With its transition from “Wordpress” to the unusually named “Jetpack” the platform on which my blog is posted now offers writing prompts, doubtless a friendly and reasonable effort to stimulate ideas for their bloggers. I took the bait when I wrote a brief post on the meaning of my name, “Allan”. It has nothing whatever to do with music but, for better or worse, it got a few hits.
The present challenge asks, “How does death change your perspective?” That’s a big question of course but here’s my take.
The job which allows me to pay my bills has actually been a variety of very different jobs. I am a registered nurse and have worked in a variety of settings from an insurance company to psychiatry, and various medical settings including home health and hospice. This has put me in positions in which I’ve dealt with death both directly and indirectly.
I’m grateful for not having had to deal with violent deaths. Rather I’ve dealt with assisting people and families in the process of death and dying. Our culture tends to shield most of us from the process of death and, as a result, the need for professionals to assist folks with death is an essential adjunct whether that be directly providing care to a dying patient, comforting the bereaved, and facilitating mourning and final resolution via the options offered by funeral directors. I could tell you stories.
Generally speaking, it is the fact of death rather than fear of death that affects me personally. In college I took a course on death and dying run by a wonderfully charismatic psychologist, Dr. Barry Greenwald who shuffled off his mortal coil a few years ago. RIP, Barry.
The principal text used was Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ (then just published book), “Death and Dying”. Her work was instrumental in raising awareness among professionals and the general public on the fact of death which, she discovered, was actually seldom discussed, even among fellow medical professionals.
Professor Greenwald provided many references to his students but, more importantly, stimulated our young minds to look further. I recall him starting with a sort of thought experiment when he suggested that we should visit an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) to see the place where most of us will likely die.
This led me to explore another book, Ernest Becker’s superb exegesis of Otto Rank’s (a contemporary of Sigmund Freud) theories. In “The Denial of Death”, Becker (who himself succumbed to cancer before that book won him a richly deserved Pulitzer Prize), presented a variety of examples from literature to philosophy supporting the notion that the fact of death is what stimulates us all to create. That course, Professor Greenwald, and Becker’s book have been a major influence on my thinking in this area. And here’s where the question connects us to music and this blog.
Unlike the “tell us about your name” prompt, this one on death connects deeply for me to music. One of my great pleasures has been listening to music about death. Requiems, Elegies, and such abound in music. From the church bound requiem masses of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jean Gilles, Cherubini, etc. to the grand concert requiems of Verdi and Berlioz, and the metaphorical use of the requiem mass such as Bernd Alois Zimmerman’s “Requiem for a Young Poet”, Stravinsky’s terse “Requiem Canticles” and the like, the subject of death has inspired a lot of creative and beautiful sonic art works. These works have long fascinated this listener and will likely generate a longer, more carefully researched blog in the future. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile stay healthy, and let us enjoy the sounds that give us joy, even if their theme is about the end. So l’chaim חיים, to life. Happy listening.