The immediate inspiration for this course was our collective experience with COVID-19 these past three years. Recognizing that the scale of this disease’s devastation has been difficult for us to comprehend, National Public Radio (NPR) launched the “Songs of Remembrance” series, where “friends and family of COVID-19 victims commemorate their loved ones through song.” This course’s final assignment was an adaptation of the NPR series.
Building on skills obtained through an obituary-writing assignment, students interviewed a friend or family member who lost someone close to them from disease (any disease), a person for whom a song or piece or music held special meaning. Students then rendered this interview as a first-person narrative, in the voice of their interviewee.
Mary Brenda French
Lee Henry Coleman
Barry Coon Phelps
Luciano Pavarotti (1994)
Interviewed by Andie Angelacci
My mother Anita Angelacci was the hardest-working woman I knew. As a single mother to 4 kids, she made sure to provide for us. As a child, I was quite troublesome and I remember her scolding me often saying “Che cosa fai?” or what are you doing? She passed away in 2013 at the age of 90 in Memphis Tennessee I got to talk to her on the phone before she died but I regret not being able to see her since I lived in San Francisco.
My earliest memory of my mother was after we had moved to Italy for my father’s job my parents took me and my siblings to see the opera Aida by Verdi I was only 5 at the time so I don't recall much or where we saw it but it stuck with me because my father died later that year. A few years later we moved back to the states to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. My mother loved music and especially opera she had many records but her favorite was by far Turandot by Puccini. She always would put that record on. I personally don't listen to opera often but I recognize a few songs here and there and whenever I hear Nessun Dorma or even Pavarotti sing it always brings me back to memories of her. Saturday morning was house cleaning day in our house and was also the time that the Texaco Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast would be turned on. She would wake up early and turn on the broadcast blasting it through the house and consequently waking us up to help her. As her kids, we always hated cleaning day but even though we were not opera fans I always enjoyed hearing the commentary and explanation of each opera during the intermission by the deep baritone-voiced announcer. She never missed that weekly show and loved the commentary from the announcer Peter Allen. I look back on those memories with happiness even though at the time I strongly disliked cleaning and waking up early.
My sister likes to say that our mom sang opera like we would sing to artists like the Beatles or any rock song. She grew up surrounded by opera as her father Vincenzo studied at the La Scala in Milan and was an excellent opera singer. Even her brother loved opera, and after he retired he became an “extra” at the Met and performed in the background of many operas. Once she retired and moved to Houston she became a docent at the opera house there. I feel like she loved opera on a higher level than just the songs or the stories but it made her feel connected to her family. Opera was the cause of many decisions in her family. I always remember my mother telling me her parents met because my nonna heard my Nonno's voice and fell in love. Opera was also the reason my family immigrated from Italy to the US so without opera, I wouldn’t be here.
“I’ll be Missing You”
Diddy ft. Faith Evans & 112 (2014)
Interviewed by Destiny Blane
For my project, I interviewed my sister Madelynn Blane, who lost her close friend at just 14 years old.
We met through friends in middle school and became friends instantly. Immediately I noticed he had this immense gravitational pull. He was the funniest, most happy person I have ever met. He always had a positive attitude and could put a smile on anyone's face. He had this beautiful energy to him and held his family dearly close. Physically, he was very tall and strong for his age. He had beautiful freckles that covered his face, big beautiful blue eyes, and an ear to ear smile. He performed well in school and was particularly involved in the ASB and Yearbook program. For fun he would ride his bicycle and dirtbike. He lived on lots of property where he rode on his dirt track and did cool tricks.
He passed away in Cal City, CA at just fourteen years old. It was very sudden and I do not know much about it. I was told it was a heart disease, but have never been certain. My sister is the one that told me he was not doing well, and a friend updated me shortly after informing me that he had passed. His family were the last people to see him that day.
I recall trying to visit the cemetary i was informed he was buried at, to later find out that he was cremated. His ashes were spread around Acton, CA and in Oregon near his family.
The celebration of life was held at Vasquez Highschool and was absolutely packed. Almost everyone in our town attended, including every teacher he had ever had. He left an immense impact on his ASB and Yearbook teacher. It was one of her first years teaching and she dedicated a large portion of the yearbook to him. I recall arriving 30 minutes late to the ceremony because I made the last minute decision to pick up one of his close friends so that he could also attend. Although I did not want to be late, it was very important to me that all of his closest friends and family members be there.
His two brothers continued to check on me everyday after his death. He has one older brother and one younger brother. His oldest brother is now a father to a beautiful little girl. I have loved getting to watch her grow up, as I feel like I am watching Andrew grow up. His youngest brother is now older than him at his time at death and is a sophomore in high school with a beautiful girlfriend. Both of his brothers also enjoy riding their bikes and skating, although it has definitely lessened since the hardship of his death.
I chose this song because it helps lift me up when I am down thinking about him. It reminded me of the genres of songs he used to listen to. His favorite artist was Suicide Boys, but I did not feel it was appropriate for this type of project of yours.
“When I’m Sixty Four”
The Beatles (1967)
Interviewed by Lane Faison
I could always count on my mother to be there for me. She was a school teacher who always knew just how to play it with young children and was great with me and my siblings. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at 41 years old and suffered for 4 years before dying at the age of 45. Different families handled illness in different ways and in our family, my parents were never comfortable talking about painful or uncertain things. They hid a lot of the details from their children which caused significant psychological damage in all of us. I was told that she was sick and that she had to have an operation but my parents always just emphasized how she was going to get better, never going into detail about the severity of what was really going on. She had stage 4 breast cancer and the seriousness of her condition and the possibility of her passing away was completely swept under the rug. I found out in stages and it was hurtful and really destabilizing to realize that I was being misled the whole time. I was emotionally close to my mother and losing her seemed like the worst thing in the world. At least partly because of the way that my parents dealt with it, I was in denial about her being seriously ill. I remember being in denial about her being seriously ill and even when she died, I couldn't really believe it. It took me many years to work through that pain and gain some perspective on it. I remember feeling angry at some stages. I was angry at my mother for dying and angry at my father for not being more honest with me and my siblings about what was happening. I gradually came to understand their perspective and understand that they were grappling with this terrible tragedy and were doing their best, or what they thought was best. It’s hard to know what to do in these situations, especially in a culture where disease and especially death are barely ever talked about. But I do feel that if the stigma around the reality of death was alleviated, I would have had a much easier time.
My mother always loved music. In fact, one of my first memories of her was dancing together in the living room with music playing in the background. One of her favorite songs and one I’ll always associate with her is ‘When I’m sixty four’ by the beatles. We’d play the album all the time and when that song came on, she would talk about how she strongly wasn’t looking forward to living as an old woman but wanted to live to be 64. When she got cancer in her 40s and realized she might not live longer than that, it was quite poignant. Whenever I hear that song, I think about her and the poignancy of her life cut short. We listened to a lot of songs together but that one specifically makes me think about her and the tragedy of her early death.
Mary Breda French
Interviewed by Compton French
This narrative will be written from the perspective of my father, John French, on his mother, Mary Breda French.
My mother, Mary Breda French, was always a very funny, adventurous and smart woman. She was married to my father who was a naval pilot, so as a military wife, we moved around a lot. Even though she was a military wife, that did not keep her as a stay at home mom. On top of being a great mother to myself and my younger sister, she took leadership positions on base organizing events and functions, becoming a successful real estate agent, and going back to school to become a counselor for substance abuse in jails. Going to jails was scary for my family, but she wanted to help people that needed it, and that was who she was and liked to do. She was also very adventurous. She loved traveling and immersing herself in cultures. One of the places we moved to was Spain because my father was stationed there. Even when none of us knew a lick of Spanish it was fun and she was very funny. She made us only speak Spanish at the dinner table a few days of the week, which I loved, but it was definitely more quiet. She also loved trying foods, and tried to replicate the dishes she liked, and make us eat it. Flamingo dancing is another activity she picked up to learn more about the culture, not to mention she loved the music. She got my dad to take part, but probably not as much as she wanted to. Later on in life, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We took care of her at home, where I helped take care of her too. The disease was very painful and long lasting for the family. At home, we all liked listening to ABBA and listened to them all the time.
I associate the group ABBA with my mother the most. We moved around a lot. Driving across the country, ABBA was the one group my parents, sister, and I could all agree on, so we listened to it constantly. When ABBA used to come on, she would always start dancing. As I got older I started to like it more. I associate ABBA with my mother in about a thirty to fifty year span. If there was one song from ABBA in particular I would associate with her is Fernando. I associate it with our trips and in Spain which is why I named that song. My mother was a medium music lover, so I am not sure if it meant anything to her in particular. For me, there is not a specific moment linked to this song, but just all the memories and different periods of my life with my mother. Even during the painful times when she was dealing with Alzheimers and ABBA continued in the background, I would not want to unlink those memories either. ABBA brings up mixed emotions sometimes because it reminds me of those bad times too. I would not want to unlink those bad memories because there were still good moments during those bad times, and I am glad ABBA was there for that.
“The Game of Love”
Santana ft. Michelle Branch (2002)
Interviewed by Sara Hamid
I lost my father when I was eight years old. He was a really caring person to my sister and me. My parents were divorced, so I got to see my father every other weekend, and every weekend we would get breakfast at the same restaurant. I enjoyed it because I loved their food. I looked forward to it every week because I knew we would go there every time. That is where I picked up a lot of my breakfast habits. I also remember his reclining chair and how he let me fall asleep on his chest when I was tired. He was kind but stern; he taught me how to pick myself up when I fell down. As a kid, he told me to get up and keep going if I fell. Now, as a grown-up, it's not always from falling and getting physically hurt, but sometimes when you have bad days, you just have to pick yourself up and keep going. I have been having a rough time lately with mental health, and I often think back to my father and envision him telling me now, and then I'll keep trying to move forward with my day-to-day life and whatever I need to get done. My father valued my sister and me more than anything; we were his most important people. He also was someone that anyone could count on; he was very loyal.
My father kindled my love for motorcycles and cars, actually anything with an engine, because one day, he came home and bought a four-wheeler, and being six years old, that was the coolest thing in the world. He let me sit in front and have my hands on the handlebars and feel like I was driving, which was a fantastic feeling. Because of him, I am the man I am today. He gave me my morals and ethics of trying to help somebody in need but also being able to stand your ground and understand your worth and how you deserve to be treated. He taught me how important it is to help others around you. I remember someone dropped their wallet at the gas station, and he ran after the car to return the wallet.
I wish I could ask him questions and pick his brain on handling things, but I don't get that opportunity anymore. However, I get to think about what he would say when times are good, too, and I hope he would be proud.
The Game of Love reminds me of my father because he used to play music whenever he would shower. He had a radio that could play CDs, so he'd pop in the same CD whenever I was there. That is one of the songs that would come up, and just whenever the guitar comes in, I hear it, and it brings me back to when I was with him on those weekends. My dad was a huge Carlos Santana fan, and loved hearing him play guitar. When I was a kid, things always felt a bit more vibrant, whether it was sounds, colors, or whatever it might be. The song, as a whole, brings me back. Because this was a song I would probably hear every time I was at his house.
Lee Henry Coleman
“Rhythm of the Night”
Interviewed by Davia Jackson
Growing up my dad always told me stories of his young days - the dramatic motions of his hands when signing ASL would liven up any story he told despite him being deaf or hard of hearing. I can only remember my dad from all the playful games and joyous times we spent together in my childhood. Although deaf, nothing could really keep him still or away from trouble.
A lot of memories come to mind when I think of my dad. When I was a little girl, about two years old, he had a yellow car. I would never forget how he used to come around in his yellow car and bring me Bubblicious bubble gum and Bubble-up pop. There was a time in the eighties- when Michael Jackson was out, he had bought me and my siblings these cool-looking thriller jackets. I even remember the time he came home with this wrestling belt, claiming to have beat up Hulk Hogan, and other wild stories like that. My dad loved to play games and joke around with all his kids. He had a great sense of humor and always kept us laughing with his shenanigans. My dad was a very funny man.
My dad was diabetic and had high blood pressure all of his life. I remember the time doctors called him “miracle man” after he had a hemorrhagic stroke which consists of bleeding inside the brain. The doctors gave him 48 hours to live and he lived for 8 years after that. Something the doctors couldn’t believe due to his condition when he first arrived at the hospital. My dad had always been a fighter.
The last time I’d spoken to my dad in person was before the passing of my only brother in 2014. No one had told my dad that his son had passed away in fear of him getting more sick. Because it weighed so heavily on my heart - I refrained from visiting him. I was only in contact with him through phone calls and facetime, the last one being in 2019. He passed away due to his pre-existing health conditions on top of getting sick with COVID when he wasn't taken to the hospital until his condition worsened.
When I was a little girl, we used to go to Rainbow beach on the 63rd and the Rastafarians would play these hand drums that sat between their legs. And I remember my dad often going to play the drums with them. The song that comes to mind when thinking about my dad is Rhythm Of The Night by DeBarge. Back in the day, people would often be out of their houses and dancing in the streets of the neighborhood to music -it was very lively. The upbeatness and tempo of the song reminds me of how lighthearted my dad was and how he'd always be able to soothe my worries. From the beat of the drums he played to the beat of the rhythm of the night, my dad will forever be in my heart.
Year of death: 2000
“Christ the Lord is Risen Today”
Southwestern Seminary Oratorio Chorus (2014)
Interviewed by Justin Katter
The following are the words of my father, Robert Katter
My mother passed away 22 years ago in May of 2000. She is the most important person in my life who has passed away. I don’t have a lot of memories from when I was little, but I do remember, when I was three or four years old, being in nursery school, playing at a water table with my mother being in charge of the group. She was a nursery school teacher when I was that little. But probably within a few years, when I was about in third grade, she went back to school and got a master’s degree in early childhood education. She worked for many years in a school on the near North side of Chicago called the Latin School of Chicago.
Music was definitely a pretty big aspect of our household growing up. She and my dad, at times, were both in the church choir and they both participated in it. The choir at the church where I grew up was kind of a big deal. They did a lot of anthems and practiced a few times a week. A couple of times a year, they would have big concerts where they would do a requiem or something like that. My mother also played the piano. She learned to play the piano when she was a girl. We had a baby grand piano in our home; all three kids - my brother, my sister, and I - took piano lessons while we were growing up. The style of music she played the most was classical music. I do remember she sight-read a little bit, and as a piano player, I was impressed because that was not my forte.
My mother was a fairly religious person. She grew up in Houston, Texas, and I think that although she became more progressively religious over the course of her life, Christianity and religion played a huge part in her life. She found joy in music, but I think that music also made her feel closer to God. Music is something she loved and appreciated and very much wanted to pass on to each of her children.
There is a hymn that I strongly associate with her. It's a Christian hymn, specifically an Easter Sunday hymn called “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”. I think I associate it with my mom for a couple of reasons. We grew up going to church, and there are two major holidays in Christianity: one is Christmas and one is Easter, and that was a hymn that was sung on every Easter Sunday at our church. At our church, there were always three or four Sundays every year when they would have instruments, not just the choir, but they would usually have brass instruments to accompany the choir. I have a lot of memories of that song, and when I was a new father, during the last Easter we spent with my mother, we went to the Easter service and sang that song. It is very emotional for me because when I hear that song now, in church, it always makes me think of her. In some ways, I have hope that there is some amount of rebirth or presence that she has still in my life and with her family’s life.
Age at death: 58
“Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters”
Elton John (1972)
Interviewed by Luke Madden
Perspective: My father Steve Madden on the death of his friend Craig Shiffer in an avalanche.
Thank you, thank you. My name is Steve Madden, I was a friend of Craig as I presume all of you were and I was asked by Craig's wife to say a few words about her husband. So I will try my best.
Around 2005, I became familiar with a group of men who, like me, had kids, were of a certain age, and most importantly, were cycling and fitness fanatics. Each sunday, as my newfound friends and I rode our bikes, the more irritated I became with a loud-mouthed and not too easy on the easy banker called Craig. “God, what an asshole” I often thought to myself about the man I am up here Eulogizing.
And yet the more I got to know Craig, the less that asshole I met on the first few outings came ‘round. Instead, I became familiar with the driven, endlessly giving, charismatic Craig Schiffer. By day, Craig was a cut throat “master of the universe” on wall street. But when not on the clock, I’ve never met a more generous friend or a more devoted father to his 5 children. Craig, like all of us, was a complex guy, and I loved him all the more for that.
As editor of Bicycling Magazine, every year I was sent to cover the Tour De France and every year Craig invited me to stay at an actual castle he owned in the Pyrenees and every year I’d decline his offer. When I finally took him up on his offer, Craig had invited all 20-something of us cyclists to his castle to watch the tour and do our own tour de france, riding our bikes across the French countryside.
I finally took Craig up on the offer when he invited our whole cycling group to the Chateau for a guys-only vacation. After dinner one night, Craig told me to follow him, and down the spiral staircase we went. Unsure of what was to greet me at my destination, I prepared myself. Only For Schiffer to pull out an extremely expensive and old bottle of wine. Taken aback that he would waste such a work of art on a peasant like me, Schiffer just said “live a little. It’s supposed to be drunk.” Craig loved life. He participated in all that life had to offer. His life to be cut short due to an avalanche and the resulting brain damage while skiing, something he loved, is a difficult pill for me to swallow.
Anyways, I only saw Shiffer every return to that mood one other time. As Craig lived in the moment and danced with his daughter to Elton John's Mona Lisa and Madhatters I saw a leader whose guiding light was his love for his family, friends and the freedom he found in nature.
Music has a funny ability to invoke such an intense feeling in someone that an outsider can understand their exact emotions. What's even more remarkable is that I saw Craig Schiffer of all people’s walls come down. What I’m getting at is the power of music. Schiffer was a complex man, but in that moment on the dancefloor, with his big ol’ stupid grin, he was simply a loving father who loved life. Music can subvert our complexities and reveal who we really are and how we feel in a strikingly upfront and simple way. And for that, I am forever grateful to Sir Elton John, who gave me a brief glimpse of Craig Schiffer in a moment of pure joy and truth.
Barry Coon Phelps
Johnny Cash (1965)
Interviewed by Sophia Meneakis
The life of Barry Coon Phelps was by no means a life void of adventure or turbulence. Barry was born in Detroit Michigan to Jeanette Coon and Stanford Phelps. He was accompanied in his life by his brother Stan Phelps, who died roughly a decade or so before Barry. He graduated from Princeton with the hopes of pursuing business and law, and after a brief two-year tour with the Marines, graduated from the University of Michigan Business School and Harvard Law. Mr. Phelps was in the same graduating class as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and recalled her sharp intellect and wit as a privilege to witness in the lecture hall. Barry went on to pursue a career in business, while simultaneously dabbling in the church, performing with his local glee club regularly. For Barry, business was not always a success and as was noted in his obituary provided by Princeton Alumni Weekly, he recalled being “very affluent and very broke — several times each,”(Princeton Alumni Weekly). In the year 1959, Barry met his penultimate wife Katherine Isham. Shortly after their marriage, they had their first child, James Phelps. James was later accompanied by his siblings Kippy and Anne Phelps.
My memories of Barry as a father are complicated to say the least, but for now, I won’t get into it. I think, as odd as it sounds, he changed for the better when he got dementia. Of course it wasn’t easy, and I wouldn’t wish dementia on anyone, but he almost seemed happier in the early days of the disease. He would sing more. He always sang. Music was really life for Barry. He started singing in college. He was SO proud to be at princeton. I remember how excited he got when he finally got to give you that little white princeton tiger when he visited from Chicago. He loved sharing bits of his life with you. He was a first tenor in college, and sang in his college’s acapella group, and in the local church choir. Even in the military he was always full of song. He was very proud of his voice, as I’m sure you remember. After he graduated from Harvard law he still stayed very active with the church and sang in the choir and even preached with the clergy a couple times. No matter where he went, he took music with him. His apartment was full of cd’s. When your uncle and I came to help him move we saw bookcases,(plural) filled up with cd’s. Which, when you think about it, is quite a lot of music. He loved to sing hymns. Handel’s messiah was one of his favorites. But he loved Danny Boy most of all. To him, it reminded him of his Irish heritage, helped him feel close to his family, and allowed him to “show off” his vocal range. He made sure everyone knew that he was able to hit high c’s even as a tenor. Danny boy made him happy, even during the parts of his life that were hard. You know life was not always kind to him, and I think music sort of acted as a cushion- kept him happy through it all. Even as the dementia took over, Danny boy was his song, and he would sing it to Sue (his wife) all the time. I remember he had a print of the lyrics in his room and took it with him to hospice. It was his way of showing how much he loved her, even as his memory really started to take a hit. He never forgot music, or Danny boy even at the very end.
“No Hard Feelings”
The Avett Brothers (2016)
Interviewed by Luca Nisimblat
Carlo Gensini was my grandfather on my Mom’s side. He was born in Fiesole, Italy just outside of Florence in the state of Tuscany. When World War II ended he was a young man with potential, ambition, and a serious work ethic. He was aware of opportunities and a growing Italian community in South America at the time, and he also had a brother who was already living there, so he decided to move to Cali, Colombia where he started a construction business. His construction company started small with various roads and homes and over time became an extremely successful and prominent business in the area and surrounding regions. He grew from roads and small homes to cathedrals and government buildings all over the country. He became so successful that he was able to comfortably retire at the age of fifty and before he died he gifted land and homes that he built to each of his children. His skill set and work ethic was so vast and intense that he built his last home for my uncle, Pam, at the age of 75 with only himself and one other person! He did everything from the planning and engineering to the plumbing, electrical, and road routing into the property. Thankfully, I went to visit that summer with my brothers around the age of fourteen or fifteen but I was so young that I didn’t really get to draw as much knowledge and skill from him as I would have liked. I am grateful to have been able to spend the time that I did with him because he had so many qualities that I think everyone should strive to imitate and practice. He would help people to the dismay of my grandmother who would say things like, “people are taking advantage of you” and he would say, “no, I’m not going to worry about that I’m just gonna help people” and that unconditional kindness is something that really stuck with me. When he died of lung cancer at eighty-one it wasn’t a crazy surprise to anyone because he did smoke cigarettes until the age of sixty and he worked in construction for most of his life, but I remember one day he walked into my grandparents house after smoking and said, “that was my last cigarette” and he never smoked again.
The song that connects me to my grandfather is, “No Hard Feelings” by The Avett Brothers. The song outlines the detrimental effects of holding a grudge or hard feelings against someone. The lyrics say things like “And no hard feelings, lord knows they haven’t done, much good for anyone, kept me afraid and cold, with so much to have and hold”. These lyrics describe that holding a grudge will only hurt you and those around you in the long run. The song ends with the lyrics repeating the words, “I have no enemies.” These lyrics really resonate with me because I feel that he truly didn’t have any enemies because of the way he treated people in his daily life. He lived a complete life and left society better than when he arrived.
“The Living Years”
Mike + The Mechanics (1988)
Interviewed by Madelyn Palay
This is written from the perspective of my dad, Steve Palay, about his dad, Morley Palay (Dec 1925-Aug 1992), who died of heart disease at sixty-one years old.
The last time I spoke to my dad was the night before he died in August of 1992. He was traveling for work at the time, and he called me from his hotel room in Montana. He said he was going to come home the next day. The maid at the hotel found him dead the next morning.
I had been living in Arizona for a few years at that point, but I was actually home in North Dakota for a friend’s wedding when it happened. My mom had taken me to the airport to fly back to Phoenix. It was a small town, so the airport was really tiny, only two gates. The ticketing agent was a neighbor from the block behind us. The police called the airport and told our neighbor, and then our neighbor told us we needed to go home because my dad had passed away.
My earliest memory of my dad that I can really picture is from when I was a kid. It’s not really a clear, specific memory. I just remember the image of him in the living room, sitting in his La-Z-Boy and smoking a cigarette. I have a picture of him, sitting in that chair that I gave to my daughter to keep in her room. It’s one of the only pictures of him that we have because he hated having his picture taken.
There’s actually a debate in the family over when his birthday was. It was either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. When my kids were younger, we used to do the traditional Jewish Christmas, getting Chinese food and going to see a movie. Part of our tradition was that on Christmas morning we would go to the dollar store and buy a few of those cheap helium balloons. We would all write a message to him on a balloon with sharpies, wishing him a happy birthday and telling him that we loved him and what was going on in our lives. Then we would drive to the park by our house and release the balloons, sending them up to him in heaven. We did it on Father’s Day too.
My dad liked classical music and big band. He wasn’t a big fan of a lot of my music choices. I don’t know that he had a favorite song, but the song I always associate with him is “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics. Every time I hear it, I think of him and it makes me cry. It’s ironic, because he actually hated the song.
I remember the first time he heard it. I was sitting in my room watching music videos. He walked in while I was watching the video for it, and he listened to part of the song. He told me to turn it off. He thought the lyrics were morbid.
The lyrics didn’t mean much to me back then. I just remember it because of his reaction to the song. But now, listening to it, the lyrics mean so much more. There’s a line in the song, “I wasn’t there that morning, when my father passed away.” That line especially means a lot to me, because it’s true. I wasn’t there that morning when he died because he was traveling.
“In The Mood”
Glenn Miller (1939)
Interviewed by Sacha Peterson
Well, my dad was very hardworking, I would say, is his main attribute. And that he would always put 100% into whatever he was pursuing at the time. He was an electrical engineer. He got jobs in different companies doing design work for electrical systems. He worked on submarines, televisions, he worked later in naval ships, and also worked in communication systems.
Painting was something that he started, after he was probably 50. He would go to museums and see works of art and was interested in learning how to paint. He was good at it because he was so detail-oriented, which you have to be as an engineer. And he was good with his hands in terms of being able to draw things, and he had beautiful handwriting.
It's kind of like an Alzheimer's diagnosis is a confirmation of what you already knew was happening. So I think for him, we came to realize because we relied on him for so many things, and so that at some point, I'd realized he just couldn't do those things anymore. And he needed help. You know, it's kind of like a change where you start taking over, so I knew I had to take over more of the responsibilities and things like that, wherever I could do the things that he couldn't do anymore.
For the Alzheimer's folks, they won't remember short-term memories, but they can enjoy things in the moment. Maybe he's walking, enjoying the fresh air. It's nice. You get out to see things and you’re just being with people even if they do not remember later.
People would always ask me, Does he remember you? And I would never ask him if he remembered me, I would just come in and assume that he did. I wouldn't ask him because part of the problem for him was that he was kind of not remembering things. So it was stressful for him to have to answer questions like that. So I didn't ask them those questions. I realized that, you know, it was good, that he was really living in the moment pretty well, whenever we could get out there.
In the past I tried to share some of my music. But he wasn't very interested because he grew up with big band jazz. He loved that; he loved all kinds of jazz. But he didn’t really care for rock and roll. And I was listening to heavy metal rock and roll like Led Zeppelin and really loud things.
I think that the Glenn Miller song, “In the Mood” is the song I would associate the most with my father. I mean, he could dance to any song from that era from a big band. But I guess that's like one of the biggest hits that even now people still know. And so they had these big bands, and they had all these great musicians and Glenn Miller, he was hugely popular. And I still think of playing that for my dad, even when he got older.
He was really into jazz, a lot of different kinds of jazz. So he didn't really go to jazz clubs or performances that much on his own because he's a working family guy, but he would sometimes take me and my mom and maybe a friend. I was maybe 15 or 16, and we’d go to some of the jazz clubs in LA and hear different bands and small groups, small combos, and it was a lot of fun. I think there was one guy, Bobby Shue, who was really good. It was fun to watch him kind of really enjoy this music. I liked that music, too. So that was kind of a common thing. I wasn't really into big bands so much. And he wasn't into rock, but we both liked this kind of jazz.
Interviewed by Nadine Riddle
My dad was a very friendly, loving guy. He was a little on the introverted side, but for those he was close to, he had a lot of time and energy and love to give. He loved spending time with his family. My parents split up when I was 5, and until I was around 12 or 13 I lived primarily with my mom, and even then he still found time to see me and my brother and spend time with us. He’d give anything for us.
He really loved music, and I have a lot of childhood memories of him associated with music. He liked to sing a lot, and he also played the trumpet growing up. I remember often asking him to pull the trumpet out and play, and as a kid, listening to him play always astounded me. There would often be long gaps between when he played the trumpet, but whenever he pulled it out he would be able to play well, and it was something that was really special and magical for me.
I also listened to a lot of his music growing up, usually when driving in the car with him. Because my parents were divorced, there was a lot of driving when he would pick me up from my mom’s house, or we would go on long drives from Redlands to visit my grandparents in the Bay Area. He also took me and my brother on a lot of weekend fishing trips, so we would listen to music during those drives too. And he would put in a CD or turn on the radio and listen to his music. It seemed like he would know the lyrics to every song that would come on the radio. And pretty soon I knew all those songs too. When I was younger he would listen to a lot of what is now classic rock, stuff like Queen and The Who. And he also liked country music, and later in his life he almost only listened to country, stuff like Garth Brooks and Alabama.
My dad died of cancer on January 1st, New Year’s Day, 2007, at the age of 46. I hadn’t gotten to see him as much as I would’ve liked before he died, because I was going to school in the Bay Area, but once it became clear that he was pretty sick, I started flying back and forth from the Bay Area to Redlands a lot. I was home at the time when he died, just spending New Year’s with my sister, when we got the call. So I did get to see him, especially like those 6 months before his death, but I still wish now that I’d spent more time with him and talking to him those last couple years when I was in college.
The song I most strongly associate with my dad now is “Dixieland Delight” by Alabama. It never really stood out before his death, it would’ve just been one of the many songs he liked, but I know he had that album on CD and I remember often hearing it come on in the car with him. But I remember not long after he died, I was packing up to move back to Southern California, and I had some mix on, and that song came on. And that’s when it really hit me that he was gone, and I basically fell on the floor, sobbing. That was such a powerful, emotional moment for me, and since then I can’t hear that song without thinking about my dad.
The first couple years after my dad died, I used to have a kind of quasi tradition on his birthday, November 11th, and the day he died, January 1st, where I would go out and get a cheeseburger and diet coke, because that was his favorite meal, and I would listen to country music to remember him. Just putting on a song like “Dixieland Delight” or any other songs he liked, as a way of taking a moment to remember him.
Becky and the Ivanhoe Dutchmen (2017)
Interviewed by Francesca Rodoni
My uncle Jack was a third-generation German-Irish San Franciscan born to a family of six. He helped my grandparents raise his three younger siblings in their Westwood Park home where his younger sister and my mother, Carolyn, lives today. The Haderles made up a boisterous family and the three things we loved most were gymnastics, exploring the outdoors, and music–all of which Jack excelled at.
The Haderles were known as Turners, members of German-American gymnastic clubs called Turnverein. The whole family would take the bus downtown multiple times a week to practice their gymnastics and socialize with other Turners. While his parents and siblings were also talented gymnasts, Jack outdid all of them–I remember him doing handstands and flips on the rings hanging in his living room up until he was in his mid 70s. Gymnastics was a chance for him to be active with his family and spend time with a community of gymnastics lovers. When he and his family weren’t tumbling at Turnverein, they were hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
Jack would often drive up to Tahoe Donner with his family. They stayed at Heidelmann Lodge, a meeting place for members of the German environmentalist club Nature Friends. There, he would ski, snowshoe, hike, and sled with his extended family. On holidays, he would play piano in the dance hall for everyone to waltz to. I never much enjoyed dancing, but something about hearing Jack’s music and watching my family jump up and dance made me want to join.
Music played the most important role in Jack’s life. From a young age, my grandparents groomed him to be the music maker of the family. He could play anything–by ear or on paper. He shined on the piano, accordion, and trombone, but he also knew how to play the clarinet, tuba, and anything else he could get his hands on. He improvised on the piano while the rest of us danced around him. He also led his high school’s marching band. His playing lit up whatever room he was in.
I love all my uncles, but Jack was just impressive. After moving out of his family’s home, he earned a degree in physics from the University of San Francisco before being drafted into the army, based out of Ft. Huachuca, Arizona. It was there that he learned to work with some of the very first computers ever. After coming back to San Francisco, Jack worked in software at Lockheed Martin (an aerospace company) for 30 years before retiring and settling in Los Gatos, California, a town at the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. He would make the trip up to the city every year with his marching band, Los Trancos. There, he played trombone in songs like “In Heaven, There Is No Beer, That's Why We Drink it Here” at events like San Francisco’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade next to my mom and aunt Ronnie who were playing the tambourine and maracas. When he wasn’t playing in marching bands or dance halls, he sat at his living room piano, playing folk tunes for all of us.
My favorite tune that Jack Haderle played was “Schnitzelbank,” a German-American drinking song that the family sang every year at Christmas. “Schnitzelbank” was first published in the United States in 1900. It’s a cumulative song (think “The Twelve Days of Christmas” or “Rattlin’ Bog”) and it can get long, but that doesn’t really matter when we’re all drunk. The lyrics don’t make much sense: “Isn't that a carving bench?/Yes, it is a carving bench/Oh you wonderful carving bench/Oh you wonderful carving bench” and the items listed are practically nonsense, with, perhaps, a hint of innuendo (“short and long,” “back and forth,” “criss and cross,” “wagon wheel,” “shooting gun,” and more). It has the makings of the perfect drinking song: ridiculous and incredibly fun to sing. “Schnitzelbank” has been performed by the likes of Groucho Marx and Bing Crosby, but it is most often sung in bars and Oktoberfests. The song leader–usually my cousin, John–displays a poster with the lyrics and sings each line before a beer-drunk horde repeats it back. “Schnitzelbank” is not a touching piece of music, but it represents a Haderle mindset about memorializing their loved ones. Jack passed away from Alzheimer’s last year, but up until he moved to the Memory care facility, he sat at his piano, if not playing then just looking at the keys and his sheet music. His playing brought pure joy and community to our family gatherings and since his passing, none have really felt quite right. However, joy and laughter trump all else, and we’d all prefer to admire Uncle Jack’s memory with a smile rather than with tears. “Schnitzelbank” represents the joyful sense of community and culture that Jack brought to us through his music. If we can’t be with him in person, then we sing this song, sit at his piano, or maybe hang from the gymnastics rings still in his living room.
Alvin Charles Douglas
Year of passing: 2002
“What’s Going On”
Marvin Gaye (1971)
Interviewed by Sam Saunders
My father, Alvin Charles Douglas, passed away in 2002 from colon cancer. It was long and drawn out, I think nine months from his diagnosis until his eventual death. I would guess stage three cancer because I don’t think it spread. When I was younger we didn’t get on. I always thought he was the bad guy. As I got older we got to know each other better. One of my last memories of him was a party we threw for him over the summer at his house in Virginia. We didn’t tell people that it was kind of a goodbye party, we just said we were having a barbecue and invited all of his close friends and family. My husband Peter was the car park attendant, and your father was the bartender. I think your mom was doing something with food and I was the hostess with the mostest. He had this big couch we called the pit, and he sat in the living room and he held court. Basically people were going in and out talking to him and eating and drinking, and he just sat there. Overall people just had a really good time. But it was only a couple of weeks before the end of his journey, before the last time I ever talked to him. I was always angry at him for dying because I was just getting to like him. I would always say that my dad knows everything. If I ever needed advice, if I ever wanted to ask somebody about finances, or marketing, or business, I would always look to him. I felt that I could ask him anything, and he would know the answer. I thought it was funny that even if he didn’t know the answer he would make something up. I remember one instance in particular, we went to an open house in the neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago, Illinois. It was a multi-million dollar mansion. He was pretending that they were interested in buying it, though he had absolutely no intention of actually purchasing the property. For years afterwards he would get listings of houses that he could never afford.
There is a lot of music that makes me think of him. We didn’t have a radio in the house. We had records and track tapes, and I can remember lots of classical music, and lots of jazz and blues. Artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Billie Holiday I associate as being some of his favorites and frequent listens. The song I selected for this project is “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. I remember being with my dad when we heard on the radio that Marvin Gaye had died, who was tragically killed by his father. The lyrics are very poignant, ones that stand out most heavily are: “Father, father we don’t need to escalate. You see, war is not the answer for only love can conquer hate.” I wonder if he liked it because his father wasn’t very old when he died. Dad was sixteen, and his father was around 35 years old. So I think anything about relationships and working on relationships, and getting along with people was something that he liked.
“Take Me Out to the Ballgame”
Edward Meeker (1908)
Interviewed by Jacob Torres
My dad was a very hard working man. The first memory from recollection I have of him is when I was in preschool. My mom was a stay at home mom, but she was taking a french class that conflicted with my pick up time so my dad would pick me up twice a week from preschool. My dad was a French and Italian professor at Tulane University so he would pick me up all dressed up in a suit and tie and take me back to his office, and we would eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich together. Sometimes he would have a meeting to attend so he’d leave me in his office which had a huge chalkboard that I would draw all over until he came back.
My dad passed away in April of 2013 at the age of 75. The last memory I have of my dad was seeing him during Easter just a few weeks before his death. We all were visiting him and cousins in New Jersey for Easter since he had moved there after accepting the presidency at Rutgers University in 1990. He had pretty bad dementia at this point so mentally he wasn’t very cognizant, but physically he was still very capable. My dad used to be a very good pitcher in his youth. He played division I baseball for St. Louis University and was asked to go to a Yankees training camp but said he turned them down because he was such a big Red Sox fan. I remember him throwing a tennis ball back and forth with you and his form and all the muscle memory was all fully there when he threw that ball which was remarkable. Even though he had lost the majority of his mental function with the dementia, his motor function was completely intact just two weeks before his death.
My dad was very connected to music throughout his life. He loved to sing all around the house, whether it was doing the dishes or vacuuming. His favorites artists were Judy Collins, Barbara Streisand, and Celine Dion. He would have loved to be involved more in theater as well while he was at Tulane. They actually cast him as an extra in Man of la Mancha and he loved that. My dad had many favorite songs, but the one that I have the most nostalgia and remember him singing the most is “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” He would put his own spin on the song too when they say “root root root for the home team,” he would say “root root root for the Red Sox” as it was his favorite team. I think for him, this song encapsulated all the joy and excitement and nostalgia that he had for the game of baseball. Growing up playing the game he loved to coaching his son and grandkids to watching the Red Sox win the world series, this song was symbolic of his love for all aspects of the game of baseball.
Interviewed by Sophia Vitek
My earliest memory of my father is when I was about six years old. My parents would often leave my brother and I alone at the house and I hated it, so when my father came home we would play this game where I would pretend to be asleep on the couch and he would check to see if I was awake. Once he concluded I was asleep he would carry me into bed which I loved. My father grew up in the Czech Republic but had to flee with me when the Russians invaded around 1969. Because of this he never really felt like America was home. My father was a doctor and he LOVED to travel. He did an exchange program in South America for a few years which is where he got his love for music. He came to feel extremely comfortable in South America as his Spanish was better than his English. He developed a love for authentic latin music which I occasionally heard growing up. He didn’t play music often but when he utilized his small collection of CDs I often heard a sort of Brazilian Folk sounding music. It almost had a sort of Middle Eastern influence to it. It seemed to bring him comfort since South America had become like a second home to him.
The last time I saw my father was around December of 2014. A few months prior he had been diagnosed with cancer and knew he didn’t have long. I flew to New York to visit him as he was declining. It was an extremely hard visit as I could tell he wasn’t doing well. I go through phases with music where if there is a song I really like I will play it on repeat. At the time I had the song Loazi stuck in my head. There was a specific moment from the visit that I remember extremely vividly. I had one of those boomboxes that you put CD’s in but I had my phone connected to it. I was listening to the song as I was about to get in the shower when I suddenly had a thought. “I need to be careful with this song right now or else I am going to end up associating this song I love so much with my fathers declining health”. It was quite a profound moment for me. Being aware of the association I was creating in my head was something that has stuck in my brain since then. I have different associations to all kinds of songs throughout the years and this one was no different. My father died about two weeks after I left and sure enough I couldn’t listen to that song for years after his death because of the emotions it brought up in me. It was the soundtrack to my last visit with him which imprinted in my brain. If it was on any playlist I would always skip it. The song acted as a sensory stimulus for me, something that was hard to deal with. I have recently been able to listen to the song without it being as painful which is really cool but of course it still has an effect on me.