As a faithful attendee of Pepper new music reading sessions, “Goodbye, My Friend” was presented at one this summer. Call it premonition or just random thought, I realized that our church choral library had little in the way of fitting funeral or memorial service music, especially something new and different.
Fortunately in my seven-year tenure as Minister of Music, most of the pieces selected by families of deceased loved ones were of the hymn-book variety with an occasional Malotte “Lord’s Prayer” tucked in.
Traditionally, after the directors’ summer reading sessions, I hold one of my own to preview the music we might be scheduling when our choir season starts up again in the fall. We read “Goodbye, My Friend” this August. After the song was completed. I noticed that one of our members becoming tearful. In the Joys and Concerns session held later that afternoon, Karen explained that she had just received word that one of her close friends was very ill with cancer. She was touched by this new Philpott-Kupferschmid octavo, realizing how appropriate the selection would be in the future.
After the readings, our librarian filed the number away — to be used as needed. Little did we know, at this point, that it would fill a musical need so quickly! Some two weeks into our choir season, a founding member of our Methodist Church of some 50-plus years slipped into a coma and quietly passed into the hands of God.
Lew had been a faithful tenor in the Our Saviour’s Choir. My immediate thought was that we needed to have more than just an assortment of his favorite hymns at the service. With his daughter’s blessing, I promised a special musical selection. It didn’t take long to realize, however, that my promise was going to be difficult to keep. As much as the Chancel Choir would like to have sung, we could not come up with a balance of parts in those few who were able to attend the Friday morning service.
I went to the new music file cabinet and pulled a copy of “Goodbye, My Friend.” On examination, I determined that the melody line was suitable for a baritone (me). To keep the flavor of the piece intact, I asked a former choir director and close friend of the deceased to sing the alto part. The performance went without a hitch. The words seem to echo what others had said in spoken tributes about our friend Lew. Never, repeat never have I felt a congregation so engaged by every word of the simple lyrics; the same with the haunting and often touching melody. I looked over the room and there were not many tearless eyes in this house of God.
At the reception following, not only was the family appreciative of our duet offering but countless others came up to say “Thank you for that beautiful music.” Several asked where they could obtain a copy, each quoting a different lyrical phrase that seemed to amplify and echo a special relationship shared with Lew.
“Goodbye, My Friend” would serve as an appropriate musical tribute in almost any memorial service. How ironic for me, too, that it carries a dedication to one of the most gentle of gentlemen that I, personally, ever encountered in this musical world… the late David Lawrence. Goodbye, my friend! You will be remembered for your guidance and overwhelming musical knowledge which you graciously shared with so many of us.
John Austin Van Hook, Minister of Music
Our Saviour’s United Methodist Church of Schaumburg, Illinois