Elliott Higgins, 1941-2014: Hummingbird Camp leader shaped many musical careers

Elliott Higgins

Elliott Higgins, who had a passion for teaching others to love music through private lessons, school classes and at the Hummingbird Music Camp in Northern New Mexico, died early Tuesday at age 73 after a sudden illness, his sister, Sally Chapman, said Wednesday.

Higgins was born March 13, 1941, in Albuquerque to Kenneth Lloyd and Wanda Higgins. He was the first child of five, his sister said. His father worked as a music educator, often setting up programs at local schools.

In 1959 , Kenneth Lloyd Higgins and his wife founded the Hummingbird Music Camp in a forested area of the Jemez Mountains. The camp, which more than 50 years later still attracts students from across the state, would become an anchor in Elliott Higgins’ life.

As a young man, Elliott Higgins attended Highland School and later graduated from The University of New Mexico, Chapman said. The French horn became his instrument of choice, and he first played with the Albuquerque Symphony Orchestra. Chapman said her brother played across the nation, and also served as a conductor with the Albuquerque Philharmonic. Chapman said he also co-founded The International Horn Competition of America.

However, he usually returned home during the summer for the annual Hummingbird Music Camp, where he served as a French horn and chess instructor, his two major passions, his sister said.

“He was a very focused teacher,” she said. “When he found a serious student, his job was to take them as far as he could take them.”

He had hundreds of students, including Matt Robak, a former Hummingbird camper and a student at The University of New Mexico. Robak said Higgins shaped his musical career and that he likely would have fallen to the wayside without his mentor.

He said he first met Higgins when his middle school band took a field trip to the camp in the Jemez Mountains. Higgins helped the students try various instruments to see which they liked best. Robak said Higgins was quick to offer praise. After one student played a simple musical scale, Elliott swooned and told the student he would thrive as a professional musician someday, Robak recalled.

Robak, 23, would go on to take private lessons with Higgins for about eight years. He said his teacher wasn’t content to sit back and watch students. He would bring his horn and play along with them. And for every lesson, Robak said, Higgins had an accompanying story about playing with a famous musician.

“He was hungry to play,” Robak said. “The horn was an extension of himself.”

Higgins’ joviality extended beyond the classroom. Robak said he knew how to work a crowd and could make any audience laugh with a well-timed joke.

Chapman said her brother loved to talk to anyone who would listen.

That social nature attracted other musicians, and Chapman said her brother had a gift for gathering people for concerts and other shows.

In his later years, Higgins lived with and cared for his mother in Albuquerque, Chapman said. His father died in 1996.

Higgins was married and divorced, and had a child, Amber, who is now 24. She is married and seven months’ pregnant with her first child.

News of Higgins’ death generated an outpouring of fondness. More than 130 people offered their condolences via Facebook to the family and the camp. Many praised his teaching prowess and upbeat nature.

The family has arranged a memorial service at 2 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Hummingbird Music Camp. An employee at the camp said organizers expect between 300 and 400 people to attend.

In addition to his daughter and Chapman, he is survived by his mother, Wanda Higgins, and three other siblings: sister Jean De Carlo, brother Les Higgins and sister Teena King.

Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or cquintana@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CquintanaSF.

(2) comments

Larry Davis

Sincere thanks to a loving man who devoted his life to music and to others. If the world were filled with more like him we would be living in peace and harmony.


I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the Higgins family.

I attended Hummingbird as a camper for 5 years, a staffer and CIT for 1 year each and Counselor for 2. Elliott was one of the individuals who shaped my adolesence and adulthood.

One year, I was part of a group that performed a rendition of a popular song for our camp dance, and staff recital. Elliott approved our performance for inclusion by verifying that the ensemble were able to start and to stop together as a group. This important lesson stuck with me throughout my musical career, but it also taught me that the journey we take together is most evident by its punctuation marks.

Regardless, we take the journey together and Elliott had a gift for capturing our togetherness through music.

After he approved that musical performance for inclusion in the dance and recital, he passed me one day at camp. I remember he looked at me and smiled. "I'm in the afterlife! I'm in the afterlife!" He sang and danced a little quoting the song my group was to perform. I can honestly say: "Elliott Higgins brought a little bit of the joys of the afterlife to all of us who were fortunate enough to know him as students, campers and musicians."

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