Friday, July 27, 2012

Memory Eternal

My mother, Beatrice with my daughter
Eleni taken in the mid-2000s.

There is a tradition within Orthodox Christianity that has been occupying my thoughts and my work of late. This tradition has to do with how the Church deals with death. Specifically, the Church calls into remembrance the person departed this life at regular intervals beyond the funeral. Typically, a small memorial service is chanted forty days after the death, or to use the Orthodox theological term, the “falling asleep," of a loved one. This service also occurs on the one-year anniversary, the three-year anniversary and as often after those milestones as family members wish to commemorate the event. As I draw near to the forty day memorial service for my mother, Beatrice Demos Sotis, who died on June 19, 2012, I am grateful for these constant opportunities to remember her life. During the first few days after her death, my family and I were occupied with all the necessary details involved in planning a funeral. We were also all in shock and perhaps not grasping the loss fully. With time, the reality of the separation between ourselves and my mother has had time to sink in more fully. This separation is a wound that will never fully heal. The forty day memorial service and subsequent formal remembrances do not exist in order to constantly revisit a painful time but rather to reapply a soothing balm on this slowly healing wound.
Those of us who create art, whether visually, theatrically, with letters or, as in my case, with music, also tend to formally remember these types events within our work. Drawing upon our experiences of mourning may not occur at regular intervals as in the tradition of the Church, but these experiences inevitably find their way repeatedly into our creative process. This is certainly the case with me.
My mom in her high school days.
The piece I am currently composing, an orchestra work, has been altered from its original plan to now serve as a memorial to my mother. I had completed the first movement of the composition while in residence at the MacDowell Colony back in May. The music flowed quickly then and I was able to write almost six minutes of fast moving music in two weeks. I’m working much more deliberately now. The second movement of the work, now the core of the whole piece, prominently makes use of a Byzantine hymn chanted at the Orthodox Funeral Service. I have been attempting to carefully weave this melody with slow moving and intricate counterpoint as well as constantly shifting harmonies. I don’t think it’s the complexity of what I’m trying to compose that has slowed me down. Rather, slowly writing this movement has been a  therapeutic endeavor. It’s no coincidence that it has taken me about forty days to write and is nearing its completion as I approach my mother’s forty day memorial service.
While working, my mind has been constantly drawn back to memories of my mother. In fact, as I continue to compose the music, I’m not sure if it is the music that elicits the memories or whether it is the memories themselves that are creating the music. It’s a fine line to be sure.
In the end, finely written obituaries, beautiful graveside eulogies and a stack of heart felt scores written in her memory, will never be able to fully express my feelings towards my mother and the exquisitely profound impact she had upon my life. In similar fashion to the memorial services that will be continually offered on her behalf within the Church, my own music will now forever return to her regularly even as it still does to my father who passed away almost 25 years ago. I still feel his loss keenly and I’m sure I will always feel the same way about my mother. 
May their Memories be Eternal.