Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Singing in Bowling Green

"This is where we walked, this is where we swam. Take our picture here, take a souvenir."

This past weekend, I attended a funeral in Ohio.

My high school choir director passed away in mid September after suffering a stroke in late August. He had been rather unwell for a while, and sometimes these things do not come as a surprise.  His daughter E was very open and shared the goings on with him on our choir alumni Facebook group. It was incredibly generous of her, to share this intensely private family time with the students who loved him, from the late 60s through the 80s and into the 90s. 

We referred to him back then as "Uncle Andy" but E was the only one who held the honor of calling him Dad. 

When he was moved to hospice care, his daughter picked the date for his service, and began planning it. Some people said "He's not dead yet, he could rebound and surprise us." I told my husband this and asked him what he thought. As many of you know, he has a great amount of experience in end of life care. He told me very sweetly "once you are in hospice, there isn't a rebound to look forward to. He can be there a while, or he could pass quickly. E is right to make her plans for her dad at this time. No one can or should question it because it is the right thing to do."

And Doug was right. Uncle Andy passed away, and there was plenty of time for people to make plans, arrangements, and come to sing the gentle teacher home. I told Doug that I wanted to go, and he said "of course you do, and you should."

Now, a couple of months ago, one of my college professors passed away and I did not mourn the way other people did. I was sad for his family and their loss. But other than that, I wasn't so heartbroken that he had passed. It felt like nothing to me. 

This, however, was different. 

"Uncle Andy" was kind of a joke nickname, because he wasn't a loving Uncle figure. He sure could yell at us, he sure could be demanding...  We were mostly being sarcastic when we called him that. He was a taskmaster, was unrelenting at times, and there was sometimes a scariness to his intensity. 

But for as much as I thought he was mean at times, just like my college professor who recently passed, I never for one moment thought that he didn't love me and want the best for me, unlike the college professor. When it came time for "teach to" moments, he delivered them with love instead of self-righteous "I told you so" lecture and unwillingness to be a champion. I don't know if his daughter had the same experiences at home but "Uncle Andy" was inspiring, a great teacher, a tremendous mentor, and several of my friends went on to teach music, or have music careers, thanks to him.

Our high school choir was exceptionally good. Our entire music department was. We were incredibly lucky. 

E told us the songs we would be singing, and I got sheet music from a couple sources and posted them to my personal website so people could download them and start practicing. We all made our arrangements with our families, and about 40 of us I reckon made it to Ohio for the funeral. Some flew in from as far away as Phoenix and Atlanta. 

my friend Eva during the rehearsal
A couple of days before the event another good friend sent me an email with her regrets that she couldn't make it there for a variety of reasons.

I was sharing a hotel with my friend Eva, and told her that if she could make it to somewhere on my route I would drive her and not ask her to pay for a portion of the room costs.

I wanted her to be there, because she should be there.  So she got herself to Eva, and we had a fourth roommate, a girl who graduated the year behind us.

Two sopranos and two altos, just like old times.

I left here at 5:40am and arrived at my friend's house in Connecticut at 9:15. Not bad for rush hour through Hartford and down to New Haven. We were back on the road before 10am and made it all the way to Bowling Green with a lot of laughs and a few stops where we obeyed the bladder and the gas tanks. 

At about 7:40 we were checked into our hotel rooms, and readying up to go to a brief rehearsal at the church. Several people were flying in later and wouldn't get to their hotel rooms until midnight. A second rehearsal was held in the morning, and just about everyone was there.

One of the pieces I honestly NEVER remember singing. My friend Kat told me that we sang it on our England tour in 1983, but I do not have an ounce of recollection over it and neither did my friend Hadley. My sightreading skills are better than I remember, and being with other altos who remembered the song was exceptionally helpful. 

After the rehearsal and before we went up, our conductor, who herself was a music teacher, had done all she could for us to prepare us. She got rid of the "Hawl LAY lou YAs" and got us to remember it is "Allah lu ya" and to not sound like Jersey Shore or Long Islanders. She gave us the pep talk, reminding us that "you can do this, because he taught you to do it." She told us that today, we were all his children. This bothered me a little because we can't claim that... ever.  That relationship only belongs to E. He wasn't Pappa Andy, but Uncle Andy. But... I understood where she was coming from and deeply appreciated the pep talk.

Everyone started crying. It kind of wasn't fair to do this to us right before going up to sing. So not fair. 

You know you're in Bowling Green
when there is a Basketball in the
flower arrangement.
The service was really nice, and there was a guest vocalist, and her husband was the organist and accompanied us on the piano. They were were both incredibly talented and wonderful.

When it was our turn to sing the first of our four songs, I was terrified. It is meant to be done a cappella, and most of us wanted Judy the conductor to accompany us. She told us that we could do it, it would be wonderful, don't worry about it. The piece was the one I linked to in my entry yesterday, Randall Thompson's "Alleluia." 

We crushed it. I was so relieved.

At the end, Eva turned to me and was bawling. "I can't do this, I can't sing the next song. I can't."
I started crying too and told her she'd better stop it. I didn't want to kill her. In church. At a funeral. 

We all got through the second piece, and the third, without tears and with great success. 

Our final song was Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," which we all knew inside out and upside down. I lost it at the end, and started to cry.

We sounded so good, it was so much fun. And I missed him. I missed Uncle Andy and I didn't get a chance to let him know that I appreciated everything he did for all of us through the years. Especially for me. My love for music is rooted in his choir classroom. And with several of the people standing there in the pews with me, and several people who couldn't make it. 

That night we all went out to dinner and then to a bar, which was loud and stupid, as my last entry explains. Yeah, you like the Yankees. Please be quiet about it. We tried a second bar that was supposed to have Karaoke, but it didn't.

I was back at the hotel room by 11, and the four of us girls holed up in this room all tried to go to bed but we talked and talked for hours about family, problems, life, the kids, the jobs or lack of jobs, our post-high school relationships (they had many, I had three...and I was kind of proud of that even though their stories were just plain hysterical and amazing).  Before I fell asleep I said "I love you guys."

The time was about 3am. Voof. 

In the morning I said "I hate you bitches," as I was packing up all my stuff. 6:30am came way too early. And I still hurt from laughing.

We were on the road before 8am and the plan was to swing a tad south into Pittsburgh and have lunch with Jessica, which we did, and it was wonderful. I miss her so much. Spending 90 minutes with her was such a blessing and my two travel companions were happy to meet here and see a little bit of Pittsburgh. 

I wanted to take them to the top of Mt. Washington to see the view of the city, but it decided to start raining and I opted to skip it and have us hit the road and put some serious miles between us and the whole rest of the weekend. 

I drove to Bellefonte, and Kat took over. She drove to Danbury where her husband met us at 9:30pm. I was home here at the house at 12:30. Exhausted, stiff, still feeling like I was moving. It was a great trip, a great time, and I am so happy to have wonderful friends, and while it was a sad moment in time, it was great to be together and support our friend, our "cousin" as it were, and be there for her. 

There were a lot of laughs, tons of laughs, and I have to do a whole separate entry about the funny stuff. In the meantime, here is a picture of my long distance traveling companion. Being a true pimp. Sitting in the baby high chair at the Fuel & Fuddle in Pittsburgh.


  1. "I started crying too and told her she'd better stop it. I didn't want to kill her. In church. At a funeral.">>
    that is awesome

  2. thank you. it was the only thought i could muster that would stop me from crying myself.