There is a medieval European legend that on Christmas Eve at midnight, the animals can talk to each other, and to us. As a result we decided last Christmas Eve that, with the aid of a small cup of Bailey’s Irish Cream, Shiner might have something to say to us. And we both rejoiced that he did. – Robert Freeman
By: Judy Shields
Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 11/13/2019 – “What a dog does more than any other animal I have met, is to bring you love and friendship.” Robert Freeman, author of WOOF! told The Hollywood Times during a telephone conversation about this new book.
The book is 56 pages and on page 56 Robert Freeman wrote down what his dog Shiner said to him, you want to know what Shiner told Robert? You need to purchase his book to find the answer to that question! It will cause you to tear up.
Apart from having their basic needs met, dogs just want to be loved and return that love unconditionally. During the 42 years that they were married, retired music professor and accomplished musician Robert Freeman and his wife Carol raised 17 wonderful canine companions. Robert’s new book Woof! A Love Story of Dogs, Music, and Life, is a tribute both to his late wife and the love between people and their animals. Filled with stunning photography, this beautiful story is sure to touch the hearts of all readers.
Robert Freeman shares heartfelt stores of 17 wonderful dogs that shared 42 happy years he spent with his wife Carol. Filled with beautiful photography, the book reflects on his marriage, his remarkable career in music, and the joy he and his wife received from the canine companions who accompanied them on their journey through life.
Robert Freeman was a music school director when he fell in love with his assistant, Carol. Throughout their union they created a living home for 17 dogs, all of whom are featured through striking photography between the covers of Woof! This book is a celebration of true love – between people and between people and animals – and beautifully related the eternal truth that the world would be a better place if everyone simply took good care of one other.
Author Robert Freeman is a musicologist, Steinway artist, and a professional musician. Over 42 years of marriage to his wife, Carol, he has been the proud master of 17 dogs – 11 of them golden retrievers, six of them American dogs. Having made tenure at MIT, he directed the Eastman School of Music for 24 years, presided over the New England Conservatory for three, and served as dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas in Austin for seven. He is also the author of the highly praised The Crisis of Classical Music in America.
For the Eastman School’s website honoring Freeman, please visit https://www.wsm.rochester.edu/freeman/
What a great idea to write about the dogs an owner has had. Why they choose the name they gave to each dog and the characteristics of each one. The book is well written and after reading Robert Freeman’s new book Woof! A Love Story of Dogs, Music, and Life, you will want to start a journal about you and your dog. What a wonderful holiday gift for the dog lover in your family. Don’t forget to get a copy for yourself to add to your library. It would make a memorable gift for the family who are thinking of getting a dog in their life. Give them a copy of Woof! A Love Story of Dogs, Music, and Life.
It was a great privilege to speak with author Robert Freeman about this love for his wife, dogs and music.
THT: I thoroughly enjoyed your book, what led you to write it?
Robert Freeman: I did it because my dear wife had terminal cancer and I composed it while she was ill. Partly as a way of distracting her. We had 42 great years together. It’s hard in your mid-80s to live by yourself.
THT: Did you and your wife grow up with dogs?
Robert Freeman: Each of us had a dog or two in our background. We came together as my book explains as the result of an unplanned pregnancy by a dog my first wife got and didn’t want to take care of.
THT: How was it traveling from Texas to Vermont with all your dogs?
Robert Freeman: We had a station wagon, and during those days we didn’t have more than three dogs at one time and we would put the luggage on the roof rack and the dogs would get in the back of the station wagon and we would stop every 300 miles and spend the night at a Marriott’s Residence Inn, all of which are pet friendly, put a sign on the door that said ‘don’t disturb the dogs,’ and go out and have a nice dinner and do the same thing the next day. It took six days to make that trip from Austin to Quechee, Vermont. But we did it with pleasure.
THT: What were the months that you spent in each of those cities?
Robert Freeman: I was a professor at Texas and I was always in Texas for the academic year and would spend about a month to six weeks in Vermont in the summer time. I directed Eastman for 24 years, which is where Carol and I met in 1972. I thought I was retired, but Texas called and we came back to Texas where I deaned until I was 71 and professed until I was 80. I am 84 now.
THT: Are you fully retired now?
Robert Freeman: I don’t go to an office anymore (laughter!) I just finished writing a book and amworking on another one right now. I always have interesting projects to work on and I recommend that to you readers as a way to retire. First of all, save your money, so that you have something to retire with and invest it reasonably and then when you get to be 80 years old, work on projects that interest you. There are all kinds of things that need to be done. What my life has been about, a part of having a loving relationship with my wife and raising 17 tenure dogs. We always had visitors as well, dogs that had gotten lost, people brought to us whose owners we found. There were always a bunch of animals in the house. My life has been about changing the way in which musicians are educated, so that music of all kinds becomes a central part of American life.
THT: How do you feel about not having music taught in schools today?
Robert Freeman: Terrible. That it an awful mistake. The music programs, for example, in the Los Angeles public schools, were just wonderful 50 years ago. I am writing a book with the famous American conductor, Leonard Slatkin, who grew up in Beverly Hills and had wonderful musical instruction. There is a terrific book by a UCLA professor named James Catterall, which is entitled Doing Well by Doing Good, by Doing Art. Professor Catterall, studied over a period of a decade, 20,000 Los Angeles public school students, who were middle and high school students, and he differentiated the ones that had art instruction in the schools-drawing, music, acting or dancing-from those that didn’t. Those who did, did markedly better in their other academic work. They graduated from high school at higher rates, they got into colleges at much higher rates and graduated from college at much higher rates and got good jobs at much higher rates. Irrespective of their social economic backgrounds. That says a lot about the value of the arts, beyond the beauty they bring to humanity.
We are just beginning to understand why that is the case. If you are playing the piano, as I have spent a lifetime doing, you are sitting in front of an instrument with 88 keys and you are looking at a bunch of black dots. Your brain is taking in messages from your eyes and translating them to your fingers and your feet, and you make some appropriate motions as a result of that. But at the same time you are listening very carefully to what you are doing because when you are practicing you are trying to make it sound more like the way you want it to sound. You keep playing it over and over again to try to improve it. While you are doing so, let’s say that you are starting to play a piece, and that we are now in the fifth second of the piece, at the same time you are thinking ahead 15 seconds about what is coming next. By the time you get to that point, 15 seconds from now, you are already thinking 20 seconds ahead of that! That is a complicated process, which now neuroscientists are studying scientifically.
I will tell you another interesting story I heard about at a board meeting at Texas Medical Center in Houston a couple of year ago. It was given by a man from the Air Force who was in charge of the drone program. The good thing about the drone program, is that when the drone crashes it doesn’t hurt any of our people. But the drone crashes too often, and when it does, it kills people whom we don’t want to see killed. It does political damage as well as human damage and it cost you and me 10 million dollars every time it crashes. So the Air Force wanted to find out why that happened, which is a good thing. They learned that they had to realize there were two guys operating the drones, one was in charge of synthesizing 25 incoming video signals and the other in charge of synthesizing 25 audio signals. Then they needed to confer with each other and by the time they did that the drone crashed. The Pentagon spent a lot of money figuring out which kind of Americans were good at synthesizing incoming variables under pressure and the answer turned out to be, not surprisingly, pianists.
That is why studying music is a good thing for young people. For addition, the music can be very beautiful and it keeps youngsters out of other kinds of trouble. When I was a teenager, I didn’t have time to smoke or get involved with drugs. I was too busy practicing and going to school.
THT: Why did they take music out of the schools in the first place?
Robert Freeman: They were under budget pressure and they didn’t understand how central music study can be. What people have to understand, is not because you have dreamed about becoming Rudolf Serkin, because the chances of your doing that are like the chance of your becoming Tom Brady’s successor with the New England Patriots! (laughter) becoming the president of the United States. There are very few people who or have that ambition and who succeed in doing it. That isn’t to say that playing the piano isn’t wonderful fun, and that it is not very beneficial for you.
The good thing about playing an instrument, is that you can have a wonderful time playing with other kids. At any age it is fun to play an instrument.
THT: Let’s talk about dogs and music.
Robert Freeman: Dogs are not without musical skills, but they haven’t developed them yet as professionals.
THT: Do you have dogs now?
Robert Freeman: I don’t have any now because I live in a retirement home, where everybody else is 85 or 95 years old. I live in a place with 300 other people in their 80s and 90s and we have 2 or 3 residents who are in their 100s. We actually have a guy here whose real name is Rip Van Wrinkle. I didn’t make that up.
Of our 17 tenured dogs, as my book says, 11 were golden retriever and six were American dogs. Golden retrievers are wonderfully handsome dogs, they are very friendly, very kind and gentle and great with children, they shed a lot, but they are wonderful dogs. I thought you would have asked me was an American dog is. Do you know what an American dog is?
THT: No I do not.
Robert Freeman: You will not find that in any dictionary, or that is an invention of my own. You and I are American dogs, unless you are a Native American. This is a country of immigrants. My grandparents, all four of them were immigrants from Europe. We have immigrants from Asia, Africa, many of whom whose parents or grandparents came here hundreds of years ago against their will. Some of them intermarried, like President Obama’s parents, partly Caucasian and partly African American. But we are all Americans. That is the nature of our country and the nature of the strength of the country. The Golden Retrievers are all the result of interbreeding and they have severe problems with hip dysplasia and especially with cancer. It is hard to get a golden retriever past ten years. American dogs are just as good, and they come in all kinds of varieties. Some people call them Heinz 57s, but they are friendly, brave, fast and smart, and they live longer. It is not unusual for an American dog to live to be 18 or 19.
We have been breeding dogs for the last 2 or 3 hundred years for various purposes. Partly for dog shows, partly as guard dogs and hunting. If you throw out a Frisbee to a golden retriever, he will go catch it and bring it back. Though sometimes (laughing) they don’t want to bring it back! They act like it is a game and truly enjoy the game.
I am eager to emphasize that while the pet industry is a big thing in the United States, there are so many animals, dogs and cats especially that are lost or born without being wanted and need to be euthanized. There are animal kennels in every city in the country that rescue all kinds of dogs, including American dogs.
So the first thing to do, if you have a hankering for a dog, is just go to your local animal shelter and see what they have, because they will have a wide variety of dogs. You pick one out, that dog is just as good as any dog you would buy at a pet store. You bring the dog home and get them shots, and you get them spayed or neutered so that they don’t reproduce, and once they get their shots you get them a collar that you get an ID tag on it. The vet can put a microchip in their shoulder just in case they get lost so that someone will be able to find the owner. Dogs are very frightened by loud noises, so the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve are tough times for dogs because of the fireworks going off. They just hate thunderstorms. Carol and I used to, whenever there was a thunderstorm coming or it was approaching Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve, try to stay home with the dogs. If the noise gets too loud, the dog may run away and get lost.
There is a wonderful article by Malcolm Gladwell, who writes for the New Yorker, entitled What The Dog Saw, an article in which he talks about the fact that dogs more than any other animal pay close attention to the human beings they are close to. They listen to your voice to try and understand the words that you are saying. They do learn “sit, stay or come” but most dogs don’t have a wide vocabulary. They also listen to the intonation of your voice, they are trying to figure out if you are happy or sad, whether you are angry or upset because they like you to feel better. They also watch your facial and bodily motions because they are reading you all the time, trying to figure you out so that they can love you and make you feel better. If you have a dog, you can count on that dog’s friendship. I had one dog named Chips, with whom I used to have conversations, though I didn’t fully understand the language he spoke. If I was about to go to the office in the morning, I would say ‘Chips, do you have any plans for today’? and he would go (Robert Freeman spoke dog at this time, lol) and we would go through the same routine when I came home at night always for 2 or 3 minutes, not just a sentence or two. I would tell him what I had been doing. I would tell him about which interesting meetings I had and he would tell me which tails he had been sniffing through the day. At the end of my book, I tell about an old German legend that I read somewhere, which says ‘animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve.’ Every Christmas Eve my dear wife used to read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and the dogs would all sit around her, because they knew that when she would finish reading we would give each of them a small cup of Bailey’s Irish Cream. They liked that. On her last Christmas Eve, after the Bailey’s Irish Cream, Shiner did speak, and he said that dogs are there to love and to be loved and to be concerned about each other and to look after each other as well as the human beings that they are close to. He wished that human beings would take the same point of view and stop fussing with each other…
THT: Dogs teach us love. Losing a dog is difficult. How did you and your wife handle this?
Robert Freeman: I never made the decision that is was time for a dog to go, Carol was good at that. She tried to give them long and happy lives as long as they were healthy. When they got to the point that they were in pain and the Vet said the dog would not get better, we would go to the Vet and I would lie on the floor with my arms around the dog, scratching its ears. The Vet would shave a little area on the dog’s leg and give him a shot of something, I don’t know what, but it acts instantly. There is not even a tremble and the dog doesn’t feel anything. He is just gone, and it happens in just a second.
Our first dog was Pierre and as you know that he had a very long name. The music that Pierre liked was the same music that goes with Gone With The Wind. So I will sing to you my favorite Pierre song, which only takes five seconds, what he really used to love was (Freeman sings these two words) ‘Hello Pierre’ if you did that a couple of times, he would jump and come to give you kisses.
THT: You have such amazing memories, don’t you?
Robert Freeman. I do indeed!
THT: Do you ever visit the Shiner and Billie?
Robert Freeman: No, the rescue believe that is not a good thing for dogs, as long as they have a good home. They have to learn how to forget Carol and me if they can. It would probably upset them if I came and went away. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I will get a note from Shiner one of these days saying “I’m well!”
Mr. Freeman told me that when he moved into a retirement home, he had to find a home for Shiner and Billie. He called the local golden retriever rescue league and they found some nice people who would take them both together. They were kind enough to start sending him, via email, color pictures of the dogs in their backyard. He knows that they are well taken care of.
What a wonderful story of love and friendship between humans and animals.
The end of our conversation was amazing.
WOOF! A Love Story of Dogs, Music and Life
Released: April 30, 2019
Direct link to book on Amazon.com at: www.amazon.com/s?k=WOOF%21+by+Robert+Freeman&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss_2