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Reflect, Release, Bless

Sometimes life is perfect. Not free from heartache, or even necessarily happy. Just that sometimes the planets align and the world makes sense. For just a moment.

When Keith Snell, my dear friend and colleague, told me that the guests at his father’s memorial service had listened to the three pieces, Reflect, Release, and Bless, I remembered exactly the mood he’d created when I’d first heard them. They were the final three pieces on his recital in San Francisco last year. As he played the last note, Old First Church was filled with a beautiful, reverent hush. It took a long time for the applause to start because no one wanted to break the silence. There was no encore. There couldn’t have been. Everything that could have been said had been said. Through music. It was a perfect moment. It was also the last notes Keith’s father would ever hear him play.


Keith’s father’s memorial service took place on a ship last week in San Francisco Bay. Earlier this year Keith recorded both books of Verbs by Kathleen Ryan, a set of twenty-four preludes for the left hand alone written specifically for him. As they scattered the ashes the family listened to the final three pieces.

As the composer so clearly describes, these are the final verbs: Reflect, Release, Bless. 

  • Reflect – to cast back; to think quietly & calmly

  • Release – to set free from restraint or confinement

  • Bless – to hallow or consecrate; to invoke divine care for

At my own father’s memorial service in 2009, I knew I wouldn’t be able to play. My wonderful friend, Sara came and made the music for me. As she sang the Lord’s Prayer she gave voice to the feelings I had that I was unable to express for myself that sad day.

Sometimes I am able to do it myself. I remember the joy I felt when I played the Mendelssohn Song Without Words, “Duet” at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. It was so fitting – the two voices conversing, sometimes simply and at others with turbulence. A perfect metaphor for my parents enduring marriage that lasted 68 years. It was perfect. For a moment.

As I grow older, the way music speaks to me grows and deepens. My connection to the voice inside me has grown stronger. I no longer worry about what others will think. I only care about what I need to say.

When I graduated from high school, I chose this quote for the yearbook and it remains my favorite quote about music.

Music expresses that which cannot be said 
    and on which it is impossible to be silent.

                                                Victor Hugo

Today I teach music with a single purpose: so that my students will be able to give voice to that which they cannot say, and for which they have no words. When I’m teaching seven-year-Sami to play Mary Had a Little Lamb it seems so far away from a heart-wrenching Brahms Intermezzo. But who knows where it will lead? Who might find their voice or even their sanity through music? 

With every lesson I teach, I hope I make it more likely they will use their music in their future.

To reflect. To release. To bless.

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