• Carol Stobie

The Music of Our Years

The Music of our Years

“Without music, life would be a blank to me.” ― Jane Austen, Emma

Tomorrow, I’ll conduct a funeral for a lady we can call May.

We met last year to plan her order of service, and to make notes of her life story, to help me with the eulogy. She’d thought that the time of death might be near. She wanted to make her wishes clear for the kind of funeral she wanted and to spare her son the strain of having to organise it without her, later on. What consideration, and what forethought.

I met him later on to work on the material. We had time to get it right. The five pieces of music mattered particularly - so did the correct recordings. May was a devoted music-lover, and we built other elements around these landmarks.

It’s a rare privilege to plan the ceremony face to face with the person you will be honouring. We normally first meet the family in the raw aftermath of bereavement. They’re overwhelmed, exhausted, even traumatised – and the funeral usually hasn’t been planned. Funeral Directors are an enormous help, but it’s difficult to make decisions in that state of mind. The celebrant has to tread carefully, to strike the balance – make helpful suggestions of options if they seem unsure what they want, yet without making assumptions or dominating the proceedings.

May was the kind of person who thinks ahead, anticipates these difficulties, acts on them to reduce the future strain. What can I learn from her? Would I start with the music?

Out on runs with music on shuffle-play in my headphones, I begin pondering those ‘tracks of my years’. A friendship group of ours recently shared playlists, as the) child of one family wanted to expand their musical horizons. This can easily be done on well-known music sites, where practically everything is available. Being me, I soon went much too far, deciding to feature tracks from each of my numerous decades and significant stages of life. Having started with quirky 60s rarities, Disney themes and The Partridge Family (blush), I became compelled to write exhaustive background notes on each track and what it meant to me. A readymade Desert Island Discs. It may come in handy for my own funeral, but good luck cutting it down to five or fewer.

Music is the all-powerful evocation of our various adventures, lost loves, childhood manias. What would you choose, if I asked you to make that playlist of your life?

May’s music - from carefully chosen classical pieces that moved her to a contemporary song symbolising events of her later years, a Psalm expressing a long-lost faith - symbolises aspects of her life that would have been exquisitely difficult to put into words.

Luckily, it’s easy to have them played in her honour tomorrow. I only hope she got to listen to them, and exult in them, as much as she deserved to during her lifetime.

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