Over the last week and a half, I have either attended or provided music for four funerals. I have already mentioned the marvelous service for Ralph Houghton (described in my blog entry from June 5th) – but haven’t yet mentioned a funeral from several days earlier for another music man in the area, Lee Matthews, a kind gentleman who played trombone in a number of area ensembles including the Kenosha Pops Band and the John Bunic Big Band. Lee’s trombone was placed right beside the altar for the funeral, and there was something so touching about the sight of that.
Two days ago was a funeral that was memorable for a very different reason. The deceased was the uncle of a young man from Tremper High School who is one-fourth of the Fearsome Foursome quartet I have blogged about before. (I assigned them that name in the blog just to be cute; there’s nothing fearsome about any of these guys.) Mike asked his buddies if they would be willing to sing “Amazing Grace” for the funeral and they readily agreed – as did I to accompany them. Except that when I showed up at the Kenosha Funeral Center at the appointed time (the funeral was at 1, but they thought 1:30 would be plenty early for me to arrive) they were missing the lead singer of the quartet – and were beside themselves wondering how they could possibly sing without the guy responsible for the melody. So I offered to step in and sing lead, which prompted one of the guys to ask “but then who will play for us?” I assured them with a smile that I could manage both. (I may not be able to walk and chew gum without breaking my leg, but I do know a thing or two about singing and playing.) But then just as we were getting ready to start, someone spotted a maroon car pulling into the parking lot, which was evidently our missing singer. So I whispered that I would play an extra long introduction and would just keep playing until the lead singer was safely in the door and ready to sing. It actually took about 90 seconds (I don’t know if it was hard to find a parking place or what) before he walked in the door, stepped right beside his schoolmates, and they started singing just like that. It was pretty amazing – and they sang without missing beat, as though the whole thing had been planned that way.
Earlier that same day, I sang for the wedding of the brother-in-law of someone I knew primarily from my days with the Carthage Community Chorus. This woman called me over the weekend, hoping against hope that there might be some way for me to get a small group together to sing The Blessing of Aaron at the conclusion of the funeral . I told her that wasn’t in the cards, but I offered to come sing it myself as a solo- and she gratefully accepted. But when I arrived, it turned out that they wanted me to sing some of the elements of the mass as well. . . and a couple of other solos as well. . . all in collaboration with two vibrant, energetic women whom I met for the first time ten minutes before the service was to begin.
One was one of the nuns at Holy Rosary School, and she was delighted to meet me because she is frequently attends Kenosha Pops Band concerts in the summer. (To whatever extent I am “famous” around here, it is above all for the summer pops.) She does a lot of singing at the parish and she and I collaborated on several pieces. . . without having ever rehearsed them or even really discussing them ahead of time. (Even matters such as who would sing what verse was determined as we sang, as she either pointed to herself or to me or made a sweeping gesture indicating that we should sing together. And it worked.)
The other woman with whom I collaborated was the organist . . . . and I was stunned to learn that she has been the organist for that parish for 63 years. Think about that. She started there when Harry S. Truman was president and scarcely a soul would have owned a television set or would have even heard of such a thing. Imagine all she has seen over the ensuing years, especially within her church. She has certainly stepped into this new era confidently. There is a boom mic in place at the organ, and she is the cantor for much of the liturgy- singing with an amazingly clear and steady voice for someone her age (by my calculations, she is probably nearing her eightieth birthday) and with a lovely flowing fluidity that many a monk might emulate. It was a delight to make music with her. (By the way, she was the organist for the extraordinary funeral which took place at Carthage back in the spring of 2007 – the funeral for a sheriff’s deputy who was killed in the line of duty. That man was a member of Holy Rosary, so the parish choir sang and she was the organist, even though the service needed to be held at Carthage in order to accommodate the thousands of people who wanted to attend. You can read about that in my May 24, 2007 entry.) Anyway, I knew the woman’s name from that occasion but had no idea that she had been the parish organist for such a staggering length of time . . . with no thoughts of hanging it up either!
And to think that when I got the call asking for me to sing for this funeral, I had been mightily tempted to say Sorry, I don’t Think That Will Work Out For Me. Had I said No, I would have missed out on the experience of meeting this woman and making music with her. So it’s nice to know that my almost pathological aversion to saying “no” occasionally pays off in handsome and unexpected ways.
pictured above: my two collaborators for the funeral at Holy Rosary Catholic Church. By the way, I almost used a different picture – in which these two women are seen reconnecting the microphones. It was a truly amazing sight. I’m not exactly sure what was amiss (it sounded fine to me the way it was) but they spent most of the sermon disconnecting and reconnecting the microphones and replacing the cords like they were two veteran technicians from Led Zeppelin’s road crew. I only realized later that I probably should have offered to help – but truth be told, I was sitting there in rather stunned awe. And actually, they didn’t appear to need any help at all.