A Recording Producer and Sound Engineer looks back on his lessons with Theo

14 Jan 2022

Written by: Daan van Aalst

Translated by: Eileen J. Stevens

Published in: Newsletter of the Theo Verbey Foundation

Recording Producer and Sound Engineer Daan van Aalst remembers Theo Verbey: I began my studies at the conservatory in 1998, with a course in The Art of Sound, a field that I hadn’t spent much time with before then. I had grown up in a musical family, and my brother and sister were already at the conservatory. Still, I could not envision myself as a performing musician. Which is how I arrived there with limited knowledge of music theory, something I was reminded of in many theoretical lessons. Theo taught one of the subjects attended by myself and others in my year, and that’s how I learned from him the basics of classical composition forms, counterpoint, and dictation. Lessons included the sonata form, melodies that became harmonies when turned upside down, and other musical wonders I knew superficially but whose theory I had never studied. Those lessons are the ones I probably remember the best from my time at the Royal Conservatoire. Theo spoke with our very diverse group on entirely equal terms. He quickly clarified that good music is simply good music, regardless of the genre. I don’t think I’m only speaking for myself when I say that he taught us in a calm but expectant way, allowing us to truly absorb the information. The bar was set pretty high, but his teaching style made students more and more interested and eager to come to classes prepared. He stuck to the core business, serious but often with a very recognizable slight smile. At that time, when the boundaries between departments and styles were still rigid (no one in the jazz department, for example, dared utter the mysterious word “Fusion)” Theo’s view was much more inclusive and we discovered that similarities between form and harmony are universal. And that’s what made his lessons so riveting. He never made a big deal about his own role as a composer, and I didn’t discover the treasure trove of works that had sprung from his brain until later.

In time, I started teaching at the same conservatory. During one of my classes, we recorded Theo’s composition, “La Malinconia,” with Ellen Corver. It’s a slow, thoughtful piece for a ballet. Since then, I have often used that piece in lessons dealing with editing. In that piece, the concepts of time and motion are so strong that every edit demands total concentration. It’s essential to grasp the form of the piece if you’re going to work on it. However, at first, it’s only experienced subconsciously. And so, the circle—from teaching to using the knowledge—was complete. It was valuable to talk with Theo as colleagues from time to time. I often ran into him near the elevator, a cup of coffee in his hand. He was as unwavering and even-keeled in his looks as in his temperament. We talked about music, how it is experienced and presented. That fleeting time when core values are experienced so strongly on an unconscious level, recurred regularly. In that as well, thoughtfulness about form and authentic values was essential to him.

The last time I saw Theo was in our canteen. I waved to him from a distance and gestured, “how’s it going?” It was the only time I saw him off balance, and he made a “so-so” motion with his hand. I miss Theo, both as a person and as a colleague. Especially his universal approach to music as a profession and not just a “job.” He enriched my career with genuine, tangible knowledge that explains some of music’s magic. Playing a cadenza or figuring out harmonies or forms often takes me back to his lessons. A lasting memory.


by Daan van Aalst

Recording Producer https://www.daanvanaalst.com/bio/