By Henry Bryant
For years and many Porch Press deadlines, I had thought that I should walk two doors down to interview my friend and neighbor Carl Hall. His “job” was an interesting and important one and would have made a good story. Now almost a year after his unexpected death from cancer on February 2, 2016, I did not want the year to close without telling a little bit of that story on these pages to at least mark his passing.
When Carl and his former life-partner, Frank Hannaway, moved to East Atlanta in the early 1980s it was quite unusual to have a professional classical musician move to the recently redone fixer-upper in a neighborhood that was still rough around the edges. Frank, who met Carl in Florida where they both lived and worked as musicians said of Carl last year that he was “a sweet person and a blessing on this earth.” That was true, and it made him fit right in on this street, especially since he also had a certain grit. Frank and Carl were together for 17 years, much of it in East Atlanta. John MacGregor has been Carl’s partner and my neighbor for the past 15 years. John and Carl enjoyed a full life together, and at the end John saw him through the illness.
Carl grew up in Central Florida and knew by the 7th or 8th grade that he wanted a career in a Symphony. By the 9th grade, he had become a member of the Lakeland (Florida) Symphony. After college, he became the Second Flute, then Piccolo and then Principle Flute in the Florida Orchestra in Tampa. In 1984 he moved to East Atlanta where he served out his long tenure as Principle Piccolo in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO).
In Atlanta, Carl became a respected and revered musician, traveling during the summers for stints with orchestras and classical music groups across the country. He appeared at Carnegie Hall with our symphony and nationally on NPR Performance Today in recital. The solo parts for Piccolo are few but they are distinctive. One of my favorite memories was to hear “The Stars and Stripes Forever” broadcast from the ASO’s July 4 Concert and know that the bright chirping Piccolo solo in the tune was my neighbor. Occasionally attending concerts at Symphony Hall gave me peculiar satisfaction knowing that my neighborhood was represented up on stage by Carl. A little after our family dinner time during the concert season, we might see Carl dressed in his white tie and tails as he dashed off to play Mahler or Bartok for an appreciative city.
Carl added to the uniqueness of East Atlanta during his 32 years here. On a summer’s evening, you might hear the pert sound of flute or piccolo as it floated on the air, lifting the entire block. Sometimes it was Carl practicing for a performance, our chance to hear for free what others had to pay for. Sometimes it would be one of his many students over the years. Those kids will be Carl’s legacy. There are young musicians in orchestras and concert halls across the globe who got their training in East Atlanta.
Ken Meltzer’s interview in “Encore Atlanta” quotes Carl as saying, “I equate playing the piccolo with what it would be like to surf a huge wave.” Carl was serious about his music, but for him it was about the experience of playing it and of hearing it. In that same way, he loved roller coasters and would travel on pilgrimages with John to visit various coasters for the experience of the ride. From his performances, to his politics and social concern, and in his profession, Carl Hall was quiet and kind but always steadfast in his attempt to make our ride worthwhile.