I’m fresh from a head-to-toe goose bump experience that compels me to write. It happened at the Celebration of Life I led last weekend. And it had to do with musical performance.
We’ve all heard the tune Amazing Grace countless times, right? Maybe via someone singing or bagpipes playing. (Always better than a recording!) I even sang it once for a family at a graveside committal. It was the first time the song’s meaning reallly sunk into me. It is a beautiful tune with compelling lyrics, despite being mildly omnipresent at memorials.
Back to my goose bump experience, though. Have you ever heard Amazing Grace played on the accordion? By a man, eyes closed, with a stance so grounded he looks to be summoning the Divine right up from the earth through his very feet? And then the Divine comes literally flowing out of his instrument directly into people’s hearts?
Well, there it is. That is what I witnessed. Unreal. With his utterly transcendent musical talent, he reached into people’s hearts with so much grace, the notes felt sacred. Tears were flowing. I swear, the vibrations of every note he played sent healing waves of release into every fiber of our beings. The feeling in the room was surreal. The deceased’s son and daughter jumped to their feet with applause saying, “thank you, thank you!”.
What an exquisite musical choice, made entirely by the family!
This experience along with others, leads me to offering a few tips for musical choices during any celebration, whether focused on new life, love or even loss. Here is what I observe that makes a difference:
- Family connection to the musician(s). When the family or friends surrounding the honorees really know the musician or musical group, the selection and performance is guided by shared values. Given expectations are spelled out clearly, this makes the music more relevant and full of meaning for everyone attending.
- Personal history with the music and lyrics. Even if the music is recorded, if the song transports you to a memorable time, it has powerful resonance. It may transport a couple during their wedding to that moment they first met. It may remind a mourning family of when the deceased shone in life. The more shared the history, the more poignant hearing the music becomes.
- Placing the music at a pivotal point in the ceremony. This may take some stepping back to consider the emotional arc of the whole ceremony. For example, with this accordion performance I’m gushing about: it occurred right after I delivered tough words to hear. Honest words about the nature of the death we were present to grieve. The music kindled a space for emotional expression that was needed, right then, and not a moment later.
As I write, I am so thankful for having these experiences and sharing my observations with you. This is wondrous work families do when they celebrate their loved one’s lives. I am humbled to support families as a ceremonial guide. And as this post attests, I am energized by walking beside them!