Musicians and Mortality

I would, first, like to give a special shout out to our new blog followers! We are working on spreading our net wider across the country, across many lifestyles! I hope we can only grow more diverse as time goes.

I am honored to touch upon a subject that has been haunting my mind lately. After mentally realizing the death of Gerre Hancock, it makes me notice how many people have expressed sorrow upon his death. Organists internationally have since dedicated concerts, articles, memorial services, etc. to him, and most of them have never met him. I suppose mourning a man’s death without knowing him is akin to Joe Paterno’s death (and, as an avid Penn Stater, I must support it). However, it does frustrate me that millions of people have mourned JoePa’s death- the memorial service filled the Bryce Jordan Center in State College and sold out those 110,000 free tickets in less than an hour- yet Gerre Hancock’s death was not on the same scale.
What is the primary difference? Sports. Sports. SPORTS. Americans live in a sport-obsessed country; who out there hasn’t had to re-schedule a piano lesson because “Jamie has track practice”? Yes, a level of celebrity elevates the athlete, but that’s not why I’m writing this article. What do musicians have that athletes do not?
The immortality of music.
Rochester, NY-based organist Dr. David Craighead (a former teacher of mine) once said, “no organist is immortal.” While Dr. Craighead has a valid point, I do believe that the musician has the possibility of transcending through time as a remembered organist, violinist, vocalist, etc. through music. Who doesn’t salivate over a crackly, re-mastered recording of Charles Tournemire playing at Saint Clotilde from 1930-31? A legend at his craft, recorded for us upon which to look back? That, in my mind, is the closest to immortality as one can achieve.

Society loves music. Any person who has not been classically-trained can still recognize Debussy, Bach, Beethoven, etc. A young person knows Bizet’s opera, “Carmen”, from “Hey Arnold”, a popular TV show on Nickelodeon in the ’90s. Sing “dah dah dah dahhhhhh” to any person and they will be able to recognize that it’s Beethoven (hopefully). In people’s minds, Bizet and Beethoven live on. They are most likely more well-known than when they lived. Sports fanatics cannot refer to the “Great touchdown in the fourth quarter of the semi-finals” and have the average person understand its importance, and that is the main difference between us. In the end, we may struggle to maintain importance in our students’, their parents’, minds, but we have the ability to grow in popularity as we connect a part of the brain to music and memory.

Now, unfortunately, most organists pass from the mortal realm and are not remembered universally. We bring our work, our achievements, in the ground with us. Am I saying that only composers are immortal? Not at all. The medium of music recording devices helps to preserve recordings easier than we could in the past. Even if we aren’t known by the world, we can still be known by our loved ones. Our daughters and sons can sit in the living room and listen to a concert from fifteen years ago as if it just happened yesterday. Combined with photographs, we connect the senses to memories further.
I think that is the closest to immortality that anyone can achieve.
Soundtracking: a final thought

I didn’t mean to make the entry tinted with sadness! So to lift your spirits, if needed….
Charles Tournemire plays “Te Deum”

Musically yours, and Happy Thursday!


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