MARIAN IONESCU (1963 – 2015)
UNSUNG HERO OF THE PAN FLUTE

By David Osborn


Courtesy of Daiana Berbec

I first met Marian Ionescu on my first trip to Romania in the summer of 1990, right after the fall of communism.  My Romanian – American friend, Gheorghe Parvu, took me to visit his rural hometown of Gura Ocnitei, in Dambovita county, near Targoviste, which is some fifty miles northwest of Bucharest, Romania’s capital.  Marian, and all generations of the Ionescu family, lived in the house across the street from George’s old country cottage on a winding road that led back to an ancient Roman salt mine.  Like George, Marian was also a Pan Flutist, and had learned how to play the Pan Flute from George’s brother, Stelian.  Marian and I spent a lot of time together on that first visit to Gura Ocnitei, playing the Pan Flute and listening to his vast library of Pan Flute recordings.  In Marian I had found a real kindred spirit, a fellow “bamboo brother” who was just as passionate about the Pan Flute as I was. 

I later came back to live in Romania, and rented George’s country cottage for a small fee so I could have a rural retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life in Bucharest – somewhere I could go to relax and unwind.  I shipped boxes of spare bamboo off to Romania from the States, to Marian’s house, so that when I was there, we could make Pan Flutes together.  Marian had great talent as a Pan Flute maker, and a great mechanical aptitude, which came from his job as a machinist at a local factory.  So many times, I would hit vexing problems in the Pan Flutes I was making and start to “pull my hair out”, so to speak, only to have Marian ingeniously solve the problem.  For instance, once I assembled a Pan Flute that had a curve or arch that was just a little bit too tight or pronounced; “No problem!” said Marian, as he took the instrument apart carefully in certain places and reassembled it in such a way that the arch had widened or relaxed to just the right degree, producing a smooth, uniform arch. 

Times were indeed tough economically for the working class in post-communist Romania, and Marian had an exhausting job at the factory whose shifts changed every week.  Nevertheless, he always found time to play the Pan Flute, to keep his interest in and passion for the instrument alive.  Besides working odd jobs on the side where necessary to pay the bills, Marian also found time occasionally to work up an act with some local musicians and go on a summer tour to a foreign country like Spain or Italy.  Where he found the time and energy to do all that I’ll never know.  He would also keep in touch with George’s brother Stelian, who taught him the Pan Flute, and from time to time, Stelian would even send him bamboo.  Stelian still makes Pan Flutes and sells them on e-Bay.  And whenever I came through Romania on subsequent visits back to that country, Marian’s help with things like repairing or re-finishing my Pan Flutes was always a big help. 

Marian was also my tutor in Romanian history and culture, and besides the Pan Flute, we would often have lively discussions about history, religion, politics and similar matters.  Marian was always interested to know what was going on in the world, and always tried to stay informed regarding current events.  He had an old text book from his school days entitled “Stories from History”, which not only taught me about Romanian history but also gave me practice in studying Romanian.  It was from these informal tutoring sessions that I was first exposed to Marian’s pedagogical talents.  Although he had received awards in school for his knowledge and love of history, Marian was much more than a dry academic in his approach to teaching history, or anything else.  His greatest virtue as a teacher seemed to be to inculcate a positive attitude of love and calm self-assurance in his pupils that was contagious.  Everyone loved Marian, who approached teaching, and life itself, with a big heart and a warm smile wherever he went. 

Several years back now, fate and the uncertainties of the post-industrial economy of post-communist Romania dealt what would have ordinarily been a cruel and devastating blow to Marian Ionescu – he lost his job at the factory.  Suddenly he found himself without a job and without an income, with his role as his family’s chief breadwinner totally vanquished.  But Marian Ionescu was no ordinary man.  He turned what would otherwise have been a devastating defeat into tremendous victory against extreme odds.  Having to go back to the drawing board in terms of his career and professional life, Marian was able to find employment as a Professor of Pan Flute at the Balasa Doamna High School of Fine Arts in Targoviste – on the condition that he go back to school and get a degree in music education.  Accepting the rigors and uncertainties of having to go back to school while doing whatever odd jobs he could to support his family, Marian left behind an old career that had been more stable economically for one that was more in line with his passion and his bliss.  And the gamble paid off. 

It was there at the Balasa Doamna High School that Marian Ionescu really came into his own, that his great pedagogical talent really began to shine.  Everyone loved Marian, and his students most of all.  On my visits back to Romania, Marian invited me to sit in on some of his classes, and to attend and observe some of the recitals of his students.  And they all had it – the same all-consuming passion and enthusiasm for the Pan Flute that Marian himself possessed.  It was a great delight to sit in on those lessons and recitals.  Marian was really into his students, and his students were really into the Pan Flute – and their teacher.  Passion, feeling and a childlike enthusiasm for life were the essence of Marian’s being.  I remember that I once invited Marian to meet me on one of his trips to Bucharest that he had to make in connection with studying for his music degree.  I didn’t tell him what my invitation was all about, only that it was a secret.  When he came to Bucharest, I took him to meet the King of the Pan Flute himself, Gheorghe Zamfir.  Marian was so excited at the event that he turned to me and said that he was so electrified at being in the presence of Zamfir that all the hairs on his body were standing on end.

On my last visit to Romania in 2015, I talked to Marian many times on the phone, and we really wanted to get together, but unfortunately, we were never able to do so.  I finally went back to the United States in early August, and as the ironies of life and fate would have it, Marian Ionescu suffered an untimely death from a massive heart attack on September 13 of that very same year, only about a month after my return.  He passed away at only 52 years of age, with both of his daughters newly married and with a granddaughter as well.  I visited Gura Ocnitei just yesterday and learned from her widow, Ana, that everything was looking up for Marian right there at the end.  He had put together a taraf, a Romanian folklore ensemble, and they had been quite active performing locally, and in recording their music.  In addition, Marian had been preparing to take an examination that would have gotten him top level qualifications as a music professor and a greatly increased salary as well.  “That’s the way it is in life – the bitter mixed inextricably with the sweet,” I told Ana, my eyes welling up with tears.  Marian Ionescu had truly been one of the great unsung heroes of the Pan Flute.