Wednesday, February 16, 2011

By an' By

I don't know how much longer my mother has to live.  She could be gone within a few months, or she could linger a year or two.  But I've started planning the music for her funeral, and have already asked a friend to conduct what will probably be an eight-voice choir.  My siblings will probably be angry with me, but, since I have no control over life or death, I find it comforting to try to sort out the little details that might bring someone some consolation.

This is not one of the pieces we will do, though I am planning to include a choral arrangement of the Negro spiritual "Soon-ah will be done."   (My mother is the daughter of a Civil Rights activist, spent most of her own best energies working for equal access to educational opportunities for disadvantaged -- i.e. poor and black -- children, and is well-known and -loved in the local African-American community).  But it is one that I've loved for a long time.  Paul Robeson sings with his accompanist, Lawrence Brown, who has an aching, humane tenor voice. I love the line "I know my robe's going to fit me well/I tried it on at the gates of hell."



13 comments:

ex-new yorker said...

I will try to remember to say a prayer for her whenever visiting your blog.

Do you think your siblings will be angry because you're accepting and preparing for the inevitable? My mother is in remission from cancer, and her doctor now sees no barrier to her achieving a very ripe old age. But it was a blessing that she and I could speak openly about it when it seemed likely that she had a lot less, even after the initial treatments had seemed to work. She and I both had childhoods shaped by "untimely" deaths of close family members, and I can't relate to the approach of just running away from the subject of death until it can't be ignored anymore, even though there was little to no warning with the earlier losses.

Pentimento said...

Thank you, Ex-New Yorker. There is no good prognosis for my mom, sadly.

I think my siblings will be pissed off at me for focusing on music and appearing to micromanage, but hey, that's what I do to cope. As Georg Lukacs said, "We possess art lest we perish of the truth" . . .

Anne-Marie said...

I'm so sorry.

My mother died very suddenly, and arranging the details of the funeral was difficult; it all turned out well, but it could have turned out just as well with a lot less stress if some of those details had been arranged beforehand. When it became clear that my grandmother's death was imminent, my sisters and father and I started choosing the readings and music for her funeral in advance. (My grandmother was too debilitated to participate herself, though I'm not sure she would have wanted to anyway.)

Is music a lot less important to your siblings, so focusing on that seems trivial to them? I know someone who refused to marry in her childhood parish because her husband's family were Methodists and professional musicians, and she felt the parish organist and cantor would embarrass the Catholic Church.

Pentimento said...

Actually, two out of my three siblings are also professional musicians! I guess it's really the third that I'm worried about.

lissla lissar said...

Praying for your mother and your family.

I completely understand focusing on small, controllable details in an overwhelming situation. It's something you CAN do something about and make as lovingly perfect as possible.

Pentimento said...

Thank you, all, for your prayers. Even though it's generally a given in life, I'm finding it incredibly hard to say goodbye to my beautiful mother.

marie therese 1 said...

Whether 9 or 90, when it is Mom that dies the grief is deeper...Shortly after my Mom's death I suffered very much when I ran across a devotional passage...in which a saint noted that Jesus related to her that of all the sufferings most painful, poignant and deep on the Cross was seeing His Mother suffer. As Corrie ten Boom wisely said, "There is no pit of hell so deep that He has not already been there before us" I have filled my Alpine lake many times with tears for my Mom. Peace. [It's ok to grieve.]

Pentimento said...

Thank you, Mary. Yes, it is hard.

Clare Krishan said...

Heard this segment on our local public radio
http://whyy.org/cms/radiotimes/2011/02/16/listening-to-music-with-new-yorker-music-critic-alex-ross-2/
(tune in at c. 37 mins for the discussion on the chapter of his book on Chacona/Lamento)
and put it in mind to share it with you when next I browsed by.

I hope it helps in contemplating the gifts your mother played a part in endowing you with -- "Listen to this, the rest is noise" may have a narcissistic ring to it if you only had yourself in mind as cantor. Yet surely the cosmic harmonies are an inheritance worthy of celebrating upon passing into eternal light, right? Such a leit motif, so to speak, never ends... like the Spanish folk dance mentioned by the author entrancing a heart lamenting...

Pentimento said...

Clare, I was thrilled to hear in the broadcast you linked to Marian Anderson singing "Deep River." I've performed this piece many times, and I've been wondering if I should sing it at my mother's funeral, but I'm not sure if I could handle that.

And also the great Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's absolutely transcendent recording of "As with rosy steps the dawn advancing," from Handel's Theodora. You can find a beautiful clip on Youtube of her singing it live in Peter Sellar's staging of the oratorio.

As for my mother, if it weren't for her, I would not be a singer.

mrsdarwin said...

Pentimento, I'm sorry to hear of your mother's decline. She'll be in our prayers.

My father was preparing to take a trip out of the country recently, which put in him in mind of death, and suddenly I started receiving a lot of text messages ranging from his will to the music he wanted at his funeral. He's young (as Dads go) and in relatively good health, so I hope I won't have any call to dig up this information soon, and yet I'm glad to know what he wants, against the day when it will be needed.

Anne-Marie said...

Pentimento, I thought of you again yesterday and prayed for you, your mother, and Jude, as I was at the National Shrine for a funeral. The music had clearly been carefully chosen to speak of Christian hope and faith facing suffering, and of the source and consolation of truth; the deceased was a philosopher and priest who had had cancer for several years. The Dominican schola sang one of my absolute favorite pieces, Tallis's "If Ye Love Me."

Pentimento said...

Thank you so much for the prayers, Anne-Marie. I just got back from a visit to my mother, and it was rough.