Peter Bridges remembered
Music director inspired students and performers
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
The many students and colleagues of Peter Bridges speak of a man who had incredible talent both as a musician and a teacher, and an incredible gift for bringing out talent in others.
Bridges, 50, of New London, died June 1 leaving behind his wife Heather of two years and 19-month-old son James, after a long illness. His impact on the theater community in New Hampshire was broad. He had been the music director for 300 performances, conducted choirs, played organ and piano and taught voice, piano and keyboard. He also left an impression on students and colleagues in Westfield, N.J., where he taught for 15 years.
Many remarked that Bridges was just as dedicated to community performances as to professional ones.
“I think he found community theater an avenue to let people shine,” Robert Dionne, artistic director and founding member of the Majestic Theatre in Manchester, said. “He had a strong philosophy about what [community theater] should be and what it shouldn’t be.” Bridges was “setting [people] up in a way that they could use the talent they had,” Dionne said.
Producing quality shows wasn’t a self-serving goal, said Ann Marie (Niemsyk) Squerrini of Bethlehem, Penn., who worked with Bridges in the early 1990s.
“He wanted his performers be the best that they could be and be happy with their performance. He’d do whatever he could to make that happen,” Squerrini said.
“He loved it when the show came together, after a lot of hard work. He was very quiet and unassuming, thoughtful, and I never heard him raise his voice,” Peter Ramsey, president and CEO of the Palace Theatre, said. He called Bridges a “very fine musical director.”
“Over all my thoughts of Peter was that he was so kind,” Ramsey said. “It will be a terrible a loss to the community and to New Hampshire in general and to his many many family and friends,” he said.
Bridges was also known for his musical flexibility; Dionne recalled that Bridges went so far as to write extra vocal parts for a Majestic show.
Bridges impressed Holly Countie, of the Peacock Players, with his ability to play music from memory or improvise to accompany. He could rework a boring tune. “He took ‘Conjunction Junction’ and made it the sexiest song I’ve ever heard,” Countie said. She asked for a patriotic flavor to a song, and he transposed it to show that. “He was all for making the best possible production that could be,” Squerrini said.
“Oh my goodness, and he was so wonderful with the children,” Countie said. One of Countie’s favorite memories of him was when an 8-year-old started rubbing the bald spot on Bridges’ head while he was playing piano for the young cast to warm up. It was something the girl would do to a father or grandfather, Countie said. Bridges just kept playing the piano.
“I think it’s because he didn’t treat them like kids,” Squerrini said about how Bridges could get his middle-school students to produce the sound he wanted. He could make them feel good about themselves, even if the sound wasn’t there.
“He gave me confidence in myself, he wouldn’t let me quit,” Murray Haynes of Manchester said. Haynes had met Bridges at the Majestic and took voice lessons to help him with acting. Eventually Haynes could handle solos.
“He was just a warm, gentle, beautiful man.” Beyond who Bridges was or what he did, his legacy will be the people he helped, Haynes said.
A memorial was held for him Sunday in Hooksett.