I didn’t completely fall apart until I considered his final gift. He was Leonard Neidhold, and on March 26th he died suddenly of complications from a massive stroke.
Leonard Matthew Neidhold lived a remarkable life. Quietly, musically, educationally, humorously, humbly, and uncompromisingly he touched countless lives. This was reflected at his April 4th memorial service when some 700 attendees packed the Billinghurst gymnasium, among them130 fellow musicians performing in a mass brass ensemble, a big band, a chorus, and a brass quintet. It was a celebration worthy of this great man.
Born in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1959, Leonard quickly became a musical legend in the state. A trombonist in the McDonald’s All-American high school marching band, he went on to study music at the University of Alaska, North Texas State University, and the University of Miami (FL), where he received his masters in Jazz Pedagogy. Upon graduation, close friend Kris Engstrom informed Leonard that there was an upcoming audition for 2nd trombone in the Reno Phil as well as a number of open music positions in the Washoe County School District, and that he should come to the Truckee Meadows. Leonard followed her advice, got both jobs, and was a pillar of the region’s music community for 28 years.
At the time of his death, Leonard was the principal trombonist of the Reno Phil, the Reno Chamber Orchestra, and the Great Basin Brass Quintet. Over the years, he was featured with the Reno Jazz Orchestra and numerous casino showroom orchestras. In 2017, at the invitation of Theodore Kuchar, Leonard expertly filled the principal trombone chair with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine on a 42-concert U.S. tour, including a thrilling performance in front of his Reno friends, family, and fans on the Pioneer Center stage.
A musician’s musician, Leonard was comfortable in his own skin, as the truly great ones always are. He simply played well all the time, usually deflecting attention from himself to others. His trombone sound was warm and full. He could play jazz, classical, rock, and any other style he wanted, and do so with absolute authenticity and authority. He lived by Duke Ellington’s belief that there are only two kinds of music…”good music and the other kind.”
But performing was only half of his professional life. Leonard Neidhold was an educator par excellence. Over his career he taught at Traner, Clayton, and Billinghurst middle schools, as well as the University of Nevada. His ability to inspire, instruct, and instill discipline in his students made him a hero to thousands of young people over the years. His enthusiasm for kids, love of music, and patience with people made him the perfect educator and role model.
A great family man, when not teaching or playing, Leonard loved spending time with his wife Caryn and children Robyn and Max. A talented gourmand, his girth reflected how delicious was his food and how much he enjoyed it. He was an avid skier and a masterful fly fisherman. Leonard possessed a fantastic sense of humor, which skewed to the sophomoric rather than the salacious (a good match for his middle school minions). His laugh started with a deep “huh, huh, huh” chuckle, and once he got rolling his shoulders would shake and tears would stream down his purple face. Laughing with Leonard was one of life’s great joys.
I am blessed to have laughed often with Leonard. A fellow founding member of the Single Malt Scotch Tasters of Reno, as well as Reno Chamber Orchestra and Reno Phil musician, he has been an integral part of my entire Reno experience.
His genuine care and concern for others, especially those less fortunate, was what put Leonard Neidhold over the top as one of the greatest people I’ve ever known. Leonard had the courage of his convictions, and acted boldly on his views about equity, social justice and politics. He not only said he cared for people, he actually cared for people. Because he was an organ and tissue donor, even after his passing, people’s lives will be improved and prolonged. He literally gave of himself even after death. And that was his final gift.
This overwhelming gesture has left me both hollow and filled. I pray that I will be a recipient of these gifts and always see the world with Leonard Neidhold’s eyes for beauty and those in need; hear the world with his keen ears for music and laughter; and care for the world with his compassionate heart. Rest in Peace, my friend. I miss you.