The music I played at a funeral on Thursday.
I usually don't play for the funerals of people I don't know. I don't deal with others' grief well. The family having to comfort a blubbering harpist while they are busy grieving doesn't do anybody any good.
At family funerals, it's different. It's ok to blubber, to break down, to get tears on the strings. I've done it several times. The first funeral I played for was my Grandpa Bahr's. It was hard. Grandpa had been struggling with dementia for years. I'd played at the nursing home for him, but I don't think he realized what was happening, or even who was playing. But at the funeral, I know that the very simple "Amazing Grace" I played added dignity and love and calm to a sad day and a divided family. I played for Grandma Bahr's funeral, too. It was right after I got my pedal harp. I played "In the Garden" - the hymn she used to sing to me while she rocked me to sleep - at the funeral. There's a wicked pedal change for the accidentals in the refrain at "...and He tells me I am His own." I don't know how I managed it, my hands and feet trembling and my heart breaking, but I did. When Grandma Kortuem died, I accompanied a soloist on the Schubert "Ave Maria" at her funeral. It felt so right, so beautiful, sending her along with that prayer.
But last week, a supporter of my music emailed to tell me his wife had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and asked if I would be willing to play for the service when the time came, that his wife had made the request herself, that knowing I would be playing my harp at her funeral gave her such peace. I knew it was the right thing to do. I said yes. The call came the next day that she had died, so soon. The funeral was Thursday.
A Celtic bard had to know three types of music to help the community process emotions: the musics of dancing, sleeping and weeping. It was weeping music that I played during the prelude and service. I played "slowly and emotionally" as the music noted but also with the intention of sending out healing on the sound. I heard sniffing and catching breaths and sighing, but I played on. There was nose blowing and throat clearing. But I was strong. I was doing my job. I knew that this is the work that makes a difference.
That night, I got a text from a high school friend who has been battling cancer for years. She told me it's back, it's spreading, that chemo might not conquer it this time. She ask if I would play "How Great Thou Art" at her funeral, if and when the time came, that knowing I would be there filling the space with music would make everyone feel better. Yes, I told her. Of course I'll be there, fulfilling my duties as a friend and a bard.
Oh, the healing, the comforting power of music.