“As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us as we remember them.”—Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer
As the words of Kamens and Riemer’s famous poem faded, the gentle and serene tones of the flute began. Lorna McGhee, PSO Principal Flute, played for an intimate gathering of about 15 individuals coming together to remember loved ones lost to cancer at Our Clubhouse. After each poem reading by facilitator Jan McCarthy, Lorna performed a short classical selection or improvisation on alto flute to put members at ease before they had the opportunity to stand before the full group to light candles and share stories in memory of their loved ones.
Several days after the event, I asked Our Clubhouse’s Program Director, Mike Bowersox, several questions about the decision to incorporate live music in the evening’s program. Continue reading to discover how he felt the music complemented the other portions of the ceremony and how those present responded.
Why did you decide to include music at specific points in the ceremony?
The music after each poem was meant to give members the opportunity to gather their thoughts and what they might want to say, as well as lend some time for them to feel comfortable getting up and sharing in front of others. It can take courage to share something so emotional, and having a space between the facilitator’s poem reading and a member sharing a story seems to allow some of this courage to build. I personally feel the structure also helps to set a sort of rhythm to the proceedings that not only provides a space between the poem reading and sharing a story, but also helps set a frame for the proceedings and offers a sense of containment for the raw emotions that surface throughout the course of the ceremony. The closing piece Lorna played was meant to bring the ceremony full-circle and offer people the time and space to bring closure to the ceremony. That she played something a little more ‘upbeat’ was intentional.
What are the benefits of offering live music in a group setting like this?
I think music can be a big catalyst for moving us into experiencing our emotions. It can also help us sit with and simply experience heavy or ‘difficult’ feelings. For me, live music—and in particular the type of music the Music and Wellness Program offers—gets at the heart of this even more so. There is a visceral authenticity that accompanies having a live musician playing at this event. Because the ceremony is often so emotional, having the person playing the music in the room adds to the shared experience of everyone present. This is something recorded music cannot duplicate. Also, I think live music such as you offer adds an element of dignity to the memories people hold of their loved ones. It somehow validates the importance of their love and their loss.
How did attendees respond to the music?
With unanimous appreciation and enjoyment. Everyone loved the music and was grateful you were there.