9/10/2012

In times of grief, there's music

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.

14 comments:

  1. Wow. Very well said.

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    1. Said with love. Thanks, Gwen.

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  2. I was once asked to play (on the guitar) and sing "Jesus Loves Me" at the funeral of a 5-year old girl. I couldn't have gotten through it without the smiling face of her 3-year old sister, mouthing the words with me and giving me strength to complete my gift to the grieving family. It's knowing the power of the gift of music that inspires us to keep on giving.

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    1. Oh my. I think you're a stronger woman than I am, playing for the funeral of a child. Good work, Sally.

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  3. Anonymous9/10/2012

    Having you play beautiful Irish music at my mother's funeral meant the world to me! I can't thank you enough.
    Diane (aka Baby)

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    1. It was my honor, Baby.

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    2. It was beautiful and so appropriate.

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  4. Susan P.9/10/2012

    This is a very moving post, and I think you're right about many things. First, the power of music to help us access and express emotions is undeniable. I've also found that music takes me to transcendent levels of insight that I never would have reached alone (Brahms Symphony No. 1 and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 are two of my favorite examples - and of course, Beethoven's 9th must fulfill that function for many, many people. Just writing the name of that symphony gives me a chill.). Second, I understand and admire what you are saying about the duty of the bard in his or her community. Your community is fortunate to have you there to assist with their living, dying and enlightenment. Finally, I completely agree with you about the ability of out intention to transform our lives and the lives of others. We have more power for good than we realize.

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    1. Thank you, Susan. I'm fortunate to have this community, too. Without it, I wouldn't have been able to grow into the kind of musician I am. You're right - good is powerful.

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  5. Bridget O.9/11/2012

    Amy - you are a very special woman and you continually strive to improve upon your God-given talents. Your soul flows through the music you play. Your music encourages us to take time to feel our feelings - something we generally try to stifle. Thank you for sharing the blessings God graced you with.

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    1. Oh, Bridget thank you. You know it's your Dad who set me on this course...

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  6. Gravediggers and harpists--ushering people on to the next stage. There's something very solemn about this important role.

    The best funeral song I remember from my youth is "When Irish Eyes are Smiling." It still gives me chills to remember that 30 years later. No harps in Waldorf, just my mom playing the organ.

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    1. I thought of you when I wrote this.

      It's funny that song is a funeral song for you. I've only played it at weddings!

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  7. guao che gatto?????????????

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