Raiford D. Couden
1930 - 2006
Ray Couden, born in Manilus, New York, was raised in a musical family. His father, a hardware store owner, was an amateur violinist who had a small orchestra, and his mother played piano. Although he studied piano while a child, he became a euphonium player in the school music program and played that instrument in his high school years. After entering the Army at age eighteen, he switched to the tuba and played it in the First Army Band at a base in New York City until he was discharged in 1952. It was a marching band that played in all the ticker-tape parades in the city.
While serving in the army, Couden was encouraged by his brother to find and attend a Seventh-day Adventist church. By chance, he chose one where Elvira Ruberto attended and was a member of the choir. She would later talk about the first time he attended her church:
We were just getting up to sing the Doxology, when this soldier boy in his uniform and fancy braid came into the church and sat down. I had literally just finished praying silently, "Lord, let the next gentleman who comes into the church be for me." It was childish, and I really never expected it to happen, but it did.
Months later, after we were married, a light bulb went on and I observed to Ray, "Why, you were an answer to a maiden's prayer." He would often tell this story to our friends and then wryly observe, "When I walked in that morning, I thought, "What a wonderful greeting they are giving me, when they stood and sang, '"Praise God from whom all blessings flow."' And here he is . . . ."
Ray and Elvira married in 1950. When his service in the army ended, they moved to Atlantic Union College in 1953, where he completed a B.S in music education in 1957 with tuba as his performing area.
Couden began his teaching career at Mount Vernon Academy in Ohio, where he served as band director, working with Roger McNealy, choir director. Four years later, he became the first music teacher at Bass Memorial Academy in Lumberton, Mississippi, when it opened in the fall of 1961. After three years there, he accepted an invitation to teach music at Union Springs Academy, wanting to be nearer his elderly parents.
In the next four years he not only taught music but also introduced a drivers' education program at the academy. At the end of that time he accepted a similar position at Union Springs High School, where he taught for the next twelve years.
Following his departure from the high school, he studied to be a registered nurse. After completing his training, he worked in the medical field for ten years until his retirement, nursing at three hospitals in the region. Even after he retired they wanted him to return because of his friendly interaction with the patients and families.
Couden continued to play the tuba, participating in the Auburn, New York, Civic Band for several years and playing an occasional solo in church. His wife related the following:
He had this old tuba which was really beat up. At different times and in different churches, when it was announced that he was going to play a solo, he would come walking up the center aisle, dragging it on the floor, hanging onto it by the bell. Once up front, while he was picking it up and getting it ready to play, he would say, " This is not a tuba, its an object lesson. This is old, its cracked, many lips have been upon it, but you know, in the hands of a master it still plays."
He also developed some proficiency on the Scottish Highland Pipes, which he delighted in playing one time at camp meeting in Union Springs. Once he was out of the car and set up, he played all the way from the parking lot to the tent, and then played special music for a delighted congregation.
He viewed the human experience and his role in life with a delightful sense of humor. The following excerpt from an e-mail sent to me in April 2006 provides a sampling of that humor:
Last night I was invited over to a neighboring town, Skaenatlas, a high society town with lots of money, to play with their band. These guys are all winners in the music area with some members from Ithaca College, Cornell University, and a couple of players from the Syracuse Symphony. So with credentials like that, I was from South Lancaster, Massachusetts, with a degree in tuba. "Where's South Lancaster?" Well, I let the tuba speak for itself.
They do first rate band music there and the last thing they pulled out, besides Trish-Trash Polka, was The 1812 Overture arranged by Lake. I'm glad I recognized the music and was familiar with it when I saw the tuba part (it was all black - 16th and 32nd notes from High Ab down to the basement). The guy next to me was an old timer (74 [1 year younger than Ray]) who played professionally. He had a lovely silver straight bell, 4-rotary-valve instrument with hardly a dent in it and enough sound to overpower the whole band. I had my old beat-up King, bell-forward tuba, with 3 valves that went up and down.
I had never played the "1812" but was very familiar with it. I did have a chance to look at the four pages of black notes before we started and think about how the fingerings were and all that. The guy next to me started drowning out and blasting away as if he were carrying the 110 pieces of the Boston Symphony, and so I gathered in my lungs and let fly with my horn. I matched the bugger when he went for the high A's and descended in to the pits of despondency in the lower regions of the tuba.
He was an old fellow so he didn't play a lot of the whole notes. There are measures and measures of whole notes on a low B flat (16 measures at a setting) and so with judicious use of both lungs, I was able to fill in with those and help the old fellow out. I tell you, with my soymilk and in spite of being a year older, I was able to "slug it out."
Needless to say, we were glad the French were defeated because I don't know that I want to play that piece again without my own practice.
Ray played in a rehearsal with the Auburn band on Monday evening, two days before he died suddenly from a heart attack on Wednesday, October 25, following an early morning walk with his dog. A group from the band played hymns at his memorial service the following Saturday afternoon. Many friends, former students, and colleagues attended and spoke with affection about him and how he had affected their lives.
Sources: Email from Ray Couden, April 2006; Interview with Elvira Couden, 2006; Tribute, "Ray Couden, My Friend, Earling Odell; Obituary, The Brewer Funeral Home; two emails from Gerald Couden, November 2006; personal knowledge.
Ray Couden, My Friend
October 25. It was sad news this morning. My friend, Ray Couden, my friend had died. I cried.
I was a new Adventist in the fall of 1954 when I enrolled at Atlantic Union College. I was in a strange new place with no friends, but with God's help I would make many new friends. And among the first was a tuba-playing guy with a sense of humor and we hit it off right from the start. As we both loved puns and funny stories, we found good times in sharing.
Ray had just come from the military, where he served with the First Army Band. He was now majoring in music with an eye toward teaching music in Adventist schools.
His senior recital on the tuba was memorable. At the outset, he paused, took off the spit pipe and turned it up over a potted plant. Out came as much as a glass of water. He went on to finish, keeping a straight face throughout. He loved doing things like that to lighten the atmosphere.
Ray graduated from AUC in 1957 and went on to teach at Mount Vernon Academy. He went on to Bass Memorial Academy and then finally came to Union Springs Academy. After a few years there, he left to teach music and drivers education at Union Springs High School.
Where to next? Well, a change of occupation became his interest and after the required preparation, Ray Couden became a registered nurse, serving at Auburn and Taylor Brown Hospital and Upstate Medical. Ray was known as a kind and caring teacher and nurse to his patients and his students.
His son Gerald paid tribute to his dad in an e-mail to me. "He was a good man, a good husband to my mother, a great father, and a good friend. I will miss him like no other." And I can second that sentiment, for as Ray often said, "My sentiments exactly."
His 56-year marriage to his one and only sweetheart, Elvira, was joy to both of them. They loved going places, concerts, flower shows, etc. She is glad that he passed on so quickly and easily, but she understandably is in shock, as well as all of us.
Ray was a regular correspondent to this newsletter and I imagine that many of our readers will miss his interesting columns. He is resting in peace now and awaiting the resurrection morning. We may expect to see him in the heavenly choir and band - and, perhaps, as an occasional soloist on the Sabbath.
Good night, Ollie.* Rest well. See you another day,
Love, Stanley *
*Both Ray and Earling were (Stanley)Laurel and (Ollie)Hardy fans and often addressed each other this way.
Thereís so much I would like to say about my father.
My father loved Jesus. My father loved and respected his wife, like few men do, and took his marriage vows seriously. My father loved me even when I was hard to love, and was proud of me even in my failures because I was his son. Thereís nothing he would not have done for me that was within his power.
I know he couldnít believe some of the things I did or the reasons why, but he loved me anyway. Iíve always known that my father loved me. He has been the most important man in my life. I will miss being able to pick up the phone and talk to him, or get emails from him. Öbut, I know where he is going, and because of the Christian example he set Iíll see him again someday in heaven where there will be no more tears, heartaches, or pain.
The last words my father said to me were, "I love you son." I love you too, Daddy.
Ö For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor. 13: 12,13