This is not a post about death, although death is at it's core. I want to record for my own memory a funeral I went to last week, and while doing that, I may comment on some things related to the genius who passed on to the next place, where ever that is.
Marvin Hamlisch died, suddenly August 13th, at the far too young age of 68. I resolved to go to the services. Several years ago, when the brilliant song smith Betty Comden died, I had mentioned to someone I knew on line, that I had wished I was in New York, so I could attend the memorial service. I got a blistering comment from her that it would be totally inappropriate to attend, if you didn't know the celebrity. That person has since become a really good friend, and I would never remind her of that exchange on this subject, but she was wrong and yesterday I proved it to myself.
I got all fixed up for Temple. The truly extraordinary Temple Emanu-El on 5th Avenue is historic. Not only is it a powerful example of The Reform Movement's stronghold on New York's wealthy Jewish Community, it is a stunning piece of architecture (and if you know me at all, you know I LOVE architecture...my first words as a Chicago baby were "Frank Lloyd Wright, goo goo"). The inside of the sanctuary is an enormous space, 103 feet high. No human images are on the sparkling stained glass windows, so far up that they seem only there to let in a beautifully colored light. Painted beams hundreds of feet to the top, covered with designs that echo the mosaics on the walls. The golden arch of marble at the front, guards the ceremonial treasures of the congregation, and the wooden pews extend the length of the building, to hold 2 thousand 5 hundred seats. It is imposing, yet reverent at the same time. Quite a space, and the Temple I know from Chicago was no small example of the genre.
This is where George Gershwin was eulogized in 1937, at the age of 38. Strange symmetry.
There was a choir of 600 singers on the left side of the space, the front third of the sanctuary was cordoned off for those who were personal friends, and the remaining area was for those of us who were respectful of his legacy. I over heard someone say that there was a "green room" filled with the famous, none of whom I ever saw, but names thrown around included, Mike Nichols, Diane Sawyer, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli, Alan Alda, Brian d'Arcy James, Leslie Uggams Tony Roberts, Kelli O'Hara, Richard Gere & Joe Torre. I rode the bus over from the WestSide with a nice man who knew him for 25 years because he was his orchestration person. That was a treat to me.
The big gun was hauled out at the very start, as President Bill Clinton began the comments after the Rabbis had their section of the service. Bill Clinton! I was mystified, but then I gave it more thought and realized Marvin Hamlisch was the go-to man at The White House, when it came to theater or film music. Nancy Reagan and Michelle Obama also sent heartfelt statements. He was neutral, because music should be universal. Those were the politically correct parts of the service, but there were two more components: his friends and the music.
You can tell a lot about a person by the friends who stick by throughout a life. I'm very lucky in that department. I've got pals back as far as Nursery School. I treasure them, love the nick names I'm given, and try to keep track of those people, but that's hard sometimes. You could tell, by the stories told, that Marvin Hamlisch had longtime and good pals. One man told of meeting him at camp in The Poconos when they were teens. He was writing songs back then for heaven's sake! Six friends told tales of the public and private life of this man. It seems he loved to throw parties. I certainly can understand that. Of course, there were songs at these soirees, and he changed the words, much to the delight of the lucky attendees. Tales of his generosity were also spilled. He wasn't around, after all, to protest. His wife Terre, told of 26 years of marriage, but wanted us all to know, that "He never bragged". Her tone was certainly not sad, but rather jubilant. She was all smiles and energy. Also something I had to get a handle on, but after a while I did revel in her enthusiasm for this fun man. She called him "the peoples composer".
Through out the morning his music was played. At the beginning, there was half an hour of entrance music which were his songs, but at an extremely slow tempo that suited the organ well. Very strange to hear "The Way We Were" at an agonizingly slow pace, but it was correct for the moment. That massive choir (which was, as told by his wife, his special request) sang a multi parted version of that most famous song, that was so loud and complex, that I am sure it was heard beyond the stratosphere. It was spine tingling. My friend Kevin was in that choir (along with Lucy Arnaz and other Broadway people), how lucky. We were asked to sing with the choir, "What I Did For Love", a suitable choice and easy to sing. That was the song that brought us all to tears. Not just that a man was gone, but how can you not respond to "love is never gone, as we travel on, love is what we'll remember"? There is more, but I don't want to cause tears on my blog.
Then there was another song offered. Unannounced, and in a strong sweet soprano, I heard "At The Ballet". People looked around in question. Who was that singer? Why was she singing that song? I knew instantly. It was Idina. Idina Menzel, who had been traveling the country for over a year with Marvin Hamlisch, doing her concert, developing a strong relationship with him. I also knew that it was his favorite song from A Chorus Line. I was transfixed as she sang out her love for this man she called "her second father". All the words spoken by the Rabbis and the friends were felt by us all as Idina told her tale in song. Such a beautiful melody. Such complex rhythms and timing. It is a wonderful piece, and actually ended the services by putting us right into the heart of his musical genius.
As they carried the coffin out to the waiting hearse, I was reminded of the lighter side on Marvin Hamlisch's music. The requested color for all flowers was yellow. Stuck in the middle of the sunny bouquet was a huge "all day sucker". Did you know he wrote Lesley Gore's hit Sunshine, Lollypops and Rainbows? Neither did I, but he did.
I am glad I attended. I offered my presence in that place to show respect and to, in some way, represent those who couldn't go, showing that his music affected us all. In some small way, this short person, who really couldn't see anything because most of the world is over 5'2", that my energy supported that he was here on this earth. There was a cosmic feeling in that sanctified place, and I felt it. I hope his family and friends did too. It wasn't just about "memories", it was a "Thank you for being here and you will be missed."