I’ve just got back from the church, where I was organist at the funeral of a man who had lived in the village for nearly 30 years. He had been involved with many village interests, such as the bowls club. The church was full, everyone had known and liked him.
The family had asked me to play Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring as a voluntary. I’d timed myself; 5 minutes, and worked out a couple of places to go back and play from again if I finished a little early. it’s tricky, that last voluntary as the coffin comes in. Ideally, you want the music to go on softly as the priest leads in the funeral cortège and finish about the same time he ends his introduction – 10 seconds either way is as much leeway as you have. The trouble is, you don’t know he’s approaching until he comes into the church; not if your organ is at the front (altar end) of the church at any rate (if it’s in a side room or loft, you can have a gofer to keep you informed) so you have to go by the time and hope that the hearse turns up on time too.
It didn’t. It was 15 minutes late.
The funeral cars were going to pick up the family from the house. This is a small village, but the driver had been given the wrong directions – left, left and left again was correct, but it’s where the first left is taken that matters. So when he was already running late, to drive worriedly past the church where the minister and the Sage (who had been directing mourners into the car park) were standing waiting, was disconcerting, especially as the crematorium was booked after the service and that’s quite some way away.
But that’s their problem. I didn’t know anything about the delay, so I played my bit and then repeated the last three lines, then went back to half way and played again, and then I started from the beginning, and then I played the last few lines and … well, yes, I suspect the congregation was as bored as I was. Although pretty, it is quite a repetitive tune.
At last the trestles the coffin was to stand on arrived. Considerably late, I might add; normally they are brought in before the congregation arrives. So I launched into the last page. And played the last three lines twice. Still no coffin. I started from the beginning all over again and was half way through when, at last, I heard the opening words of the funeral service. I switched seamlessly *cough* to the end again and finished at the same time as the opening address. I felt harassed. Fortunately, the first hymn was The Lord’s My Shepherd, which I could play with my eyes closed.
It was a lovely service. Near the end, waiting to play my closing piece, I glanced at the family in the front pew. The grandson, a lad in his early twenties, looked smart in his dark suit. As I looked, he took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes. Tears came into mine, too, and I had to look away.
Afterwards, Sybil the verger and Mrs B were talking about the man who’d died and his late wife. “Of course, no one made sandwiches like Eileen”, said one of them. “Lovely, they were.” “I remember,” said Sybil, “the first time Ivan made me a cup of tea. He asked how I’d like it and I said ‘weak’, so he poured my cup first. Always afterwards, he’d remember to pour my cup first so that it would be just as I like it. He always remembered that sort of thing about everyone.”
A simple fond memory that demonstrates how people thought of him, I think. But then, I’m sentimental that way.