Sunday, September 09, 2018

Funeral Music

A succession of funerals and memorial services seem to form a kind of dotted line winding its way through my fifth decade of my life. It's been four years since my brother's death, and the two memorial services we had for him in Memphis (hosted by his friends there) and in Newton (hosted by my mother). And then three years ago in August we had a memorial for my father-in-law, James Leddy that was followed the next year by a memorial service for my mother.

There are people in our town in Illinois that I see regularly at the funerals of our older friends, many of whom were either musicians or people who loved to attend concerts. 'Tis, in the spirit of the writer of Ecclesiastes, the season, I suppose.

I watched the public funerals of Aretha Franklin and John McCain on television, and engaged in public on-line mourning on the internets for two people most of us never would have met.

I was really moved by Franklin's family talking about her as a mother, a grandmother, and an aunt, making dinner, giving presents, and being extremely generous to her community. I carry an indelible imprint of her voice and musicianship in my inner ear, which can, thankfully, be reinforced by listening to her recordings. That public part of her will, for that reason, never die. The private part we heard about through her family remains in the memory of those fortunate to have known her.

The funeral for John McCain moved me in a very different way. I have rarely agreed with his positions, and seriously questioned many of his choices (particularly is running mate in the 2008 presidential campaign). He is responsible for opening up that particular "Pandora's box" which brought us closer to the political atmosphere of 2018. Still, the words spoken about him by Henry Kissinger (another person who I have never been in sympathy with) moved me. And what Barack Obama said about him touched my heart. One of the last threads of decency in the Republican party died with John McCain.

I loved the music for John McCain's funeral, particularly a setting of the 23rd Psalm by John Rutter and an arrangement for soprano, string quartet and accordion of "Danny Boy" by Bruce Coughlin played on tuned-up baroque-period instruments. There were also many inventive choral and orchestral settings of well-known American songs.

I found myself writing a piece of funeral music for trombone and piano that I titled "Obsequy" after a movement of a piece for solo viola that my brother Marshall wrote. We played a recording of Marshall's "Obsequy" during a memorial service for our mother. You can hear Daniele Colombo's beautiful recording of it here.

I dedicated my Obsequy, which is very different from Marshall's Obsequy, to Abbie Conant, my favorite trombone player. You can see the music on this page of my Thematic Catalog blog. You can also listen to a computer-generated recording here.

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