recent kaddishim

Victoria’s fiddle teacher, Michelle Levy, joined us for dinner after their lesson, and she agreed to join me in the “Kaddish” recording. She asked to hear it once, and then we started ProTools rolling and she joined in with her improv on kaddish_2010.12.20_fiddlerWithoutRoof.

Tuesday morning when I woke up way too early, I reread Mira’s post “we dying dogs” along with a bunch of others including “a kaddish for eichmann,” where Mira speculated that nobody had ever said a Kaddish for Eichmann — a kaddish Kaddish, not just mourned him.  Surely he was mourned.

I had a reaction that wasn’t much different from my  first reading of “we dying dogs,” seen in the beginning of the comments I wrote that day. Feelings of wanting to strangle the guy had stuck with me all day, so when it was time to record a Kaddish, I decided I’d play one for him (kaddish_2010.12.20_m’sBiofather.mp3).

[Okay — I’m gonna say this, and hope I don’t regret it.  It may well be Pandora’s Box for me. But if that Box opens, I’m gonna slam it back down really hard, lock it up tight and throw away the key.  Here’s the key to “we dying dogs” — the reason I can’t feel it.  The reason I can write it, describe it, look at it — and feel nothing.  Is that this was only one incident.  Just one.  One that I wasn’t raised with knowing or hearing over and over again.  And by the time I heard it I think I was old enough to have the tools to hold myself together.  He was, after all, dying at the time.  And this was among his milder acts…  But what I think of is that question I did not have the guts to ask him.  The answer to which I did not want to receive.  For now I realize that he would have answered my question, and the answer would have been in the affirmative.  The thing I both wanted and did not want to know.  I think, for me, “we dying dogs” is a relief.  A relief that I didn’t hear what I didn’t want to hear — something that was infinitely worse than the piece Erin has somehow managed not only to read, but reread more than once.  I couldn’t do that.  —mira]

Now, I don’t know what else happened in that guy’s life, but somehow I got it into my head that maybe nobody ever said a Kaddish for him, either. I must be wrong about that, but that’s where my head was. I thought playing “Kaddish” for him might be just about as hard as it was playing “Kaddish” for Eichmann back at the beginning of this project. His crimes are far smaller than Eichmann’s, sure, but what I read in that story is the only thing—the  only thing—I know about the guy. And I still want to strangle him. So I decided to try to play him his “Kaddish.”

[No, I think you’re right.  I don’t even remember a kaddish at the funeral.  Yours, I do believe, is it.  Wow.  At the funeral, the one speech someone gave talked about what a horror show he was.  After that, even I had nothing left to say and left it all unsaid.]

It was hard. No, not as hard as Eichmann’s (kaddish_2010.11.08_eichmann)—where do you even start with the rage, the outrage, the despondency that has to come to mind when you think of Eichmann? Relistening to that one now, I can hear the effort it took, the anger that shook me and propelled me through.

My anger on this one wasn’t like that, but it was noticeable, and troublesome, causing lots of wrong notes and little problems. And I think what was hard about it is that I realized that even I am conflicted about the guy, the hateful character in that story, because suddenly I realized that for all that, he did at least contribute some darned good genetic matter, and if that’s the only good thing he ever did in his life—I must be wrong, that can’t be possible—then he did do at least one darned good thing in his life.

[This is exactly the Tzaddik’s point of view — on everything.]

So now what am I supposed to think of him?

[Well.  You brought this up.  So here goes.  It was not good genetic matter.  It was so damaged — radioactive, to tell the truth,  from one of the accidents in the lab (Manhattan Project) — that he was sterile.  Or was supposed to be.  I have no idea how I managed to come through relatively undamaged given that massive dose of radiation.  He demanded an abortion — which was not legal at the time…  I don’t know what I could have been thinking to want to survive.  The man was a bomb maker.  He really loved his bombs…]

[Do you see what I did there in that message quoted above?  I made the abortion thing rational.  Who knows what the ‘real’ story was…  See ‘The Paintbrush’]

The performance was a mess.

[With good reason.  And yet, your playing made me feel warm and protected, somehow.  I don’t know how you did that — and yet you conveyed the rest as well, at the same time]

Prompted by a remark from Mira about my doing less self-disclosure, I summarized for her my life’s collection of sob stories and concluded that they’re not much to whine about in the grand scheme of things. On the whole, my life has been pretty easy, and I’ve had the luxury of being well-equipped to handle the storms. But it does seem as though we all measure our traumas on our own personal sliding scale, so I decided to play a Kaddish for all our own particular crap—our personal set of baggage that we schlepp around with us: kaddish_2010.12.22_allThoseStories.

just a mournful tune
with misgivings
I like it tonight…
oops, kicking up some dust / a bit frantic
but then you calm down again
desir—
shit — can’t we just skip this part? change the recipe? substitute real butter instead of echo thing?
strong again

I didn’t feel impatient with it tonight at all
and I think I got a taste of kitty… a special treat

I’ve stopped seeing.
but maybe you’ve stopped seeing
and that’s why I can’t see?

I didn’t know what I was doing here, basically. Out of sense of obligation to self-disclose, I wrote my little list, and I just didn’t see the point in doing anything but drag it to the trash. So I decided to leave it in drafts, play a kaddish, and then come back to finish my list.

So. I started with the plan of doing a kaddish for all our particular crap, thinking we have it, why not say it a Kaddish and move on for a change.

But while I was playing I thought, why not just try to play the tune decently? And then I thought, why am I playing a kaddish for petty disappointments when we’re here to mourn our losses, and I have yet to play a single kaddish for Nanc, the second great love of my love who died, and I’m whining about this crap. And I think, no, I need to really play a kaddish for her, and then a bunch more. I can’t just toss that off, I need to dig in on what it is that her loss represents, and I just haven’t done that work. And I really can’t have this distracted mess be my first kaddish for her.

Or can’t I just play the damned music and be a musician with some professional integrity, instead of trying to play and process all at once, which I know (“know”… well, okay, we seem to be learning otherwise…) is not the way to play well.

And then I was back to thinking, this is about people dying, and I’ve been playing kaddishim to these abstractions, disappointments, incidents, and Nanc is dead, and Mira’s had crap like bioFather dying to figure out, maybe I should just play the music, be the cantor, try to be a source of comfort, do my job, move on.

[I’m guilty of this as well — kaddishim for abstractions — because it’s a lot easier.  Because I’m an academic.  Because I’d do anything rather than feel the loss.  ‘Abandonment’ my ex-husband-the-psychoanalyst calls it.  I mean, who wants to feel that?]

Yes! Kitty joined in for the first time! That was Kaja Knekkebrød, the youngest, Kjersti’s favorite. I loved her additions. I actually made time in one pause for her to finish.

[It was very sweet.  I loved it.]

So the next night I attempted my first Kaddish specifically for Nanc: kaddish_2010.12.23_nanc.
I used the real butter there—all the same notes (except for my misfingering) but not the stopped bell. Wanting to figure out if it’s the notes themselves or the stopping that bugs Mira so much. Apparently it’s the stopping.

I decided my first Kaddish for Nanc should remember the Nanc I first met. Alison and I had driven up to London, ON to spend Thanksgiving weekend with Glenn and Nancy. We cooked and ate and drank and played games all weekend. I remembered that night Nanc got home when we had pans flying in the kitchen. She said she was going up to change into something more black. She came back down in the promised black looking rumpled and cuddly and cracked us up with her comment that the bathroom counter looked like a contacts farm with our four sets of paraphernalia. We made honey braised rabbit and Canadian cheddar-ale soup. A big salad. All in Silver Palate New Basics, if you’re hungry…

A word debate came up in dinner conversation, and she grabbed for the giant dictionary she kept right in the dining room for that purpose. During dessert she said, “Let’s make up a word game!” And so we did. It was like Calvin Ball—the rules changed as fast as we could figure them out, and much of the play was drowned out by laughter. We collapsed in a puppy pile on the couch.

If I hadn’t already fallen in love, I did that night.

lovely and filled with life
and love
and mistakes
that are forgiven / forgivable

with a little woof

and gee— that’s strange —

did you delete the bounce-me-out echoey bit?
I missed it completely and was never bounced out

or maybe I was just carried away
with your love
and imperfection
that was perfect

Deb led two funerals the next day, and kaddish_2010.12.24_rebDeb’s2 was by her request for those two women; may they rest in peace.

more resonant — literally
ah. you have an audience
very nice [audience must help — you KNOW people are listening, it sharpens your skills — this is strong and beautiful]
a few elephants…
I don’t feel an intruder here
I like the company
Can see them sitting, some standing
A long table, light colored cloth. I want to say white, but nobody does white cloths, and maybe it’s not cloth but light wood? light something
food/ no leftover dishes not entirely cleared
so this must be afterwards. the afterwards of something
The sound is lovely..
so-called echo very nicely done. [I want to say thank you, but it’s not for me, it’s for THEM…]
Still. I say
Thank you!

Once again Mira’s perceptions were astonishing. I played this one in the sanctuary of Random Lutheran, about twenty-five minutes before a Christmas Eve service featuring Quadre horn quartet. After warming up and checking my music, etc., I turned on a recording app on my iPhone, set it on the front pew, and then took a few steps back to play the Kaddish.

Most of the congregation was still in the fellowship hall sharing a potluck dinner—yes, on long tables covered in white!—but a handful of people were already waiting in the pews. I was tired from a long day after a short night and was needing to gear up for a long show (almost non-stop horn quartets). I knew that I would regret waiting to record it at home after the service, and as it turns out my family was already in bed by the time I got home, and I was fried. So beforehand it was, in a Lutheran church with a small audience. My head was filled with a combination of thoughts:

  • these people have no idea what they’re hearing and why
  • I wonder if they can get the gist of it just from the music’s essence and my affect
  • if anyone asks, how can I answer both honestly and in a reverent, welcoming way? because odds are good that they have lost someone important to them, too, and I want this to be for them
  • for a whole bunch of families, this is the first Christmas or was the first Chanukkah that they’re going through without somebody
  • on this day that I have a double service and a long wait between, Reb Deb has had another kind of double service day, and two people who matter to her are gone
  • what a long hard day near the end of a long hard year

So what Mira heard was a somewhat higher degree of emotional engagement and performative awareness, from a tired woman who was trying to gear up to put on a show.

The stopped portion wasn’t stopped. I was using my descant horn for that gig, and I didn’t have time to deal with swapping out my low F crook for a stopping crook. I am also leaving out the stopped indication sometimes; it seems to be consistently alienating to Mira, so I’m experimenting with not stopping and with playing that passage in a variety of moods.

The next night, I played a Kaddish for all those families who were trying to get through the holidays without someone: kaddish_2010.12.25_1stXmasWithout. I was thinking particularly of Nanc’s daughter and Richard’s wife and twins, and also of a former Quadre member who’d attended the concert-service. She lost her father earlier this year, and she said they were getting along okay, but they kept bumping into little details that reminded them of who was missing—all the little traditions where he played a role, and now somebody else had to play those roles.

what—??
oh.
I felt like an intruder at first
and started to turn the piece off…
Nice transition.

but too personal for me to witness
Shutting it down….

Continuing a week that was hitting close to home for the K2PH team, on Sunday I had the privilege of playing a Kaddish for Hindy, Mira’s biofather’s wife who had just been buried: kaddish_2010.12.26_hindy. It was a mess. I’d had a dream about Mira that left me with a question, and the unknowing was on my mind while I played. Mira heard that through her exhaustion:

very nice, thank you.
but I’m saturated and couldn’t feel it.
Wanted to—
but found I couldn’t go there
couldn’t get there
but then you couldn’t get there either—
you got distracted [it seemed to me]

Monday I played a Kaddish for Phyllis Greenwood, who died last month (see our “yizkor” page): kaddish_2010.12.27_phyllis.

nice strong start — I can SEE again!
I can see the cliffs
oops, I tripped
but it’s Sicily again
finally!
the grasses are dry now
the old men are in the cafe playing cards
one is reading a newspaper
one is on his cell phone
there’s a videogame machine inside the cafe

stone walls
sheep
[bounced out at that spot]
but the dog brings me back, herding sheep

it’s evening
beautiful sunset over the sea
I stumble again over the trail
but the sun sets nicely anyway

Tuesday I played a premature Kaddish, kaddish_2010.12.28_aliveNotLiving. This was on request by someone who decided that it was time to start mourning the departure of her ex-husband’s will to live. He’s killing himself slowly with the bottle. At first I hesitated, then I got to thinking—there are a lot of people out there who are not alive anymore, and people who love them are wrestling with when and how to say goodbye. I decided to consult my rebbe on the matter of premature Kaddishim. Her reply:

Kaddish is special that way; it’s recited, not simply after death, but after burial. The main activity at the grave is covering the casket with earth; only after the mourners have had the opportunity to participate in that mitzvah, and the casket is covered (or sometimes not until the grave is entirely filled) is Kaddish recited. I bend this rule at times, for the needs of the living, but that’s the tradition.

But advance grieving? Definitely. Alzheimer’s, cancer, self-destructive behavior: these and many more things take people from us while their bodies are yet living. Alzheimer’s is particularly insidious. Sometimes, it makes the final death easier to bear: not only is the person released from whatever hell they’ve been living in, but we have indeed done some or a great deal of our grieving work already.

Your playing Kaddish is not the Jewish communal ritual—tuneless, remember!—that reciting Kaddish for the first time graveside is. I see no problem in playing a Kaddish to support someone who is grieving. — RebDeb

Yesterday was a double-Kaddish day. In the afternoon, I did my usual daily recording, and I decided to focus on the music for a change: kaddish_2010.12.29_justTheNotesMa’am. One of my puzzles as a musician is figuring out how to be both involved in the meaning of Kaddish and to be an effective musician. We’re seeing in this process how what’s on my mind does seem to transmit to listeners; Mira’s listening notes and comments I’ve received from others illustrate that. However, it’s also true that when my focus is divided and when I’m in emotional conflict, it affects the music. Some of these recordings are just not musically effective, and that distracts my listeners. So I decided to get back to basics and just try to be the musician, play the notes, be of service, do my job, leave my mishegas out of it.

But then my day changed. I went to a birthday party.

It was held at her friend’s house, and before she thanked us for coming, she thanked her friend Matthew for hosting it and especially for insisting they hold the party as scheduled even though he had just lost his mom the day before.

He spoke movingly through tears of how his mom would have wanted them to carry on, and even suggested that as a Buddhist she’ll be spending the next forty-five days passing among us, so while she would have been too frail to attend the party, this way she could join us.

I had brought my tuba along in case dancing broke out, but instead I used it to play a Kaddish for Matthew’s mom as the party was winding down. My iPhone recording, kaddish_2010.12.29_matt’sMom, is rough. I’d never attempted to play Kogan’s “Kaddish” on tuba before. I hadn’t even had my tuba out of its gig bag for several months, and I’m not much of a tuba player to begin with. But after a few notes, it’s hard to hear any of that, because the only thing that matters is the other thing you hear: the sound of someone wracked with grief, who has been holding it together all evening, releasing some of the immediate, consuming pain of loss.

I have been playing horn for thirty-six years, but I can count on my hands the times I’ve felt useful as a musician. What a privilege.

[Thank you, thank you, for playing for Matthew.  I know he was able to channel a lot of energy through the music.]

About erin

Erin Vang, PMP, BMus, MMus, is Owner and Principal Pragmatist of the consultancy Global Pragmatica LLC®, offering custom JMP scripting, localization program management, and facilitative leadership services. She is also an orchestral horn player who freelances in the San Francisco Bay Area and plays assorted brass for the celebrated dance bands Midnight Smørgåsbord and contraPtion. More about Erin…
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