I went to a funeral today. It was deeply moving, despite being a service in memory of someone I never knew. I went with my wife, Tracey, to support one of her colleagues who had recently lost his partner to cancer. Through day to day communications, Tracey had followed the final, devastating stages of this hateful illness. It felt close to home and had touched a nerve. Going to the funeral was the right thing to do.
It felt like a good and positive occasion – as good as these things can ever be. Black had been banned and the service was a colourful, sunlit celebration of a life well lived, cut off too soon.
Two things struck me.
The first was the extraordinary power of music. We sang that funeral stalwart, “Abide With Me”. For me, this classic hymn is a magnificent, perfectly constructed example of the form. It’s four lines of perfection – the opening exposition rooted firmly in the tonic; the soaring modulation to the dominant at the end of the second line; the chromaticism and suspensions that lead to that heart-rending minor chord and the quiet confidence of the return to the major in the final line. There’s a great deal the student of composition can learn from this congregational favourite.
Whether there’s something especially emotive inherently embedded in the music itself or whether it’s a shared cultural understanding of the piece and the significance of its use at such occasions, it is remarkably powerful and always seems to have a profound effect upon those present. When we stood up to sing we were a disparate group of acquaintances, colleagues, friends and relatives. When we sat down we were a community united in grief.
The second thing that made me pause and reflect were the personal recollections and tributes paid by friends and colleague. I left with a very clear impression of the life and legacy of someone I had never encountered during her lifetime. She was someone who made a difference. She “made other people the best that they could be.” Quite an epitaph.
In his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey suggests a useful maxim – begin with the end in mind. It’s a very productive way to plan anything. What will the final outcome be? Where will we end up? What will success look like? It’s not a bad way to live your life either. What will my legacy be? What will others say at my funeral? I got into music – and I know I’m not alone in this – not just because I liked the way it sounded, not just because the inner geek in me loved the business of producing sound but because I suspected, believed that somehow, by being part of something so powerful, I might be able to make a difference, to leave the world a better place.
It’s easy to forget and lose sight of that ideal in the day to day grind of client meetings, deadlines, software updates, lesson plans, funding applications, report writing, computer crashes, driving to workshops, re-stringing guitars, re-recording that cue that never quite worked, audio editing……..
Today restored perspective. Perhaps I should go to more funerals?