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Plucking The Heartstrings

Updated: Dec 7, 2019

If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you already know that I love to laugh about my escapades as an event violinist. As a result, it's only natural that I share a lot of my funny stories. And we all know you can't perform live music without stubbing your toe on some stressful moments, too... so you guys hear a lot about those, as well.

But as I lay awake in bed last night, unable to sleep, it donned on me that I've yet to share any of the stories where the events have well-and-truly plucked my heartstrings. So without any further ado, I give you my top 4 heartfelt #memories:

. . . . .

#4 - A couple of years back, I was hired for a memorial service in honor of the client's father. He had been buried for quite a while, but this was the first time that all of his grown children were able to get together in one place, so they wanted to hold a special service.

I arrived early at the cemetery because, hey, if I've learned anything over the years, it's that cemetery's are often immense labyrinths and it's tricky to find the right spot.

The service was small and without much fanfare, but it was sincere. I finished up with "Danny Boy" but found that I didn't want to leave.

The feeling of love was so strong at that special plot, it was nearly palpable. There were tears, yes, but there were also smiles because memories can be so sweet.

As I was saying my goodbyes, I remarked that I love playing for services like this one because I get to learn so much about the lives of those who have passed away. But I also really dislike it because I feel the sting of never actually getting to meet these wonderful people. The world is a little bit darker without their light.

It is seriously such a blessing for me to be able to help lend comfort to those enduring the difficult time of losing loved ones. Music is a balm to the soul.

#3- As much as I love weddings and dinners, playing for funerals will always have a special place in my heart. This particular event started off with me driving around in circles until I found the right place (tricky little cemetery).

I was warned beforehand that it was a sweet baby that had passed away, and the family didn't speak any English. They weren't member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (whose hymns are where almost all of my funeral music comes from), but I should feel free to play any pretty music.

I recall feeling nervous about playing any hymns that might be synonymous with the "Mormon" faith, so I started with Ave Maria and other peaceful #classical music. I had researched ahead of time for Catholic hymns, and played a few of those. I figured that they might recognize them and glean comfort from the familiar melodies.

I ended up having to play a lot longer than I had anticipated, so it wasn't long before I ran out of classics and Catholic hymns.

I nervously flipped through my book and finally decided to play some Latter-Day Saint hymns, after all. "They said to play anything pretty, and by golly, these are some of the prettiest pieces I know," I thought to myself.

The sacred lyrics of those pieces filtered through my mind as I played verse after verse, and I honestly believe that it helped ease their pain. Music doesn't care what language you speak or what religion you are (if any). It mends the broken heart of ALL who listen.

After the family had all moved off to their vehicles, I started packing up my things as the cemetery workers began finishing up. One worker walked over to me and said, "You know, I've been to an awful lot of these things. Too many. But I can honestly say that your music was the prettiest I've ever heard. I could tell it brought a lot of comfort to these people."

That deeply touched my heart, not because he called me "the best", but because I was able to comfort those present. In some small way, I was able to lighten their load and ease their pain.

THAT is why I do what I do.

Music helps us celebrate the best times, and it helps us grieve the worst times.

#2 - A lot of the exact details are a little foggy on this one, but I remember I was hired to play for a sweet lady's birthday party, which was to be hosted in her home.

You see, she was in her late 90's and her daughter wanted to surprise her with some live music. Unfortunately, the daughter couldn't make it in from New York, but she let another sibling know to be on the lookout for me... and thank goodness for that!

All the way up to the front door, I kept thinking, "What am I gonna say if someone answers the door and they weren't expecting me?"

"Hey, uh, who ordered this random musician?!"

Once I was ushered in and revealed to the rest of the family, it didn't take me long to realize that the layout wasn't quite what I was expecting.

Where I was picturing "play-in-a-corner-while-they-mill-about-eating-delicious-food", what I GOT was "play-in-the-center-of-the-living-room-with-all-eyes-on-you-while-additional-family-is-Skyped-in-from-New-York".

But do you know what? They immediately put me at ease with their demeanor and friendly candor. Do you ever have people enter your life that you click with right away? I was quite literally a stranger in their midst (I mean, of the group of 20+, only 1 person had any sort of forewarning at all) and they accepted me like I was family and meant to be there.

The birthday girl didn't look a day over 65 (what's her secret?!) and quickly commenced giving me some awesome life-advice while everyone was getting settled.

"Oh, mom! Stop giving that poor girl advice on raising kids and living life," one daughter joked from the kitchen.

I was quick to correct her - I need all the help I can get!

Once I started playing, the nerves dissipated and pretty soon, they were all singing along with The Sound of Music and crying together during Over the Rainbow. The "birthday girl" kept thanking me over and over again, and I kept thanking HER over and over.

It was such a special moment carved out of the busy hubbub of daily life, and one I'll always treasure.

#1 - One fall morning earlier this year, I was immersed in my morning routine at the gym when I received an email from a woman who lived out of state (let's call her Betty). She was flying in to visit her aunt who was in a hospice care home. Her aunt didn't have any family in Utah, so Betty wanted to make sure she was able to spend some time with her before she passed away.

Come to find out, Betty's mother had passed away a year or two prior and she hired a violinist to play at her graveside service.

"My only regret," Betty relayed to me, "was that my mother wasn't around to enjoy that beautiful music."

As it turns out, that was the driving force behind her hiring me to play for her Aunt in her room.

Betty was flying in that afternoon, so she was wondering if I could swing by later that evening. After shuffling around my schedule a little bit, I assured her I would be there.

Once I arrived, Betty explained that her Aunt had been given some medication to help make her comfortable. "She might not be able to respond," she whispered, "but I've been told that she can still very much hear and enjoy the music."

As I entered the quiet, dimly lit room, I was reminded of an experience I had playing for my grandmother as she also lay waiting to cross the veil to the other side.

I can still remember how tiny and frail my grandma seemed in that big bed. Growing up, she was always one of my most staunch supporters. She could nary let a family Christmas party shuffle on by without encouraging me to perform my squeaky violin. Looking back, I'm convinced she never heard a hear sour note, though I'm sure they were plentiful.

It was a special honor to play for her again all those many years later, even while she was nestled in sleep's deep embrace.

As I played my heart out in the room that day for Betty's Aunt, I could catch glimpses of other patients shuffling their walkers and wheelchairs down the hall in order to see where the music was coming from.

There are many things I'm unsure of in this life (like multiplication tables and how to keep potted houseplants alive), but one thing I KNOW is that, deep down, we are all naturally drawn to beautiful music. It feeds our soul.

It doesn't matter if the listener is considered learned or foolish; old or young; unconscious or alert. Music speaks where words cannot.

I'm so thankful that Betty took a chance and emailed me that day.

And thank you, grandma, for believing in me all those years ago, and helping make me into the musician I am today.

. . . . .

If you're in need of a musician for any event in your life (the good or the bad), please reach out! It would be my absolute honor to be a part of it.

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JESSICA MCALLISTER

FIRST STRING VIOLINIST

801.828.6860

 FIRSTSTRINGVIOLINIST@GMAIL.COM  

         . . . SALT LAKE COUNTY, UTAH . . .