Patricia Taylor, Director of Choirs at Brewster High School and my teaching mentor, first produced a concert to honor the military veterans in our area last November. She wanted an additional opportunity for her choral groups to perform and was inspired by the solemn, patriotic, and reflective repertoire that didn’t seem to have a great fit alongside holiday carols in a Winter Concert program. That first concert was a huge success, and demand was high to present another performance this year.
To help her make this second concert even more memorable, Patty enlisted the help of Rob Gallagher, another teacher at Brewster High School and someone who works tirelessly to support veterans’ organizations and charities. Though he is not a veteran himself, Rob has been very involved in veterans affairs for many years and has even been named an Honorary Veteran by the Putnam County Joint Veterans Council for all his work and his attendance at almost every local patriotic event. Throughout the concert, Rob acted as Master of Ceremonies, sharing stories from local veterans, introducing pieces, and promoting institutions that support veterans. The Brewster High School Marching Band joined the combined choirs at the end of the concert to perform “The Armed Forces Salute,” and it was as moving as ever to see veterans of all ages rise during their branch’s song.
I was especially grateful to be involved in a small way this year: by performing the solo violin part to Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep by Laura Farnell. I had sung this song in my college choir and was disappointed to learn that, despite performing at a music school, no violinist had been secured to play the part. Patty had discussed this particular song with me before she ordered it, worrying that the lyrics were too dismal for a Veterans Day celebration. I’m glad she decided to program it because I find the lyrics to be beautifully moving. There can be no celebration of veterans without acknowledging those people who gave their lives in sacrifice. Sadness and loneliness are natural feelings for everyone on this occasion, but as the lyrics suggest, memories must be kept alive.
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.