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Veering Presentation: Rabbi Peter Rubinstein and David Stringer

Singing Their Music - Memorial Service

Submitted by David H. Stringer on Sunday, 6/1/2014, at 4:57 PM

Singing Their Music

-          Memorial Service, Amherst 50th Reunion

-          By Peter Rubinstein

Friday, May 30, 2014


Even as we begin this service of memorial it would be worthy of us to note our gratitude for those of our classmates who since we last met have faced significant health challenges and have returned to health. We need also pay mind to those of our classmates who at this moment are struggling with considerable battles for health. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

I would imagine that 50 years ago none of us would have envisioned that one day, this day, we would be sitting here remembering classmates who once sat beside us in this hallowed hall. 50 years ago the thought of leading this service would have been both terrifying and bizarre for me personally.

But here we are together, an occasion for which none of us would have wished, nor imagined, nor foreseen.

The story is told that that in November 1995 in Avery Fisher Hall Itzhak Perlman the violinist came onstage to begin the concert.  As was typical he walked painfully to his chair and began his pre-performance ritual.  He put his crutches down, bent to unclasp his braces, tucked one foot behind him and one forward, picked up his violin and was ready to begin.

But this time, just a few bars into the piece he was playing with the orchestra, one of the strings of his violin snapped with such force that everyone in the concert hall heard it.  Perlman and the orchestra stopped.  The audience, stunned, was prepared for what they knew had to happen. Perlman needed to take up his crutches and clasp his braces, limp his way offstage and either find another violin or fix the one he had. 

But he didn’t.

It’s said that he waited a minute, settled, and signaled to the conductor to begin again.  And he played beautifully by all reports.  The violin with only three strings—one string short.

Now, musicians would say it’s impossible to play the violin with three strings.  But Perlman apparently didn’t know that.  He recomposed and coaxed new sounds not heard before from the three remaining strings.

When he was finished, there was silence, followed by a spontaneous outburst of applause, a standing cheering ovation. 

Afterward, when asked, Perlman reflected and said this:

“You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

Perlman’s reflection certainly is about instrumental music but it is equally true about life and so very true for those of us who gather here today, half a century after we were once whole as a class. It is our time to pick up a bit of the tune, some of the music of our classmates who no longer sit beside us.

For some of us the list of names we will read may include a best friend or a roommate, one with whom your time on the campus was shared with intimacy, confidential stories and the hearty guffaws that emerge from the silliness of college men in the midst of less than entirely mature frivolity. For us the death of these classmates subdues uninhibited joy.

There are names we will read who did not significantly pass within the constellation of our time on this campus. They are the ones whose names we remember with incomplete clarity. They are the classmates who held the potential of reunion friendship like others we will discover or rediscover during these days of reunion. About them we might ask “How could I have allowed the time pass without any effort in learning about them, learning from them, and learning of them?”

And there are more to remember. For this is also a time for us to say privately for ourselves the names of those with whom we shared the beauty of live during the past 50 years, those whose death we mourn with a heart-ache and heart-break born of great love-affairs, marriages or friendships. They are the ones with whom we shared life most intimately and preciously. They are the ones who held our hands, comforted our souls, wiped our tears and at times with nary a word knew what was in our hearts and loved us for it. They are with us in this time of memory.

We mourn parents and siblings but perhaps of the greatest consequence are the children we mourn. Sometimes death is out of order and those children of ours who have died will, for us stay the same age forever.  When children die, it is the cruelest cut of all.  The pain is searing, the scar is forever.  The hurt doesn’t get better. It just gets different.

So we remember and mourn. None of us are without the loss of life of those we loved.

They are all embedded in our memory.

50 years ago we stood on the lawn outside this building in our black robes on the eve of graduation. If not a band of brothers, we were a band of friends drinking the exuberance of life which awaited us.

At the time of death sometimes the best we can say is “We miss them.”  We miss them. 

We will miss them when we look at old photos or sing the songs of our college days or tell and retell and retell again the stories, the episodes of those days. We will miss watching them grow up or old and being with them for both.

We miss them.  But they are, you see, with us forever.  They are with us even now, in this place, and at this time, because we will sing their song.  It will be different and nuanced.  But it will be lovely, superbly lovely because it is their music.  And for them, we will sing, tell their stories and raise a glass to their memory. They are with us even now.

May we all have strength in memory now and always.