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A parishioner from North Riverdale Lutheran read my blog entry on our adventures at First Lutheran feeding the hungry this past Saturday, and responded with some of his own memories of growing up at First Lutheran. A few more Emails passed between us discussing memories of church, especially where music was involved. As a music teacher and performer, I have always understood the power of music. Music can be so healing and fulfilling, but it can also wield a remarkable blow when it reminds us of certain moments of sadness or loss.
A few Sundays ago, the organist played a gorgeous prelude, a fine arrangement of “Holy, Holy, Holy” which happened to be my grandfather’s favorite song. For me, starting service was a slight struggle, emotionally. This past Sunday, the choir’s anthem was a medley of the wonderful old tunes that contained so many of the songs with which I grew up. However, one particular song, “May The Circle Be Unbroken” seemed to momentarily shatter the enjoyment of the choir’s anthem. It is such a beautiful song, but I can never hear it without recalling its agonizing strains at my uncle’s funeral.
Tonight, one of my dearest friends in the world, Bill Hetzer, came in to pick up his son, Chris, from his piano lesson. Today was Bill’s 56th birthday, and I could tell he was not in a celebratory mood – something just seemed a little off. We stood talking about family and other items, and then he mentioned his son, Andy, and the tears began. Andy was 16 years old when his life ended on Mother’s Day, 1998. That following summer, Bill and I sat in many restaurants at lunch, crying, discussing Andy, our own mortality and the desire to adopt. He and Kay were not finished being parents, and I was wanting to build my own family. A part of me was hesitant as I watched Bill and Kay struggle with the loss of their own child, but the need to be a father was far greater. Today, Bill was listening to music as he was cleaning some rugs and the lyrics brought back thoughts of Andy. I had been discussing Andy earlier today at the office, as there is a family, Muse Machine board members, who are interested in adopting and will be contacting me this Thursday. Another ironic thing occurred today when my student, Zach, pulled a song from the Methodist hymnal for his sight-reading piece. It was “Come, Christians, Join To Sing” which is a very family tune to Ohio State Buckeyes. Andy was destined to play football for OSU, and this song is a Hetzer family favorite since its melody doubles as “Carmen Ohio” and the lovely hymn. The hymn, sadly enough, was what I led the congregation in singing at Andy’s funeral.
Music has triggered a lot of emotions this week, either at church, in Email conversations, or songs my students have sung in lessons. Today, while Katie O’Neill was singing a lovely musical theatre piece, “Love Changes Everything” and I realized I was choking up. Powerful and moving!
I love the power of music. Once I heard someone say that music is the language of God, or the angels. As a conductor, composer, musical theatre director and teacher, I love utilizing the powerful range of music to reach the cast, crew and eventually, our audience.
In January, 1957, my great-grandmother, Thelma Daugherty Barmes, a splendid pianist and well known as an outstanding soprano, was killed in an automobile-train collision. When the train conductor found her lying in the field where the train had drug her several hundred yards, she was lying there singing “The Old Rugged Cross.” When this story was told to her daughter-in-law, my grandmother, the haunting melody with rich text soon became anathema to my grandmother. I can still remember as a man in my twenties, my grandmother gripping the back of the pew as it was sung in church. Grandpa and Grandma could not bring themselves to open the hymnal when it was sung, and would stare straight ahead as if trying to push out the painful memories that haunted them. Although I was born seven years after Grandma Thelma’s tragic death, “The Old Rugged Cross” is often a sad reminder in some ways. When my cousin Tanya died three years ago, it was sung at her funeral and I saw the effect it still had on my family 45 years later.
Another song that makes me swallow hard is “Anchors, Aweigh” the Navy’s signature song. When I began piano lessons, my Uncle Ron was in the Navy. He bought me the sheet music “Anchors, Aweigh” which I eagerly practiced before his next visit from Virginia. Since his death in 1987, “Anchors, Aweigh” has become a joyful reminder of the wonderful uncle I had, but also a sad one since he is no longer with us.
There are many, many songs which do not haunt, but send chills up my spine. Of course, those are usually from musical theatre repertoire, but I do have songs which delight and lift me. One of my favorites is “Any Dream Will Do” from Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Each time I portrayed ‘Joseph’ or directed the show, it was always the song that seemed to empower me. I might be shedding tears as I sang this brilliant finale piece, but they were always happy tears. Classical music seems to lift me as much as my favorite musical theatre selections, and even the very heavy Mozart Requiem is uplifting. Although some Christmas and holiday music can move me to a higher level, there is nothing like patriotic music around the Fourth of July. “The Stars & Stripes, Forever” or Carmen Dragon’s stirring arrangement of “America, the Beautiful” are moments that send chills over me. Of course, my friend, Brody McDonald, my sons’ choir director, introduced me to the world of men’s chorus, a terribly powerful genre of music. There is nothing any greater than hearing a men’s chorus! Women’s choruses are lovely, but they just cannot seem to manage that rich sonority that men can.
When I was writing every morning from home I always had music playing. I might not be listening to it, but it was always on. Now that I work in the mornings at the Muse Machine, there is no music. Life has become exceedingly dull in this area, and I sorely miss the music in my day.
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