Last week I sang at a memorial service for Karen, a woman I’ve known since I was nine years old. She was my sister-in-law’s sister – and though I didn’t know her well — I’ve been part of her family for over 45 years.
After the traditional Minnesota Lutheran post-funeral feast – ham buns, pickles, chips, cake, and weak coffee – I went out to load flower arrangements into my Subaru. As I started up the car, I heard the opening chords of a song playing from my mobile phone through the car stereo.
I wondered how that happened. I didn’t have any music playing as I arrived at the church. I’d been talking to a friend on the phone. And I hadn’t turned the music app on in the ensuing hours.
I soon recognized the song as the composition of my very talented friend, Steven Hobert. He is a pianist, composer, improviser, accordionist, and bandleader based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We have collaborated on several recordings and concerts. Every time I work with Steven, there is magic in the air. His music romps through the universe in a playful, reverent way. He’s a musical virtuoso, a wild mystic, a humble genius, an incomparable collaborator. Oh, and he’s my beloved friend – lucky me!
The song, “Ballet,” tells the dreamy and impressionistic story of a woman’s death. But please don’t imagine that the song is dark and depressing. It’s powerful and moving – and strangely luminous.
When he first played the recording of “Ballet” for me, I was overwhelmed by how the closely the instrumental sections imitate the sensations and energy I have felt when sitting with someone very near death. Sometimes there is a surge of intensity near the end of life that eventually gives way to a deep release, peace, stillness. Steven perfectly captured that transition in the closing moments of the song.
When I asked him how the hell he did that, he shrugged and grinned. “No idea, really…” I get it. The creative process can yield miraculous things, especially when someone as talented and intuitive as Steven engages in it.
Back at the church, when his song came on my car stereo so spontaneously, so mysteriously, I smiled through sudden tears and said, “Hello, Karen!” The story in the song perfectly reflects her dying story. Why wouldn’t the recently deceased come visiting through music? Doesn’t music have the capacity to reach through the boundaries of time and distance, life and death?
I immediately called Steven to let him know how his song was being put to work and to ask him if I could write about the experience. He graciously agreed and sent me links to his beautiful song.
Thank you, Steven, for writing a song that opened the portal between the living and the dead in such an elegant way. And thank you, Karen, for stopping by for a visit on the day when so many were remembering you so fondly.
by Steven Hobert
Soft white light flooding through the window
Heeding prayer of a candid cry
Cotton flakes hover by the thousands
Snow of spring covering the sky
She twirls between them
Fluid and formless
Leaps from illness
Glowing with divine
In a hospital bed
Groggy from medicine
Arms reach out
Try to the grasp the light
One cotton flake
Floats on through the window screen
Blows inside right into her hand
She swirls above the bed
Fluid and formless
Holding seed of divine