you also encouraged us to have that love for each other and to find that goodness in each other and to use that to create something larger than ourselves.”

Aside from Don, Ames is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Bassine, his children, Danny, David and Beth, sister-in-law Connie Ames, stepchildren Adam Bassine and Joanna Bassine, and several nieces and nephews.

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