Category Archives: music

Days And Decades

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How 15 hours became 20 years…

Today is the 20th anniversary of Mama’s death…but just barely.  December 8 was just a couple of hours old when she drew that last breath and moved from here to Heaven.  So while this is technically the anniversary, I always spend December 7 remembering…reliving…her last day of life, and spending it with her.

I arrived at Baptist Hospital around 11:30 that cold, grey Sunday morning, to relieve Dad, who had spent the night before with her.  He told me that, after being unresponsive for over 12 hours, she had awakened in the middle of the night, and they had a conversation.  She said she knew she would die soon, and that she was not afraid.  His recollection of that exchange shook me, hard and deep.  As we chatted briefly, he made a note to send to their financial advisor on Mama’s hospital menu for that day.  I remarked that I probably had a blank sheet of paper he could use, and he said no, the menu would be fine, especially since it documented the date and his note was an instruction for an account change that needed to be done before the end of the calendar year.  He was, and still is, careful and astute in financial matters.  We hugged goodbye and I told him to go home and get some sleep, that I’d see him later.

Just minutes after he left, Mama’s face changed, as did her breathing, echoing through the room with “the death rattle” I had often heard mentioned in older people’s conversations, but had only heard with my own ears a few times.  It didn’t register with me right away that she had begun actively dying, but over the course of the day it sank in.  In about a half hour a nurse came in to check Mama’s vital signs, and she asked how long her breathing had been like that.  When I answered, this sweet nurse just came and put her arm around my shoulder, telling me that she didn’t think Mama was in any pain or distress, that I could talk or sing to her, pet her and love her, because nothing was bothering her now.  I think now that this nurse may have been an angel; I don’t remember having seen her at any other time during our hospital stay; I can’t recall her name or face or hair color; I only remember her words and the feel of her arm around me.

For her last 15 hours, Mama and I shared that little space together, mostly alone except for nurses and CNAs coming in to check her vital signs and to ask if I was all right, if I needed anything.  We only had a few visitors, including a hospital social worker and her husband, who circled around and prayed with us, and my cousins Judy and Ann, who came that night just hours before Mama died.  There were some phone calls through the day, but mostly many hours of stillness.  Mama never awoke that last day, but I spoke to her, and I know she was aware of my presence…my love.

Flash forward to last week when I was messaging with a friend and telling him about Mama’s anniversary coming up.  He expressed understanding of my residual grief.  We talked on about the state of current affairs, the world, and concerns over what we, as individuals and as a culture, may leave behind.  I tried to reassure him that he is sending light into a world that sometimes seems very dark.

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And I realized something.  Those last priceless hours I shared with Mama shaped the way I view my years, and how I want to spend whatever time I have left.  When it is time for me to leave this world, I hope I am remembered for the moments I shared with others…one on one and bunches of us together, moments of music and silence, times we laughed until we cried, ate until we belched and then laughed some more, hugs and smiles and being genuine with one another (I don’t really know how to be any other way).  If my moments are meaningful, then my years will be worthwhile.

In her last 15 hours of life, Mama taught me just as much as she did in the 58 years that preceded them.  What a gift!  If my days and decades are a tiny fraction as full as hers were, I will leave something good behind me here when I leave.

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Time To Go Home

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Timing is all…

Wednesday, August 30, 2017, was an intense day.  My emotions ran the gamut from profound sadness to overwhelming love to incredible joy, over the course of both hours and moments.  I’m actually still trying to process it all, and in doing so, I’ve spent a bit more time lately just keeping to myself and being still.

It was the beginning of my work week as Wednesdays always are, but with a distinct change in the middle of the day when I took a 3-hour lunch to go and sing for a funeral at Messiah Lutheran Church, where I sang and served from 2013-2016.  The associate pastor’s mother had died, and I adore both pastor and mom.  Being asked to offer music for this occasion both honored and humbled me, as I would have attended the service even had I not been singing.

Even the most seasoned of musicians sometimes feel nervous, especially when called upon to provide music for funerals and memorials.  It is only natural.  And nerves visited me as well.  My friend and #firsteverworkhusband Martin, knew how much I love this family, and how important the service was to me.  We exchanged messages first thing in the morning and throughout the day.  I had gathered a little token of love for Pastor Pauline to take with me and give her prior to the service, along with a big hug.  A reminder that she has not lost her marbles.

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As I had predicted, my singing was not easy or perfect, but it was, as I told Mother Farrington’s grandchildren afterward, with my speaking voice breaking,  “…a way for me to love your family…”  Reuniting with my former “choir boss”,  Joan, to make music for this service comforted me, and being back among this church family warmed my heart and made me feel loved.  As I have come to understand, musicians and people of faith are all part of the same family;  we never really say goodbye and we always recognize and welcome one another back.

I left the fellowship hall and I walked to my car with tears of sadness, gratitude and love…and I thought the intense part of my day had passed.  Knowing that Martin had held space for me meant the world to me, especially with everything he has endured this year…a transitional period in his relationship, his health, undergoing medical procedures, and his living situation, including being without a home for months and staying with friends/family, and in shelters ranging from tolerable to hellish.  His, and my, fondest wish, had been for him to find a place to live, and that process seemed to be taking longer than forever to happen.  Until this intense day.  Almost the minute I returned to work, Martin ping’ed me with a message.

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Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that feathers are for me a symbol, a powerful reminder that God is there, looking out for me and my loved ones, sending comfort when I need it in a language I can understand.  When this teeny feather floated down after the funeral and landed on the program, I assumed it was just for my benefit…turned out to be a harbinger of Martin’s wonderful news as well.  That his housing came through at the same time I sang and we were commending Mother Farrington to her home in Heaven…seemed, and still seems, especially poignant, and fitting.  For her, and for Martin, it was time to go Home.

Home.

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Duets

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Longtime friendship, faith and music…

As an incoming college freshman in the fall of 1982, I was meeting tons of new people and enjoying the process of finding my place in what was essentially a new world.  I realized quickly that some of these new people would be acquaintances with whom I’d share the occasional class, some would become close friends throughout the 4 years of school…and some would remain in my life for the rest of my life.  Then there were the few who came into my life, vanished from it and reappeared years later.

Marc was one of that last category of people.  We met as freshmen at Carson-Newman College (now University) and, as we were both music majors, we had a number of classes together.  I liked this fellow right away. His boyish good looks, beautiful tenor voice, easy smile and sweet spirit drew me to him immediately and we became fast friends.  Spring semester found us both singing in A Cappella Choir and sharing long hours on the bus together as we toured during spring break.

He decided the following year to change schools, and we lost touch after that.  I often joke that he “abandoned” me, (which always gets an eye-roll and a quick retort!) but I realized he was following God’s path for him, just as I followed mine by remaining where I was.  I thought of him so often in the years that followed…but I never followed through on trying to find him.

Flash forward to 2011, the beginning of the season for Knoxville Choral Society.  I was talking with my friend Tina and heard the name “Marc” and asked what Marc and where?  She pointed in his direction, I turned, and he and I both looked in shock at one another, recognizing long-lost faces and voices and yelling, “YOU!”  And pointing at each other like we were school children.  Hugs and laughs and stories followed…and the reconnection was forged.

He started singing at Messiah Lutheran the year before I did, and after I joined him there, we were blessed to sing in the choirs together, and to join our voices on many duets.  Our voices blend in a way that I can only describe as magical…and together, we have been able to create and enjoy some truly memorable moments.  When we sing and things are working right, the joy I feel is almost overwhelming.  He left Messiah and went to Ebenezer United Methodist, where I ended up accepting a call a couple of years later (I fear he will tire of me “following” him from church to church!)  And there, too, we have shared duets and delights, and I hope those continue for a long time to come.

Musicians are people first, and as such, we bring our issues with us every time we sing.  Sometimes those things keep us from achieving our musical and spiritual best. And sometimes, for lack of a  better description, we are blessed to be able to “sing them out”, experiencing catharsis, cleansing and healing.  Those moments, I believe, are little glimpses of Heaven on Earth…and I am so grateful to be able to share them with Marc in a way that only the two of us can fully comprehend.

Today, on Marc’s birthday, I share this thumbnail sketch of him, our friendship,  and our partnership in music and in faith.  And I share some pictures from the last few years, a little sad that there are none of us together from our college days. But I am so grateful for the renewed connection with him, my partner in crime…and in duets.

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Shared

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“It’s not nice to be selfish…”

It has been more than 2 months since I wrote a blog post.  These months have been fraught with extremes in my emotions, as I have tried to process some of the relationships in my life and determine which ones matter.  I suppose we all have these moments, times when circumstances force us to realize who needs to stay in our lives and who we need to sever. I’m in the process now, of both bonding and severing.

I remember when I was a little girl, my sweet Mama teaching me how important it was that I learn to share.  “Share your toys, Leslie…”  “It’s not nice to be selfish…”  Being selfish might feel good for a minute, but sharing feels good forever.

A stark, beautiful and painful thing has come to light for me in this process…some people just won’t share.  Anything.  Not time, feelings, words, truth.  As painful as it has been to try to salvage a “friendship” that turned out never to have been genuine in the first place, it has been liberating and beautiful to compare and contrast it to the ones I cherish that are, indeed, the “real deal”.  So more than being sad over what is not, I am happy for what is.

I am happy for the friend who, among other caring gestures, always wants to know I got home safely after we’ve shared supper and said good night.

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I am happy for the lifelong confidante who shares what my company does for her.

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I am happy for the new-ish friend whose genius I admire, whose goofball humor I enjoy since it is much like my own, and whose insight I take to heart.

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I am happy for the friend who sings, laughs and cries with me, who stops when he finds a feather and picks it up to bring to me when we see each other just because he knows that feathers bring me joy.

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And I am happy for the friend whose love for me is abiding, selfless and genuine.

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So, when I have friends in my life, LOVE in my life, like this…why in the name of all that is sacred would I ever settle for anything less?  Answer:  I won’t.  Never again.  Love like this gives me the strength I need to sever from my life the people who don’t care for me.  Because this…this is connection as it should be.  This is love…Shared.

Take Me There

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Radio days…

This time of year always brings with it a tsunami-sized wave of nostalgia, memories of holiday seasons past and the people who fill those memories.  Sights, smells, flavors and especially sounds, fill my head and heart with both laughter and longing as I recall the many hours I spent “on the board” working in radio stations playing Christmas songs in the solitude of a tiny studio, music unheard at any other time of year except in my memories.

Working on the air was, for me, a chance to touch people without ever seeing them.  Different from live performance in that I spoke to an audience I couldn’t see, radio also allowed my listeners to imagine what I might be like without ever laying eyes on me.  I had regular callers at every station I worked for who, for the most part, were friendly, polite and respectful…even those who flirted and asked me out, sight unseen!  There were also occasional callers who made me feel uncomfortable, even threatened.  Anyone who has ever been on the air has experienced such things, especially my fellow “lady jocks”.  We all have stories to tell!

I’ve been out of the business for a long time now, but listening to the radio this time of year always takes me back to specific times and places.  I can’t hear Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne” without being transported to the top of Sharps Ridge, remembering the view from the studio window…often with my friend Ron visiting after finishing his own air shift at another radio station across town, drinking coffee and smiling at me from across the console.  This is the same Ron with whom I shared my shortest radio gig and built one of my longest friendships, until he passed away last year. That relationship is not over…it’s just changed until we’re in the same place again.

A simple song can take me there.

The synth intro to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” immediately returns me to my first radio gig in a tiny building in the Florida panhandle.  I worked in the AM studio where I played Southern Gospel music and preaching/teaching programs, while next door the FM station aired “Light Rock & A Little Country”, hence the Paul McCartney holiday offering.  I cut my radio teeth there, learning how to do everything the old-school way because of the antiquated equipment I worked with.  My real-life husband and my first ever “work husband” worked on the FM side, with the work husband and me sharing a shift time and often standing in each others’ studio doors talking and laughing between songs on automation.

A simple song can take me there.

Music is such an evocative force in my life, whether I am singing it or listening to it.  The music I played during my radio days is especially poignant.  Those sounds bring to mind both the places and the people with whom I shared them.

A simple song can always take me there.

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(At my first radio gig, Circe 1989)

 

Taste And See

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Singing, serving, and sharing

Mama always used to tell people that when I was born I came out singing.  More likely, I came out squawling, but I think I probably started to sing not too long after that.  It has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and often, it has been the biggest and best part, facilitating other blessings.  Yesterday was a day like that.

It was a Communion Sunday at church, and my longtime friend Marc and I sang a duet called “Taste And See” right before the sermon.  The song is a paraphrase of Psalm 34, and among Marc, me and our friend/accompanist/collaborator John, we put together what turned out to be a heartfelt and lovely arrangement that seemed fitting for a Communion service.  Singing with Marc is often a bit of a mystical experience; the blend of our voices is special, and added to the decades of friendship we share, the music always seems to become more than just the sum of its parts.  Added to that dynamic was the brilliance of our new friend John pulling an accompaniment out of his gifted head (and in a different key than the score he was playing from!). So our musical offering felt special indeed.

But it was only a foreshadowing of the moments yet to come in the service.  For, after the sermon was preached, the familiar and poignant story of the Last Supper was re-told to us, and Pastors Ann and Jason modeled a new way of offering communion for us to follow.  We were to accept the elements from the person in line ahead of us, and in turn, we were to pass to the other side of the table and serve them to the next person in the line behind us.  In all my decades of church services and taking of Communion, this was a first for me, a chance to serve the Body and Blood to a member of the church family.

The person I had the privilege of serving was my longtime friend Marc.  John’s beautiful piano music as we communed added such a warm and lovely atmosphere to the service, and as Marc and I approached the altar, John revisited “Taste and See” that we had sung earlier.  As I touched Marc’s hands and looked into his face, offering him this Heavenly feast, with the words, “Marc, this is the body of Christ, given for you…this is the Blood of Christ, poured out for you…” I had to fight back tears.

After Marc and I had communed, we took the elements up to the piano and served John last of all.  Marc gave him the Body and I served the Blood.  The power of this whole experience humbled me in a way I could not have anticipated, and cannot explain.  I suppose it is just the chance to share music and God in a new way and deeper level with friends both longtime and recent, musical partners and brothers in Christ.  Yesterday was a little glimpse of Heaven for me and I am so grateful for the chance to have experienced it, to Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.

Thoughtful

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Sometimes the sweetest gifts are free…

Readers of this blog know that I collect feathers, and I have for several years.  I don’t remember how I got started with it, but at some point I saw a pretty feather someplace and decided to pick it up and take it with me.  For the longest time I simply stuck them into my Bible or other books I was reading, and many of my books still contain feathers.  I came across one the other day and it both surprised and delighted me.  I hope the people who inherit my books someday will have the same reaction.

Larger feathers, or ones from trips or momentous occasions, I have laminated on pretty paper or photographs with a description of when and where I found them and why they are special.  These make wonderful bookmarks as well.  I have also included them in notes or little presents to people, taping a small feather to a letter or the inside of a book.

Several people have spotted feathers and photographed them for me, sending the pictures via e-mail or on social media.  Those are always nice surprises and they tickle me to pieces.  And a few people have found feathers, picked them up and saved them to give to me when we saw each other next.  A couple of these “feather presents” came earlier in the summer, just a couple of days apart.  My friend Ann Rita is an avid hiker, and on one of her excursions she found a gorgeous dark-brown-and-white striped feather and picked it up to bring to me at church.  It is gorgeous and unique, and sturdy enough to use as a writing instrument like they did in the olden days.  Just a couple of days after that, I met my friend Marc to practice music and he said he had a surprise for me.  He had found an enormous, shiny black feather and saved it to bring me because he knew I collected them.

A couple of years ago my cousin Judy sent me one tucked inside the pages of a magazine featuring Alton Brown, my favorite food personality (and nerd crush!).  Rebecca and Karen, friends I have sung with in Knoxville Choral Society, have also contributed to my collection.  Rebecca brought me a huge, HUGE turkey feather from a trip to North Carolina.  Karen’s property has geese and she gathered a baggie full of soft grey feathers and brought them to me at rehearsal one night.

Most recently, my sweet husband Jeff was outside our house and something caught his eye.  It turned out to be a blue jay feather, with black stripes and a white tip.  It’s unlike anything else in my collection, and he could easily have just left it on the ground where it had landed.  He found it on the 3rd anniversary of my last visit with Aunt Ruby before her stroke.  I hugged him so hard I think it surprised him!  And I may or may not have cried in private a little later on for that precious gift from God letting me know that Aunt Ruby is indeed with Him.

Any time someone sends me a feather picture, or actually picks one up to give to me, I am amazed at their thoughtfulness in doing so.  For that moment, a person remembered me, and chose to let me KNOW that they remembered me.  That in itself is a gift, just as much (or even more sometimes) than something purchased with money.

Thoughtful gifts don’t need to be expensive…and expensive gifts aren’t always Thoughtful.

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