29 06 2008

I’ve performed at weddings, at birthdays, at debuts…I’ve performed at parties and social gatherings…I’ve performed at concerts…and now, I can say I’ve performed at funerals.

Last Tuesday, my boss hastily summoned me to the memorial park near the school – a former administrator of the school had died, and was about to be cremated. I was asked to perform.

I trudged over in my shirtsleeves and tie and sweater vest (in the tropical sun, no less) and I remember chuckling to myself as I looked-up the name of the former administrator on the list of “tenants” for the day. His read simply, “Freezer”.

I was directed to the crematorium chapels, and lo and behold, the guy was right there (well, at least his body was)…lying on a table, dressed in a suit with some of his belongings on another table behind him. What’s so special about this? Well, he wasn’t in a casket. He was literally lying on the table. Imagine having to perform next to that.

Of course, on occasions like this one, it’s never really a performance, per se…but I don’t know what else to call it. I just shut my eyes, hoped I wouldn’t forget the notes, and let loose the most heart-rending rendition of It is Well with My Soul I could possibly manage under the circumstances…which probably wasn’t very heart-rending at all. To anyone who saw me and mistook it for passion, allow me to say that passion had very little to do with it; it was more about keeping my composure while playing next to a corpse!

But playing aside, I found myself sympathizing with the fellow’s family; I listened to the eulogies…I even watched them wheel his remains into the crematory, listen to this wife and son weepily bid him their final goodbyes (that was tough to watch and not cry at the same time), and then slide his remains into the oven. I won’t be forgetting the sight of that for awhile.

Last Friday, I performed at the fellow’s memorial service. The corpse on the table now fit neatly into a marble urn. I had been asked to perform Amazing Grace – a song that means much to me (it was the first song I ever played on the violin), but I hadn’t played in awhile.

In the minutes leading-up to my performance, I remember debating with myself how I should play – should I go for my fancy version, full of double stops ala Mark O’Connor? Or should I play as simple as possible and get the whole thing over with?

I decided to do the latter – it was a memorial service after all, not a concert. The last thing I wanted to do was call attention to myself – the family wanted Amazing Grace and that’s what I decided to give.

The sound system in the church was amazing – I thought I sounded HUGE. Every note was crystal clear, and I found myself being really glad I had decided to play simply. But intonation and articulation and phrasing aside, I found myself feeling something in the music – like all my training and practice and teaching were meant to lead me up to that point: to play Amazing Grace as beautifully as possible to comfort a grieving family.

People congratulated me afterwards, saying I had played exceptionally well – me, I found myself crying in the corner – overwhelmed by the privilege and the pathos of being able to make music that led people’s eyes and minds Upward…where they belonged.

This is the reason I’m a musician. There is no other.




One response

30 06 2008

Sweetie, you don’t perform. You play. It’s the heartfelt playing that makes people look Upward.

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