We’re back now. It was a glorious time in England, and I do have stories, as promised! But York will be my next post (or two). For this one I want to bid a fond farewell to a beloved person, one of Cantori’s founders.
Recently it was my privilege and pleasure to serve as organist for the memorial service and celebration of the life of Mary Gerlitz, a longtime organist in the LA area, and accompanist, administrator, and General Goddess in Residence for the Cantori Domino choir.
We had returned from England only a few days before. Over the previous year Mary had made the basic arrangements for the tour, and she and I were to share the accompanying duties. But shortly before we left she suddenly became very ill, and it quickly became clear that she would not be going. She died on August 1. We all knew she was very seriously ill, but it was still a huge shock.
The service, held at St. Augustine by-the-Sea last Friday night (August 9th), was lovely – simple and direct, with a superb mix of music and words, and eulogies of fond and admiring content. Prelude music was Joseph Jongen’s impressionistic Petite Piece and a Bach instrumental aria. The organ loft was packed with former and current Cantori members, who sang Brahms’ Let nothing ever grieve thee so very beautifully – I could feel as well as hear the love and affection for Mary as they sang, both in the rehearsal and service. The service also included some of Bach’s best: Bist du bei mir sung by Bunny, and the Aria from the Goldberg Variations.
We also sang the great hymn O God, our help in ages past. The choir (which includes some of the finest vocal musicians in LA, including several members of the Roger Wagner Chorale) had gone down into the congregation by then, and one doesn’t often hear hymn-singing like THAT!:) Thanks so much for that, Cantori – that’s one of my very favorite hymns: a perfect match, I think, between text and music, the greatest funeral/memorial hymn ever written, perhaps the greatest hymn, period. I will never forget our moving rendition of it, and don’t expect to experience hymn music-making like that this side of Heaven! I will never forget it. And several singers noticed that I had composed the previous hymn in the book!
I knew Mary would also want a big piece for the closing organ voluntary, the last music of the service. Instead of selecting one of the usual suspects, I played Swiss organist Lionel Rogg’s magnificent toccata setting of the Advent chorale Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stille (I played this piece at OLA a while ago).
A lovely reception followed, thanks to Betsy Wheeler Kollgaard, Susan Kasenow, my dear spouse, and many others. Last but not least, my personal thanks to Cecilia for quickly finding some last-minute music I needed online, and to The Rev. Mark Goldfarb, the Rabbi at my wonderful Temple Beth Ohr, who graciously let me have the evening off for the service.
Bunny told the group several times, both in York and at the service, that I had been Mary’s choice as the sole accompanist, should she be unable to go. I felt honored and remembered this throughout the tour and the service. Mary certainly deserved no less than my best and the choir’s, and we all knew it. I still find it difficult to believe, and accept, that she has passed. But I think we gave her a good send-off, and she is pleased, wherever she now resides!
Mary was one of those people who had been around “forever;” after all, she and Bunny had co-founded Cantori Domino. All of us have very fond memories of her. My personal eulogy: in the many years I knew and worked with her I don’t remember ever having heard her utter a bad word or negative comment about anyone, even when such opportunities arose – and indeed sometimes even invited such comments! Quite the accomplishment! And a great example to us..
She will be long remembered and greatly missed. Rest in peace, my colleague and friend.