Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
WH Auden: Funeral Blues
Revisiting the old photos of the kids playing the piano, reminded me of a hilarious anecdote from my grandmother’s funeral when my 5 year old son spoke with the organist.
“I remember I laughed so hard I cried. But my response was half appropriate, because I was at a funeral.”
― Jarod Kintz, This Book Has No Title
Funerals are funny things because, although there’s the obvious grief and solemnity but they also end up becoming something of a party. After all, you only ever seem to catch up with this veritable melange of family, friends and the outer layers of the onion on mass at weddings and funerals. So, there’s usually not only the opportunity to reflect on old memories, anecdotes and photographs but also create new ones. Something to recount at the next wedding, funeral or even over Christmas.
My Grandmother at the Australian Embassy in Washington, 1948.
My grandmother, Eunice Gardiner, was an Internationally recognised concert pianist. So when it came to her funeral, my uncle arranged for Bernard Kirkpatrick, who had played the organ for the Pope’s Sydney visit in 2008 to play at the funeral. Although the funeral was only held at our family’s Parish Church, the organ had multiple layers of keys and really looked and sounded very impressive. This grandeur all culminated with the recessional, which was Bach’s Great Fugue in A minor. My grandmother had played its piano transcription at her London Debut at Wigmore Hall in 1937. Although the Parish organ wasn’t the Sydney Town Hall’s, the music truly was incredible, even ethereal.
Say not in grief that she is no more
but say in thankfulness that she was
A death is not the extinguishing of a light,
but the putting out of the lamp
because the dawn has come.
Not unsurprisingly, 5 year old Mister was captivated by the organ and was just the sort of kid, funeral or no funeral, who would start tinkering on the keys. Afterwards, seeing his interest, the organist casually started talking to him, asking him whether he plays the piano. Given my grandmother’s career and reputation, I’m sure this was more along the lines of learning the piano. Mister, who couldn’t sit still and hadn’t had any formal lessons replies: “Yes”.
After all, at this point of time, he could do a fabulous imitation of someone playing the piano. He’d stick the music up and move his hands around the keyboard with almost professional skill without playing any notes. Sure, he might have showed a strong Liberace influence but he really did do an exceptional job.
However, contrary to his great ideas, that’s not actually “playing the piano”.
Anyway, his conversation with the organist is deepening and I was starting to feel just a little concerned.
“Would you like to play?” asks the organist.
Now, his father and I start choking, almost dying on the spot thinking about Mister letting loose on the mighty organ. As a 5 year old boy who made wild horses look restrained, anything could happen. I could just imagine all the mourners leaping out of their skin as the mighty organ let out some kind of almighty scream as it reacted to his touch.
Under the circumstances, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all if my dear grandmother had leaped out of her coffin and whacked him over the knuckles with both walking sticks. Not that she’d actually do something like that but I do remember her feeling justifiably “concerned” when we were taking the obligatory Christmas photos and the kids were rather rambunctious.
This photo was taken at Christmas Day 2006 right next to my poor Gran. You can see the edge of her skirt but I’ve respected her privacy.
However, in what was possibly the greatest surprise of his early years, Mister mysteriously declined the offer. It seemed that somewhere, deep inside our young man there was some discernment. This was the very same little boy who usually bolted in where angels (and the much more tentative Miss) feared to tread.
Perhaps, my grandmother did tap him on the shoulder after all.
You just never know.
Mister took my grandmother’s obituary into class for news. Whiteboards in classrooms were quite a novelty at the time and it was so exciting that we could beam her obituary onto the screen.
Here’s a link to her obituary: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/a-musical-career-honed-in-the-laundry-20090823-ev2w.html
I must say I find the title rather sexist and offensive. Made her sound like a washer-woman….humph!
Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is
a mystery and today is a gift,
which is why it is called the present.
What the caterpillar perceives is the end;
to the butterfly is just the beginning.
Everything that has a beginning has an ending.
Make your peace with that and all will be well