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Sentences on Passing Out


An impresario possessing equal measures of morbid sensitivity, unassailable taste, and gallows humor, I have over the last 30 years given myself three opportunities to witness my own funeral. At my advancing age in a plague year my, luck may abandon me. Then how could I invite my grieving survivors to the real thing? Recollections of these determinedly downer concerts, secretly reflecting fantasies of my own demise, now return as a distinct balm.

Permit me then, at this interval when time is passing more slowly than usual, to share my choices of the saddest musical stuff, noting that this New Orleans-born Huck Finn-manque ends the celebration of his life with a decidedly upbeat march.

Opening the order of service to page one, one sees that mourners process in as brass and drums intone the march from Purcell’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary. The funeral sentences follow with the Purcell’s pungent chromatic solemnity well writ in John Eliot Gardner’s emotionally and historically informed recording HERE.  

Then Jessye Norman laments for all time HERE.  

Nothing could transcend earthly realms more than Robert Honeysucker’s total embrace of folornity. His immortal spiritual set, from Palm Sunday 2016 in Charlestown pours out to us HERE.

Nevertheless,  Bryn Terfel’s Elijah moment HERE and John Tomilson’s desperate vagabond HERE can share the stage of suffering and redemption.

Bach gets the last word in the church, as Claudius Tanski plays the Busoni transcription of Ich ruf zu dirHERE.

A couple of string quartet movements play at the graveside: Elias Quartet does the Beethoven Cavatina HERE, and the Takács Quartet traces a wonderful arc HERE.

Finally, I charge my survivors to leave the proceedings with broad smiles to the tune of Walton’s Crown Imperial March.

That’s all, folks…or is it? Hope not!


7 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Gallows humor indeed Lee – we’ve known you to be an elegant, driven, producer of music activities – are you hinting in code that something dire is about to happen to you?
    or to the Intelligencer maybe
    Egyptians planned their funerals, witnessed who cried, took animals with them, and servants
    maybe we should all use this gift of time to make a funeral repertoire sheet, having played for some heavy hitters over the years, I came to respect what families/relatives needed to hear and as musicians we are brilliantly positionned to comply
    Funerals as ART form…………….why not!

    Comment by virginia eskin — March 31, 2020 at 11:35 am

  2. I, too, hope you are not hinting anything Lee. Here’s something for you.

    Régine Crespin, on her friend Gladys Bourdain:

    “She’s the one who calculated with a clockmaker’s precision just the right moment to start listening to Mahler’s ‘Ich bin der welt,’ sung by Janet Baker, so that the last words coincide exactly with the sun’s disappearance in to the sea. We’ve made more than one person teary with this little sunset concert, starting with ourselves.”


    On Stage, Off Stage: A Memoir, by Régine Crespin, translated by G. S. Bourdain
    1997, Northeastern University Press

    Comment by Bill Blake — March 31, 2020 at 1:17 pm

  3. Not to worry, Ginny and Bill. I’m feeling fine…but one would be crazy not to have some of these thoughts in this alarming epoch.

    How about writing an essay or two for us? Content is slim to none at the moment.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — March 31, 2020 at 5:15 pm

  4. Dear Mr. Eiseman,

    Would you consider using BMI as a forum for the professional musicians in the area to share their circumstances in the current mess?

    Such an endeavour may well serve the purpose for those artists to inform readers here, and invite a back-and-forth that may be both informative and healing for all.

    Comment by debbie smith — April 1, 2020 at 6:46 pm

  5. Debbie-

    We’re happy to host such a conversation. Would you like to start it?


    Comment by Lee Eiseman — April 1, 2020 at 7:46 pm

  6. So Lee, are you from New Orleans? Yes, many of us got introduced to New Orleans funeral practices with the upbeat music when coming back from the burial from the services for Louis Armstrong. But people should be warned about rehearsing their own funerals. The Emperor Charles V did just that in Spain in 1558, even having himself wrapped in a winding sheet and placed in his coffin and the lid then placed over him Then the funeral service was said and the (former) Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain, etc. heard it. Finally he was released from his coffin at the end. But the experience was unfortunate: Charles caught cold from it and was dead a few days later at the age of 58. So Don’t rehearse you own funeral!

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — April 2, 2020 at 9:25 pm

  7. I’ve been laying low and haven’t read most of the explosions from my naming the Wuhan virus. Personally I don’t lik the COVID-19 name because it strongly implies there will be a COVID-20 within months–and the acronym crowd come up with names like “China Originated Viral” etc. as a way of saying we don’t kow-tow to the Chicoms. I don’t see people here agitating to rename the Coxsackie virus but Coxsackie NY town has suffered greatly for it and no one cares because it’s Upstate. As for the effects of this Viral Lockdown we’re in I’m not a musician anymore–but a whole series of operas and concerts I was going to go to or paid for got cancelled. To avoid cooking and eating cleanup I would go to a Chinese buffet in Stoneham–they’re closed now and I don’t expect them to survive. Other restaurants’ employees are in a worse way–their jobs suddenly gone and no one else is hiring for weeks and weeks. Me, my work disappeared “for the duration” but I work part-time and have “stored fat” but many don’t live like that. But “Merrie England”, Glimmerglass Festival, some train trips, etc. may not happen. I note BLO’s “Guilio Cesare” has just been cancelled. So, did anyone take up my proposal to have government arts programs buy blocks of tickets for cancelled performances as a way on making these groups “whole” for the government-created damage in this “Panic”? Are other people thinking of giving NOW to Odyssey, BLO, etc. I fear a lot of these groups won’t survive and any “aid” to non-profits in yet another “stimulus” bill will be grants to Planned Parenthood or Antifa rather than to the BEMF or some starving local artists hard up for performances. Already it’s been discovered the Kennedy Center is the tip of what turns out to be a rotten situation: the musicians of the National Symphony have all been laid off without health insurance. So that’s my two cents–first installment.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — April 2, 2020 at 10:29 pm

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