What are the most important parts of life? I mean the major milestones by which you mark time. Offhand I can think of a few: births, graduations, relationships, jobs, marriages, retirements, and deaths. Since the passing of my grandmother, Roslyn Wilson, in September of 2019, I've been contemplating how music has fit into my life's turning points.
When my grandma was sick in the hospital, I would bring my cello and play music for her. This was the first time I had ever seen my grandma incapacitated. She had always been super sharp, she could tell you synopses of the three books she was reading simultaneously all while volunteering at the thrift shop and yelling at Trump on TV. It was really difficult for me to see my grandmother like that in the hospital. Nevertheless, I tried to find pieces that she would like and would hopefully soothe her even if she wasn’t completely with it. I played songs from her youth, famous classical themes from symphonies and ballets, her favorite Berceuse by Schubert, anything that I thought might get through to her. When I played there was recognition from her and there was connection. Most importantly, I do think she was able to feel the love I was sending her through the music.
When she passed away, I played at her funeral. I performed the Berceuse and later, Roz, the piece I had written for her when she turned 95. I fought back tears as I played, something that hadn't happened in many, many years, and certainly not for that reason. At her burial, I played the extraordinarily sad and emotive Sarabande of Bach Cello Suite Number II as the mourners shoveled dirt onto my grandmother's coffin.
I just find it interesting that I brought that same cello into the hospital when my wife, Minh, was going to give birth to our daughter, Kaia. When Minh asked for me to bring the cello, I was initially hesitant, but as a married man you heed by the expression, “happy wife, happy life,” and god knows I wasn't about to question her at the birth of our first child. The truth is, I was scared too. I had no idea what to expect and certainly wasn’t thinking about playing music at that time.
While Minh was in bed at the beginning, I played Sahaja Yoga meditation music and Vietnamese songs for her. I knew these songs would give her at least a modicum of comfort. I understood how much she missed Vietnam and her family and at least this connection could provide her with a small sense of calm during one of the biggest moments of our lives. Later, while Minh was in labor, we walked and danced around the hospital and outside (I had the cello on a strap) . Everybody was stunned at how lithe and resilient she was. They certainly had never witnessed a woman dancing around the hospital during labor as her husband serenaded her on cello. It was a truly magical and unforgettable time in my life. Here’s a link to the video in case you’d like to watch.
A decent amount of my livelihood comes from playing weddings and for me, these are just nice gigs. Obviously, I play well and make sure the people are happy, but I wouldn't say I'm emotionally invested in these couples' lives. Nevertheless, this is one of the most important days in their lives and I'm providing the musical accompaniment. Certainly it was a different story when I played at my own wedding. I played a piece I had written called, “Wedding Day,” which was full of emotion and love for my wife. I had written a speech beforehand and though I do think I’m a pretty good writer, I felt like what I really wanted to say was much more evident through my playing.
It really is amazing how powerful music is. I bet you can remember the song you listened to over and over again when you had a significant breakup in your life. Or the song that as soon as it comes on you can't help but start dancing.
It is a bit weird as a musician to see how this thing that I do, though it's a very difficult career path and not always the most lucrative, has such a power in so many situations. The same instrument can welcome a new life, bring two people together, or help someone pass onto the next world. As I get older and the years go by as a musician, the circular nature of life becomes clearer. This passage of time and experience of these milestones are universal and I'm lucky to be able to accent these occasions with the power of music.