Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sunday - Memorial Service for John Ross

Three o'clock this Sunday was the Memorial Service for John Andrew Ross at Brookline's First Parish Unitarian-Universalist church, where John was choir director for many years, Minister of Music for his last ones. I sang with the Brookline choir intermittantly for 2 years in the late 1990's, in between the time I left the Arlington Street Church choir and the time I settled into the choir at FUSN -- the UU church in West Newton. I was no longer closely enough connected to anyone presently at First Parish to hear beforehand about the Expanded Choir that rehearsed and sang John's anthem arrangements at the service: I would have loved to have been part of it. (I knew about John's death because I read his obituary in the Boston Globe. Here's his obituary from the National Center for African American Artists web site, and a Tribute from the Bay State Banner.) The church was packed with hundreds of people, black white and varigated, who knew John and loved him. Besides his musical gifts, what a gift for friendship he had! "Black Nativity", which he continued to direct even after he had to rise from a hospital bed to take the baton, is a magnificent legacy. In addition to the choirs, there were soloists and ensembles from the wide-ranging musical styles in which John was an inspirational participant, and moving eulogies from family, dignitaries, colleagues, students, and friends-- three and a half uplifting hours of them. I was touched by much of what was sung and said -- not least by Joel Cohen, of the Early Music ensemble Boston Camerata , for whom John sang countertenor in its first seasons. Cohen paid tribute to John's -- no Jack's, as he was called then-- musicianship and told charming anecdotes, but his strongest words were in tribute to John's devotion to music as a spiritual path, a ministry that gave him the ability to change lives and the world for the better. Cohen broke into tears as he abandoned his text and the pulpit, charging us in a broken voice to take John's example to work with love and art to change the direction of our ailing country.
Oceans of music at the service, but only one song for the congregation assembled:"This Little Light Of Mine". We sang the roof off with it.
There was a reception at the National Center for African American Artists, but I met with two old friends from the choir who had been at the church since the rehearsal for the morning worship Service-- also about John, where congregation members shared their personal feelings-- and they were utterly exhausted. We adjourned together to Jeanne's house in Brookline, where we had Chinese take-out and talked about Old Times. We are all just about John's age: ready or not, the Memorial puts all our Little Lights together, and in perspective.


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