Thursday, August 4, 2011

Angel of Death

I went to a funeral this morning.  It was a joyous occasion.

I worked at Holy Name as an organist for over 10 years, in the 1990s.  At that time, the services were conducted in Polish and English, with traditional early-20th century Polish hymns and liturgy.  The Polish music is different from the traditional American church fare - a collection of music from the heart of the land that gave us Chopin.  But, when the Polish heritage of the neighborhood gave way to the Hispanic tradition, the church lost most of its membership, gained a new membership, and the music changed.  The regular services are now conducted in Spanish, with music provided by electric guitars, rhythm boxes, a keyboard, and such, and an organist is no longer required.   That was three years ago.

Celeste (not her name) had been one of the old members, and the old liturgy and traditional Polish instrumentation was needed.  So, the family called me (I took a morning off from the day-job) and they called Angelo, the tenor (he's between gigs this week).  I picked up Angelo on the way so he wouldn't have to stand waiting for the bus.  He'd just injured his leg in a shopping accident, and we wanted to sound our best.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a five-foot Christmas wreath hanging from the organ pipes in the loft, an eerie touch for the stifling 90-degree summer temperature up there.  My old church organ was buried under an army blanket amid the rock-band-like setup.   I rolled up the cover, and sat down and fired it up.  The tones sounded a little weak and squeaky at first, but by the second hymn, my faithful old instrument had found its old sweet sounds again.  The preset switches were just as I had left them four years ago.  The organ seemed happy to have me back again.

There is always some joy in music, even for a sad occasion such as a funeral.  The element of joy lends poignancy to the sorrow, and offers comfort.  It was so good to be working with Angelo again, and Father was just as unpredictable as ever in following the script of the liturgy.  So we had fun, Angelo and I trying to find out where our cues were.  The congregation sang some Polish standards - Serdecna Matko,  and In Thy Protection; Angelo sang The Holy City - a beautiful and uplifting piece from about 1900, and we did Schubert's Ave Maria, the Lord's Prayer and at the last minute, during the confession, we finally located the score for How Great Thou Art one of Father's on-the-fly requests from the altar.  And a beautifully comforting cradle song - Guardian Angels, written in the 1920s by Harpo Marx, of all people.

The family thanked us afterwards - the music had done its healing work.  So we all shook hands and went our ways, until the next time the Old Angel of Death flaps his wings over Milwaukee. . . 

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

No comments: