He visited ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ and made a little noise
When Fred Rogers asked, “won’t you be my neighbor?” Timothy K. Adams Jr. had a ready response: He already was.
A resident of Pittsburgh from 1995 to 2010, Georgia native Adams was a noted music professor at Carnegie Mellon at that time as well as a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, where he was principal timpanist. He would see the legendary PBS children’s show host walking around the neighborhood.
“I hadn’t grown up with his show, I was too old to watch him as a kid,” says Adams of the multiple award-winning “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the nationally aired, locally produced program which aired from 1968 to 2001 on WQED. And Adams hasn’t yet set seen “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the critically acclaimed documentary about region’s most famous cardigan-clad composer/singer/TV titan and Presbyterian minister who graduated from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
But Adams may have more insight into the Rogers persona than those who grew up with the show or have seen the odds-on Oscar nominee currently on screen.
In 1999, Adams was invited to take part in a segment of “Neighborhood,” in an episode devoted to music. He didn’t bring a cup of sugar, but a truckload of instruments. Bang the drum slowly? The accomplished percussionist made it “Noisy & Quiet” the title of the timpanist’s segment.
Persona matched the man
“It was maybe 20 minutes of the show, but it took us 10 hours to tape,” recalls Adams, who was led by many great conductors while in Pittsburgh, and still cherishes the year he spent under Lorin Maazel, who served as the PSO’s main music man for eight years until 1996.
During the down time of the “Neighborhood” taping, Adams spent hours chatting with Rogers, an accomplished musician himself who had earned his bachelor’s in music composition from Rollins College.
It’s not like Rogers didn’t already have a good neighbor vibe about the percussionist who played on his program. “Fred came to many of our concerts,” says Adams of the PSO’s performances at Heinz Hall.
As Adam chronicles the discussions he had with his Pittsburgh neighbor, he marvels at “how generous he was, how inquisitive about the music I was presenting. He was authentic; the persona you saw on screen” -- gentle and genuine -- “was exactly how he was when I talked to hm. He had a real concern for kids.”
Lessons for adults
But children weren’t the only audience members who came to visit “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which had an open-door policy for the world. “Fred dealt with the real world,” notes Adams. “He was preaching to adults as well as kids,”
The hometown hero hit home with his messages. As Adams showed cymbals to the TV audience on that show 19 years ago, he realizes now the symbol Rogers represented for him then and now. Rogers left an impact “with his curiosity about life and his love of discovery.”
Indeed, if he were alive today -- Rogers died in 2003 -- with the country in chaos, he would have had a great presence with his presents from the heart of caring and commitment. “Today he would be even more relevant,” acknowledges Adams of the man he calls “the real thing.”
So is Adams, whose cultural contributions are now gifts to his hometown crowd.
The Cleveland Institute of Music grad is the Mildred Goodrum Heyward Professor in Music at the University of Georgia, and, since 2010, chairman of the percussion department at the university’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music.
He shares the passion for education and the lesson plans for living a quality life which drove Rogers. “I felt honored to be in his presence,” says Adams.
While Pittsburgh provided a framework for Rogers’ talent, and the city’s music scene helped him develop a quiet backbeat to life, he would have been the same decent, down-to-earth champion of education and civility anywhere, says Adams. “If he had been in Alaska, rather than in Pittsburgh, he would have been the same as he was his whole life.”
Ultimately, it was one heavenly mentor who made the minister who and what he was: “God made him Fred Rogers,” Adams says.