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.”
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.