Kenneth Harper

Last weekend Suzanne and I learned of the passing of a wonderful friend and musician, the bassist Kenneth Harper, who had been fighting a heroic battle with cancer for some time. Ken was only 45- the loving father of a beautiful son, Bennett, and husband of one of my oldest friends (and youth orchestra stand partner), the cellist Amy Harr. Assistant principal bassist of the Colorado Symphony, he was a tremendous, virtuoso bass player, but more than just that- a complete musician, inspired tango arranger, perceptive and dedicated teacher, and a wonderful chamber musician and colleague. A more agreeable companion for a cold beer or dinner and a chat you would never find. He was a warm, funny, intelligent guy, who was endlessly curious about life and music.

I’ve pasted the official obituary below. The family has set up a scholarship fund at Rice in Ken’s name, which is a fitting tribute for such a brilliant musician, but it I’d love it if readers would also take a moment to give something to melanoma research in Ken’s memory. Cancer sucks and it’s about damn time we found a cure.

I’ll be thinking of Ken, and also of Bennett and Amy this weekend during our Mahler concert.

Kenneth Harper-

Kenneth Spencer Harper, 45, of Denver, died at home February 21 after a courageous battle with melanoma. He was the assistant principal bassist of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Ken was born in 1963 in Camden, NJ to Godfrey (Skip) Walton Harper III and Jean Margaret Holt, both deceased. He graduated in 1981 from Moorestown High School, earned a Bachelor of Music degree from James Madison University in 1985 and a Master of Music degree from Rice University in 1988. He played with the Houston Ballet Orchestra, New Orleans Symphony, Houston Symphony, National Repertory Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Orchestra and Solti Carnegie Hall Project before joining the Colorado Symphony in 1994. He was also a member and chief arranger for the tango band Extasis and was a devoted teacher of the double bass. Ken performed regularly with the Colorado Chamber Players and the Grand Teton Festival Orchestra.

He is survived by his wife, Amy Harr, son Bennett, mother Carolyn, brothers David, Douglas and James, sister-in-law Christine, sister Michelle, brother-in-law Joseph Bowling, sister Caroline, grandmother Caroline Cummons and numerous loving aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws and close friends.

Ken’s humor, depth, musicianship, intellect, leadership, integrity and companionship will be sorely missed. A celebration of his life with his favorite music will be held at 4 p.m. on March 23rd at Boettcher Concert Hall at 14th and Curtis in downtown Denver.

Contributions can be made in Ken’s memory to the Kenneth Harper Scholarship at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, MS 532, P.O. Box 1892, Houston,TX 77251; the Melanoma Research Foundation at or 170 Township Line Road, Building B, Hillsborough, NJ 08844; or the Colorado Symphony Association, 1000 14th Street, Suite 15, Denver, CO 80202.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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6 comments on “Kenneth Harper”

  1. Troy Birdsong

    It’s a total shock to hear about Ken’s passing. He was a great bass player and teacher. I met Ken at Roundtop and learned a lot from him. Everything you said about him is true. He was a true musician who will be greatly missed.

  2. Lynn Peterson

    Thanks for this Ken. It has been a long time since we have seen each other but I am going to see Amy tomorrow. Hope things are going well with you.
    Lynn Peterson (Heine)

  3. Susan Purcell

    Ken and I were classmates at Rice University. He always had a smile on his face and a pleasant disposition. very sad…..

  4. Stuart McLean

    I just read about Ken’s passing today in the JMU alumni magazine. I knew Ken when he was an undergrad at JMU and we played together in the Roanoke (Virginia) Symphony. We shared many long rides from Harrisonburg, VA, down to Roanoke for rehearsals and concerts. He was my roommate several times at the Hotel Roanoke where the symphony housed the out-of-town musicians. He was great fun and very entertaining company and we shared way too many cold beverages for either of our own good!

    To Ken’s family and friends – I am truly sorry for all of our loss.

  5. stephen vahle

    I am shocked and dismayed to have lost an old friend. We met at a jam session at JMU in his freshman year. We roomed together, played in numerous bands, and partied til dawn on many an occasion. He turned me on to Yoga, Steve Reich, and true grooove.

    To brother Dave and Ken’s family my deepest sentiments.

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