“Papa” was what we called my maternal grandfather. Growing up and long before I knew the word, Papa was the first “audiophile” I knew – his huge 1970s component system and speakers were off-limits, but impressive in their presence. There was a custom shelving unit devoted to it, filled with records, then cassettes. By the time CDs rolled around he had lost most of his ambition pertaining to music, but even now, after his passing last year, Nana still has that old component system. Mom tells me she unloaded the large speakers with an online buyer as she downsized into a townhouse.
My great uncle, Papa’s younger brother, was a recording engineer. He was in the industry for decades, working sound for such luminaries as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, The Sonny and Cher Show, and, of course, for his own gospel quartet. For years he sent Papa all kinds of new music; I think that was the source of most of Papa’s musical passion. His brother and his wife could not make it to the funeral last spring, but he sent a letter, which I read from the podium in the church’s chapel. The letter was lovely – reminiscing glory days of football, airplane piloting, and Papa’s early relationship with my nana from the perspective of an adoring younger brother. But it didn’t mention music.
Funeral music has its quirks. Sometimes it’s traditional – in New Orleans, The Saints Go Marching In. Fallen soldiers at the graveside, like Papa, are escorted into the universal with Trumpeted Taps. The Funeral March was a staple of the classical composer’s repertoire. Most funerals I’ve been to, however, simply try to incorporate appropriate music that the departed favored. As I’ve written about in other posts, memories are strongest when they tantalize multiple senses. Funeral music is a way we soften the blow, and, like the headstone, it too is a memorial.
Thanks for reading.