Clifford D. Alper, who taught music history and education at Towson University and was a devoted fan of opera, died of gastrointestinal and heart disease Feb. 27 at Seasons Hospice at Sinai Hospital. He was 87 and lived in Pikesville.
Born in New York City, he was the son of Sam Alper, who manufactured dresses, and his wife, Eva “Eve” Siegel, who became a secretary for a City Council member. His family moved to Miami, where he met his future wife, Ruth Hagen, at Miami Beach High School. They dated as students at the University of Miami, where he received both a Bachelor of Arts degree and a master’s degree.
He joined the Air Force during the Korean War and served in a clerical unit in Florida.
“At age 11 he listened to his first opera and fell in love,” said his son, Ronald “Ron” Alper of Columbia. “People told him, you’ll never make a living in it. But he began pursuing his doctorate in music education at Columbia University — he was a good teacher and he liked children. He dabbled in piano and could read music, but he never really played an instrument. He was a music historian and educator and was able to combine that interest with his teaching. He always had a job.”
He moved to Maryland and finished his doctorate in education at the University of Maryland, College Park. He and his wife settled on Flagtree Lane in Baltimore County in 1963.
“His dissertation was on the work of Friedrich Froebel, the German educator and philosopher, who created the kindergarten concept,” his son said. “Froebel is a pretty difficult last name to pronounce, and Cliff would always correct the family when we mispronounced it. He published a number of articles on Froebel in music education journals and was recently interviewed for a Froebel documentary.”
He joined the faculty at Towson University and created a survey of opera course. He also taught classical music literature and music education courses to students who often went on to be teachers. He retired in 1996.
“Opera was his life — and was emotional about. He knew every recording and all the singers,” said a fellow Towson University faculty member, Ruth Drucker. “His courses were well received, and his enthusiasm got his students involved.”
“My father was warm and loving. He was a worrier and sarcastic at times, quick-witted and cerebral,” said his daughter, Lynn Stander of Rockville. “He was a cultured man who loved to find bargains at a flea market. He liked to stockpile. We had enough toothpaste and paper towels and Reynolds wrap to last a decade. Razors too … We were ready for the apocalypse with our hard goods but no food.”
She recalled her father’s dedication to music.
“My father was was devoted to the arts. He said his religion was Verdi,” she said. “And Mozart, Beethoven and Bach and Puccini.”
His daughter said her parents bought a season subscription to the Washington Opera.
“While he spent for the tickets, he and my mother would go 6 hours in advance to ensure he’d get a free parking spot on the street,” said his daughter. “He was not under any circumstances paying for parking. But opera was his passion. His vocation and his avocation.”
“From his experience teaching early music education, he really learned to understand kids,” his daughter said. “He would say to me, ‘Kids don’t realize how important they are to us as parents and grandparents.’ ”
After retiring from Towson University, Dr. Alper gave lectures at elder hostels, retirement communities and senior centers. He also spoke at Temple Oheb Shalom’s Joy of Opera series.
“My father had a sly, slightly dark sense of humor that he passed along to his children and grandchildren,” said his son, Ron Alper. “To him, everything was a racket. He did not have a lot of filters and spoke his mind just as he felt it. It was an interesting dichotomy. He had feelings too, but he could be prickly.”
Dr. Alper also wrote scholarly articles on Giuseppe Verdi. His love of opera continued until the end of his life. He was preparing to attend a simulcast performance of “Carmen” when he was stricken and taken to Sinai Hospital.
In addition to his son and daughter, survivors include his wife of 66 years, a retired Baltimore County elementary school teacher and Hopkins Evergreen Museum docent; four grandchildren; and a great grandson.
Services were held March 3 at Sol Levinson and Brothers.