9:00, Monday morning. I’d just thought through my schedule for the day ahead, when my cell phone rang.
I didn’t understand. It was Vicky, Sandy’s niece… Bob had died unexpectedly…last night…a heart attack. They wanted to let me know….
Who?…My mind running through my roller deck of all the Bob’s I knew.
“Yes, of course, of course…but, I’m sorry, I didn’t catch all this. Who died?”
“Bob. Bob Scandrett…..”
“Yes, I’m here…I’ll be right over.”
On my drive to Bob and Sandy’s house I do what pastors do – or at least this pastor does to comfort himself, and contained my grief by composing the words I wanted to say at Bob’s memorial service.
But all the details – all the specifics of his life, all of our conversations and connections these past 20 years faded to memory. I couldn’t’ remember anything. All I could remember, all I knew, was “Bob was my friend.”
We’d met 20 years ago when Bob was serving as the Music Director here at University Congregational United Church of Christ. He’d recently retired from a distinguished career in music, teaching and conducting in colleges and choirs in Bellingham and Seattle. He’d been at University Church for the past 5 years when I arrived in 1994. Choir members who’d been singing with Bob for years, had followed him here to our church Chancel Choir in order to continue to sing with him. Bob had that kind of gift.
Bob would serve another 13 years here at our church before he retired. He and Sandy led something like 5 overseas choir trips, and together they helped knit together a close choir community. Bob and I worked together closely and got to know each other well, especially during the last years here, when I became the staff liaison to our worship and music ministries.
Over the years, Bob taught me a lot of things they never teach you – or at least didn’t teach me – in seminary.
Opened to me the gifts of music in our denomination’s new hymnal – “You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore”, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, “Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn”. Bob showed me that indeed there was more to sing than “O God Our Help in Ages Past”, week after week, as I might have otherwise chosen.
Taught me about how liturgy works. The ebb and flow of liturgy and how a worship service at its best flows like a grand piece of music – gathering, swelling, falling, rising, descending, leading us forth.
Taught me about words and texts and their importance. About how music at its best brings texts to life.
Yes, I learned a lot from Bob over the years. But more than anything, Bob taught me about living with transitions and change. The possibility of change and the grief that is change. The potential and mystery of change.
During the 18 years of his ministry here, our worship life, grew and changed. Bob was a classical musician and most at home in the grand forms of the best of Western music. The world of violins and violas, organs and chamber orchestras. His choirs performed all those great works by German and other composers with long names I didn’t know how to spell. And it was with Bob that our styles of Sunday morning music began to expand beyond “traditional” church music. I will always remember that Easter Sunday, when the processional didn’t begin with the traditional trumpet’s call but with a roll on a drum set and an electric guitar wailing the opening refrain of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Bob taught me that indeed you can teach an “old dog” new tricks. And sometimes, I felt much more like the “old dog” who had a lot to learn about the possibility of change from Bob.
I walked with Bob through the time of his retirement. A season that taught me about the grief that is change in a way that I’d never fully appreciated. It was a challenging time and how could it not be? For how do you put down a beloved profession and all the connections that have come with it, a career in music that has been your lifeblood since you were a teenager playing the organ each Sunday morning?
How does a choir let go of a beloved music director that has sung you through some of major transitions in your life and the lives of your friends? Opened through his particular gifts and skills a connection to the mystery and possibility of music that you never experienced before? These impossibly difficult transitions that do not come easily.
But the putting down of one way of life, over time, led to the picking up of another. In his mid-80’s now, Bob returned to his original love of the piano and in hour upon hour of practice, reached a new level of proficiency. He went out on the “performance circle” again – playing piano duets with a former student in retirement homes throughout the city. Bob showed me that through the challenge that is change and transition, a new way of life can indeed open – a way to continue to use, perfect, and share his gifts.
And a surprising gift of this new season in Bob and Sandy’s life was the gift of friendship. Over the past 7 years since Bob and Sandy left University Church, we’d stayed in touch. Staying in touch became an opening to making new connections. Bob’s and my relationship grew from that particular relationship of colleagues into a treasured friendship.
Bob and Sandy and I shared many meals together over the past years. We’d found something in our connection that was a gift to us all. We’d had lunch together a few weeks ago and I was to have lunch with them both this coming Friday. I had a “book report” I needed to share with Bob about the young adult novel, The Golden Compass which he had so enjoyed – and couldn’t believe I’d never heard of.
Sandy always prepared a beautiful lunch. We all talked together a while, sipping sparkling cider. And then Sandy often left to visit a friend or take a walk, and made a space for Bob and I to talk some more. We found together an ease of talking about things that are important. A trusted space to ask questions, and to listen. To talk together through the changes and transitions of life, the beauty, challenge and mystery of it all. To talk of that final transition which we all must walk – our own deaths. The wonder of what it means, and the mystery of where we all go. What makes life worth living in the here and now.
I don’t know much about music, and I still don’t. So many things that Bob knew that I knew but little about. But I am grateful beyond words that I do know something more about the possibilities of friendship from what I have shared with Bob. The surprise and gift and grace of a friend 37 years my senior. The gift of a friend to sit at table with time after time over a simple and beautiful lunch, a plate of fruit, a cookie, and cup of sparkling cider. To share the gift of conversation and care.
Bob died in the fullness of life. Yes, practicing and perfecting challenging pieces of music. Yes, reading, thinking, out mowing the lawn in fact, just the day before he died. Yes, lived and died in the fullness of life. And yes, at almost 89 years old, his birthday in just a few weeks.
I told Bob on many a visit that if I have the privilege of getting to be an “old man” myself someday, I’d hope to be like him – engaged so deeply in the ongoing work and wonder, growth and possibility that is change and transition. That is life.
By the time I arrived at Bob and Sandy’s door on Monday morning, I’d stopped composing my one sentence eulogy in my head. Able to arrive to comfort, and grieve the gift of the life of a treasured friend. To sit on the couch, with Sandy, and weep.
Sometime soon, we will all gather. So many particular connections, stories, history, relationships that a grand choir of singers have shared with Bob and Sandy. Together, we will be ministered to by the music Bob selected for such a time, Faure’s Requiem. Seems such a fitting tribute to a man who has led so many in song through so many passages in life. And yes, shown this particular pastor, something more of the possibility, grief, potential and mystery that is change. Gifted me with the amazing grace of walking the road with one I have been blessed to call not only my former colleague, but my treasured friend.
20 thoughts on “Requiem”
Peter, you’ve written a wonderful tribute to your friend. I didn’t know him, but I remember him and the music.
Here’s a tribute to someone gone:
Thank you Lloyd. I hope you are well, and keeping you in my heart, hope and prayer,
Thank you Carol,
What a nice story regarding your friend and Pastor.
Writing and sharing this story reminded me of all the stories that are woven into the relationships we share. It’s a gift to remember them today,
This is especially moving today of all days. While being moved to tears by your exquisite writing, photography and drawing for Bob Scandrett, I played Faure’s Requiem and it was in the background as I was reading emails. I learned that my 88 year-old Aunt Gladys died. Such a blow. I don’t know why, but the music is helping. I went on to Mozart’s Requiem. All of this is helping me to cry.
My heart is with you and the hearts, love and prayers of your church as well.
This blessing from John O’Donohue’s book, To Bless the Space Between Us speaks to me about the realness of grief. Walks in life when we do not know how to walk. When the way is made by walking. May you do this walk with care, with attention and compassion. You do it held and accompanied in love, hope and prayer, the very presence that is God. This is his blessing for times of grief:
When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile;
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence.
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.
Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.
There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.
Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.
Thank you Peter. I am so glad that you and Bob connected so absolutely the last few years since he left the church. Your words were beautiful and made me proud to be his friend as well.
Thanks Crystol – So many connections, so many, many years. Grateful for Bob and those that sing us through the changes and transitions of life,
Peter, our hearts are so heavy. Your words were full of love, sadness, and joy. Thank you for always being there for all of us.
Thanks Karen for writing. In the heaviness of the loss and all the ways that Bob has touched so many lives for years, decades, may there be a meeting of compassion, care, and love. Signs and presence of the promise of that very love of God that holds and never lets us go.
Peter, I’m so saddened to not have Bob on this plane of existence any more but he has left a tremendous legacy of spirit, intelligence, and music. Oh my, the music. I rarely get goose bumps any more when I listen to music, but the music Bob shaped with the choir often elicited that response in me. He was a master.
Thank you for this beautiful reflection on your relationship with Bob and Sandy and of the many gifts that came from that relationship. Your remembrance was deeply touching. A gift. Carol
Thank you Carol for writing and I love what you said about goose bumps with Bob’s music. He had a rare gift honed after decade upon decade of musicianship – one of those true “elders”. What a privilege we got to share in those gifts these 18 years here at UCUCC,
Beautifully said, Peter. Thank you for all of us.
Thanks Mike and keeping you and so many others who were touched by Bob and Sandy over these many years – grateful for all the connections we have shared.
Just another student at WWU in the mid 80’s – in concert choir and womens’ ensemble as an alto. He loved us altos. We were the “cream in the Oreos”. Making our way through Benjamin Britton’s “A Ceremony of Carols”, music from Poland (after one of his European trips) and singing “Salve Regina” in a Presbyterian church (on our way to Portland) and watching an old nun sitting in the pews with her eyes closed… Bob was an important transition touchstone during those college years.
Dear Shauna – Thanks for writing and yes, grateful, for those folks like Bob who have been “transition touchstones” through important times of change and transition in our lives,
Hope you might be able to be here in the choir on February 1 at 3 when we will remember Bob,
Thank you, Peter. I was one of the former Symphony Chorale singers who ultimately showed up at UCC because I wanted to get back to singing, and who better with than Bob? Though not a Christian or a believer in any way, I found the combination of Bob’s deep musicianship and the open thoughts and hearts of the UCC community an extra gift and a great source of sustenance over the years I dropped in and out of the choir. The UCC choir was where I wanted to be on the Sunday after 9/11, because I knew there would be no talk of smiting and the music would be exactly right. I am still not a Christian, and I will never be a believer, but the music will last forever.
Glenna – it was such a gift to have you in the choir during those years and I remember you and all today who have been touched by Bob’s gifts. Grateful you knew that just as you are you could find a place in the choir that is University Congregational UCC!