Obituary for Christopher Howell Hodges, 1956-2023

September 6, 1956-February 12, 2023

On Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, Christopher Howell Hodges died unexpectedly near his Philadelphia home. The cause of death was a pulmonary embolism.

Born in Gainesville, Texas, Chris was the son of Barbara Walters Hodges and James Houston Hodges. He grew up in Texas, attending schools in Lubbock, Dallas, and Austin, and graduating from the University of North Texas with a degree in music. Later he obtained a master’s degree in music from the University of Oklahoma in Norman. 

In the early 1980s he moved to Philadelphia, where he soon found a welcoming community among the city’s roster of expert musicians. In 1988 Chris was in the chorus, both in Philadelphia and at Carnegie Hall, for one of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s most memorable concerts, an all-choral evening of Mozart, Bruckner, and Verdi with conductor Riccardo Muti.

In the 1990s he appeared in the chorus at the Spoleto Festival in Italy, founded by Giancarlo Menotti. He also sang with the Philadelphia Singers, and in 2005 became a founding member of The Crossing, the GRAMMY Award-winning choral ensemble, founded by Donald Nally.

From 1995 to 2020, he worked at the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as the school’s director of admissions. Over the years, he greeted thousands of students, and took great pride in disarming those new to Curtis (usually with chocolate croissants), some of whom were initially overwhelmed by the school’s formidable reputation. Chris not only welcomed those who had made the cut, but sensitively delivered the sober news to those who did not.

For Opera Philadelphia, he appeared in many roles over the years in productions of Porgy & BessMargaret GarnerSilent NightTancredi, and The Love for Three Oranges. His final appearance was in Rigoletto, in 2022. A friend and fellow singer, Rob Phillips, recalled, “Chris had an amazing ability to memorize music, and was usually off-book by the third rehearsal, setting a bar for the rest of us.” 

Former Curtis students and vocal colleagues recalled his wicked, often anarchic sense of humor. In the 1990s, he acquired a gelatin mold of the human brain. In subsequent years at the school, the “Jell-O brain” made an annual appearance at the Curtis Halloween tea, where it was sometimes lovingly centered on a bed of gummy worms. And in a memorable appearance captured on video, he donned a wig, strands of pearls, and a red dowager dress, before crashing the holiday party as the school’s late founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist.

Any recounting of his life should include a reference to origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, which Chris pursued as a lifelong avocation. Even the most intricate creations didn’t faze him, such as a miniature Tyrannosaurus Rex, or a Stegosaurus complete with faithfully articulated back plates—each fashioned from a single sheet of paper. He loved performing spontaneous, random acts of kindness: at restaurants or in other public venues, he would make fanciful cranes for total strangers, who were often charmed by his generosity. 

Chris is survived by his mother, Barbara Walters Hodges, of Robbinsdale, Minnesota; brother Bruce Hodges of Philadelphia; brother John Hodges (and his wife, Cindy) of Bay City, Texas; and sister Susan Hodges Ramlet (and her husband, James Ramlet) of Minneapolis. He also leaves behind five nieces and nephews, and five grand-nieces and nephews.

A memorial service was held on Sunday, May 21, 2023, at Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Contributions in Chris’s memory may be made to The Crossing, Morris Animal Refuge, and Opera Philadelphia.