Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kennedy Farewell: The Music

As was repeated (and shown repeatedly in the retrospective films that played over (and over) the past few days), Senator Ted Kennedy loved music, and music was a big part of all of the memorial events. There were songs at the Kennedy Library, including hymns and several choruses of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," with Irish tenors outdoing each other each time.

The most impressive music came at the funeral Mass. Yo Yo Ma played the Sarabande of Bach's Cello Suite #6, which if I'm not mistaken has particular meaning for the musician, who played it for his father shortly before his death. In any case, he played it memorably, with evident feeling. Placido Domingo sang Franck's "Panis Angelicus," the Tanglewood Chorus sang Brahm's "Let Nothing Ever Grieve Thee," and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham sang a wonderful "Ave Maria" by Schubert.

But I was especially taken by the organ music at the very beginning, as Kennedy's casket entered. The processional hymn, which began a bit later, was "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" but I couldn't tell if the organ music was another version of it, but whatever it was, it was beautiful, mysterious.

The most notable addition to the day's music was at the Capitol, after the official prayers and singing. As the hearse was about to leave, the crowd across the street spontaneously began singing "America the Beautiful."

But the musical moment I will remember came at the very end, at the Arlington National Cemetary, in the most impressive solo version of Taps I've ever heard. It was not an ordinary rote rendition--it was very musical, with pure tones and full of feeling.

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