Posts Tagged ‘music’


Task Completed

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Every day since Stephen died, I have kept myself focused on making sure that everything regarding his final arrangements has been taken care of. Now, almost six months since his death, the last of those arrangements has been completed – installing the headstone for his grave. We had spent several weeks determining what we wanted to put on it, and finally placed the order with the monument company in the latter part of August. We had received word before Thanksgiving that the stone had been completed and was awaiting installation, and on Friday morning we learned that it was in place. We went by the cemetery that afternoon for our first visit.

Steve had truly loved his music and playing in the school band; the day of the accident, he was hosting a pizza party for his fellow trumpet players. We wanted to somehow incorporate that passion of his into the headstone, and I came up with the idea of having a trumpet with musical notes coming out of it to represent his playing. We went back and forth with the monument company on the details, with me finally locating some line art of a realistic-looking trumpet and asking them to match it as closely as possible. Their artists came back with a design that we thought was appropriate, and we signed off on the order.

When we walked up to the stone for the first time, we were both amazed and extremely pleased with what we saw. The monument company had never before depicted a trumpet with such detail, but they stepped up to the challenge and the result was absolutely beautiful, far exceeding my expectations.

We had included a vase next to the stone so that we (and other visitors) could place flowers at the grave and not have them falling over or easily blowing away. It came in handy, for we had brought with us a flower arrangement my mother had purchased while we were visiting her last month for Thanksgiving. That arrangement became the first flowers to go in the vase.

With the flowers placed, we retrieved the temporary marker that had been placed at the grave by the funeral home and turned to leave.

We returned home, and as I sat in my office downloading from my camera the pictures I had just taken I began to realize that there was nothing left to be done for Steve. It was all finished – the huge task that began almost six months ago had finally been completed. I wrote in my last entry about how I was unsure of the way in which I would react when this time finally arrived. Now it is here, and I am more uncertain than ever.

I can, however, start to see a few early signs. One of my favorite musical groups to listen to around Christmastime is Mannheim Steamroller (for those who do not know them, they are the folks who perform the “funky-sounding” versions of traditional Christmas music like the Halleluiah Chorus, Winter Wonderland, and Deck The Halls). The leader of the group, Chip Davis, wrote a Christmas carol in 1988 called “Traditions Of Christmas” (on the album “A Fresh Aire Christmas”). From the first time I heard it, that piece of music has always held a special place in my heart, but I have never really understood why. On Friday evening I listened to it for the first time this season, and a wave of emotion swept through me that I had not felt since the accident. There is something in the tune that strikes a chord deep inside me, one that obviously has strong ties to my feelings and memories of Steve. It is nowhere close to being an answer to my fears, but it does give me a direction to start looking.

And so I continue to move forward…step by step, one day at a time.


Musical Children

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Our local middle school bands held their Spring Concert this evening. It was a great show, filled with wonderful music and performances by a lot of really talented kids.

I was blessed to be given three musically gifted children. All of them have played in the school bands – my daughter on the clarinet, my older son on the trumpet, and my younger son on the saxophone. They have all done very well; the two older ones stepped into positions as section leaders in the high school marching band, while the youngest is first chair in the middle school’s top band, the Wind Ensemble (if you or your child have been in band, you’ll understand everything I just said; if not, all you have to really understand is that it’s all good news). My wife and I have received many glowing reports from the band directors over the years, and each of our kids has shown improved skills with each passing year (my daughter even started playing in her college band, but dropped out due to her class workload).

Where did all this musical talent come from? It certainly wasn’t from me; I can’t play any instrument more complicated than a triangle, and it’s highly likely I wouldn’t even get that right. I’m sure it all came from my wife; she played the clarinet in her school band. In fact, she still had her old clarinets when our daughter went into band; so, getting her started was pretty much a no-brainer…we took one of the horns down to the local music shop for a quick checkup, and she was all set. It was a little more difficult to get the boys started on their instruments; we got the trumpet on the rent-to-buy plan, and found a used saxophone in a local pawn shop (as it turned out, the salesman happened to have played in the same school band, and he helped with picking out the right one for my son to use).

Not a day seems to go by in my house without some sort of music playing, whether it’s selections from an online band music library, to someone practicing their music pieces, to listening to music and trying to pick out the instruments used. Sometimes my older son will play the same piece of music over and over again for seemingly hours at a time, to the point when it becomes obnoxious to my ears. But, I let him continue; that’s his way of learning right now – simple repetition – and I’m sure it will change as he grows older.

Will any of them continue to play after they leave school? That’s a tough question to answer. When my daughter left school earlier this year, her clarinet was among the things she sent home. Both of the boys are very enthusiastic about playing, so it’s possible one or both of them may continue. I hope they will consider it, if for nothing more than their own personal benefit, like having a hobby. Perhaps in doing so they can bring out more of their creative abilities, which is something I am just now re-learning how to do with the help of several friends in our writer’s group (follow the “Shared Words” link on this blog to visit our group and read some of our writings).

One thing is certain: my house will be a lot quieter once my children have all moved on. I might have to get out my triangle and start practicing again…


Musically Inclined

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

The title of this posting is a little misleading. I’m not talking about my musical talents – I don’t have any to speak of, although my wife claims I sing fairly well at lower pitches (not quite as low as bass, but somewhere in the neighborhood). In this case, what I’m referring to is listening to music.

I enjoy a variety of musical styles, from country to pop, classical to jazz, and blues to New Age. My collection of a hundred or so CDs reflects my eclectic interests. With such a wide variety of tastes, choosing what to listen to at any give time can be a challenge. For years, many people have worked around this by copying, or “ripping”, their favorite songs from their discs onto their computers, and then arranging them to play in just such an order that the person is delivered into musical Nirvana. In the days before ripping software and CD burners we did something similar, only with LPs and cassette tapes. If you don’t know what those are, pretty much anyone over 35 should be able to explain them to you.

These days, the ultimate form of achieving an enlightened state is to put a computer-created arrangement of favorite music onto a portable player such as an Apple iPod or some other MP3 device. My children have all owned MP3 players (not iPods) for several years, and after having owned vehicles in which the radio was either broken or stolen, I decided that I wanted to jump on the MP3 bandwagon too. When I brought up the subject, my children didn’t believe me, and started asking me questions such as “why do you need one?” and “what would you do with a MP3 player?”.

It took a while, but finally my wish was fulfilled. My older son’s MP3 player had died, and he was a bit down over it. I found one at the world’s largest flea market (eBay) for a decent price, so I purchased it for him as a surprise Christmas present. The real surprise, however, was on me. When the player arrived and I unpacked it, I found a note tucked inside the shipping carton: “Dear Mr. Bernier, as my way of saying ‘thank you’ for your order, I have enclosed an extra gift. Merry Christmas!” Looking further into the carton, I found the seller had given me a second MP3 player! This one was much, much smaller than the one I had purchased for my son (1Gb compared to 4Gb for him), but I figured this would be perfect for my own needs, and put it away until my son had opened his gift.

With a MP3 player finally in hand, I set about trying to put together a song arrangement that would send me off to Nirvana along with everyone else. After all, why should I be left behind? I soon found that having a decades-long musical history in my head didn’t make it any easier to put such a collection together. TWO MONTHS later, after sifting through dozens of albums, ripping here and mixing there, I finally had my list. I downloaded the collection to my player, plugged in the headphones, and hit the Play button.

Ahhhh! Favorite songs from more than thirty years of listening filled the air. I closed my eyes, and the memories came flooding back. But that all-important question needed an answer: did I reach Nirvana, like so many others before me?

No. Or at least, not yet. I don’t know if I’ll get there either.

I may still be on the road toward enlightenment, and I may never get there, but at least the musical memories will help me pass the time…