Somewhere Over the Rainbow / harmonica solo
This morning, we buried Aunt Janet (74y). I was invited to perform music as she lay in state in the vestibule of the church. There was a small unobtrusive balcony right above her open coffin. I was above her looking down directly at her out of character quiet face. People arrived but I couldn’t see them. It was me, my music, and Aunt Janet. My first song was an improv-drone melody performed on my lap dulcimer tuned to D. I gently stroked the strings and moved my fingers in such a way as to repeat simple pleasant sounding melodies. The tone filled the vestibule as I became comfortable with the wonderful cathedral sound and situation. Next, I decided to play the harmonica song that I played to her in her hospital room as she was in a coma “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” I ignored the natural sense of timing and simply focused on the melodrama melody of the moment. I closed my eyes in fear of accidentally dropping my harmonica which surely would have landed on Aunt Janet’s head. She probably would have enjoyed that but my mother would have been horrified.
My next song was a church Hymn that I remembered as a child but can’t remember the name. It was one of those catchy little Bach-like melodies and I stretched it out by changing to another key harmonica (just like the church organist does). After that, I played a somber version of “Moon Dance” that I really enjoyed. As i performed, I’d peek at Aunt Janet to see unknown hands touch her hand and cheek. I could hear the conversation get louder so I too played with more wind and peaked with intensity as the crowd grew larger and louder. The floor was marble and the walls were mostly glass which amplified everyone and everything.
I picked up my guitar and strummed it for a few seconds. It felt totally wrong and out of place so I put it down and grabbed another harmonica. I breathed in and inhaled a very long chord then sweetly and gently exhaled to control the next chord and wondered what song I should turn it into.
The priest’s helper made an announcement and everything suddenly became quiet, so the exhaled chord became “Ode to Joy” and I noticed that the church organist was gathering her music and conversing with her vocal soloist. I smoothly changed the Catholic feel to an almost unholy blues groove and blasted the tones away as I enjoyed the natural reverb slap-back of the room. Almost every room is tuned to a tone that vibrates like crazy. Eventually, I found that one special tone which filled every crevice, nook, and cranny. So I just whaled that one perfect note with all of my breath and all of my might. I totally lost my focus and got carried away. I could feel the music move through the air, reaching the ceiling, swirling through the light fixtures and making its way to the altar far away behind me. I could feel the movement of the people below as they entered the vestibule and approached Aunt Janet’s open coffin. I was above them in the balcony and my thoughts suddenly returned to the reality of why I was there. I allowed myself to get carried away with the moment and embraced the whole Church room into my own magical musical desires. I stopped. I totally stopped playing altogether for a moment to look at Aunt Janet’s restful face again which readjusted my attitude. Once again, I hoped that I didn’t drop my harmonica into her casket. So I apologized to myself for getting carried away, and returned to playing happy little single harmonica notes that remained true to the Ode to Joy melody. I peeked at the Church Organist who had her hands on her hips and glared at me. I shut my eyes and continued to play.
At this time, the priest’s helper announced that Mass was to begin so I ended the song safely, packed up my stuff, and entered the Church to sit with my family.
I love my cousins, aunts and uncles, my mother, brothers and sisters, my wife and children. I miss Aunt Janet. She came to see me play music all of the time.