Remembering Sam Knopp: UCCS community shares their memories

Sam Knopp was a 24-year-old music student in his senior year at UCCS who was killed in his dorm room on Feb. 16.

Before his life was taken, people said he was a fixture in the visual and performing arts campus community and a talented guitarist who was always around and always visible.

People who knew Knopp shared some of their fondest moments with him and who he was.

Nehemiah McCann – UCCS student and one of Knopp’s close friends

Nehemiah McCann, an English student at UCCS, met Knopp during an unofficial skate club other students put together three or four years ago, before there was an official skate club. The two connected almost immediately.

McCann described Knopp as the kind of friend who would be there for both the good and bad. “Whether that be a Waffle House trip at three in the morning, or a random call at two in the afternoon, he would always be a person to be able to cheer you up and give you a piece of advice that you didn’t think you’d needed to hear,” he said.

The two initially bonded over trading items such as comic books, but they also shared interests in the same jokes, shows and a love for music and adventure.

One of McCann’s fondest memories with Knopp involved a road trip. McCann had been going through some personal issues and was tired of being in the city, and Knopp whisked him away on an impromptu trip to Yellowstone National Park.

The two took whatever money they had, went to their dorms, packed and were on the road right after. In addition to the astonishing views, dunking their heads in the water for a quick shower and skating around the park, McCann remembers becoming even closer with his friend.

During the trip, McCann wanted to get clips of Knopp playing his classical guitar in the middle of a river and also skating down a hill. “I remember him just looking so relaxed on the board and just going with the motion of how everything was going. He felt at peace,” McCann said.

Shortly before the start of this semester, Knopp spent the night at McCann’s house, and the two played together with Knopp on the guitar and McCann on the piano. McCann had been struggling to finish a song he had been working on but was able to complete it with Knopp’s help.

“I just started playing it and, somehow, he knew. He connected with the notes. He felt the rhythm. He felt everything kind of interweave and intertwine. And, somehow, magically, he helped me finish the song,” McCann said.

“It was connected on a deeper level that I never thought possible. We ended at the same time, both in the same tempo, same speed — everything was perfect,” he said.

While McCann noted his friend had his faults, Knopp was always someone who could create something good out of a bad situation.

He was resilient and always found a way to pick himself back up.

“He never let them [mistakes] define him,” McCann said, “I want Sam to be remembered as a person who never gave up.”

Colin McAllister – Humanities program director, assistant professor for visual and performing arts and Knopp’s primary guitar instructor

Colin McAllister worked closely with Knopp as his guitar instructor. He would go on trips with him for his music and helped put together Knopp’s recitals.

McAllister made a statement on Knopp’s death via email:

“I am shocked, devastated and heartbroken at the tragic loss of my beloved student, colleague and friend. Sam was a thoughtful and caring young man with a great sense of humor, never without a smile on his face. He was a fantastic and versatile guitarist who loved to play and share his music with the world. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, and I miss him dearly.”

Glen Whitehead – chair and professor of music for visual and performing arts and one of Knopp’s professors

Glen Whitehead, chair and professor of music for VAPA, has known Knopp since he enrolled at UCCS almost six years ago and shared a little about their time together.

Whitehead said Knopp was a fixture in the music program, noting he was a really warm person who didn’t have a mean bone in his body.

“He could be friends and was friends with everybody,” Whitehead said. “He would talk to people in class who maybe were feeling a little awkward or not a part of the core group and sort of bring them. He was that kind of person who did that really naturally.”

Whitehead also said Knopp was a naturally talented guitarist who was just beginning his journey of becoming a unique musician.

He recalled Knopp’s junior recital, noting he was just a natural performer and recalling how versatile he was as a guitarist. The genre he was most skilled at was rock music, but Knopp had been branching out and learning other genres on the guitar, and his recital showcased all of them.

Knopp played his classical guitar piece as a duet with his violin professor, then played a few jazz pieces and ended with the genre he enjoyed the most, rock.

“I just remember smiling from the back of the audience. In some ways, he was so enthusiastic it was a bit awkward because he’s smiling and banging and playing the hell out of guitar, and it’s loud. He provided a whole bucket of earplugs for the audience, which was totally necessary, and it turned into a big, shredding guitar rock concert,” Whitehead said.

Knopp was in several of Whitehead’s classes during his time at UCCS. His fondest time spent with Knopp was during a travel course called the Sonic Landscapes last summer, which involved composing music through nature.

Whitehead and another professor traveled with their students around Colorado to collect different environmental sounds then produce music with it.

Knopp called shotgun in the van Whitehead was driving, and they connected over the hours they had spent together. During the trip, they visited the Great Sand Dunes and explored the sand dunes during the runoff.

“The river comes alive, and there’s a pretty interesting phenomenon about that river. There’s a wave that comes through live every 13 to 15 seconds, and I just remember that being a real fun and magical exploration that’s really weird and different that he was really excited about with that trip,” Whitehead said.

Sam Knopp. Photo via BBC.