From a distance it appeared as though a bearded, bushy-haired man in a tuxedo was walking through the far side of the cemetery carrying a beautiful upright bass. He stopped in front of a tombstone, stood still for a time, and began to play his instrument.
Ellen and I could not hear the music. We were sitting in a sunroom of the landmark Tadoussac Hotel, overlooking the St. Lawrence River, regaining our bearings after a three-hour whale-watching trip. We had accompanied about twenty other people on a sometimes high-speed Zodiac boat on the St. Lawrence and its nearby tributary, the Saguenay River, in Quebec, Canada. Our pilot resembled a young Tom Cruise, and he handled the boat with a “Top Gun” type of derring-do that sometimes had us flying into the air above our seats, while being sprayed with cold salt water from that part of the St. Lawrence.
But back to the story.
In a moment developments with the musician in the cemetery took another twist when we saw a man and a woman accompanying the musician as they carried sophisticated lighting and other photographic equipment. Was this a photo shoot for a magazine spread or a TV commercial? Was the Tadoussac Hotel developing a promotional piece? But in a cemetery? Probably not.
After a time our curiosity got the best of us. Dozens of people had walked past as we sat in the sunroom, several noticed the musician and photographic crew, and no one had approached them. But we did.
As we walked up to the threesome in the cemetery, while mindful of the graves we passed, the woman asked me, “Would you like to take a picture?” I replied that I would if that was okay with all of them. Each eagerly gave me their permission, with welcoming smiles.
It turns out that this whole idea was the creation of the Montreal-based photographer and videographer, Alexandre Claude. He and his partner Nika were vacationing and this music-in-the-cemetery shoot was, according to Alexandre, “a personal project.” While crouching on the hillside, peering up through his camera at Alex the musician, he continued, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with all this, but I have an idea.”
Nika interjected with a laugh, “He is a professional photographer. We go on vacation and what does he do? Photography!” Something about this remark seemed familiar to me. Ellen sometimes expresses puzzlement that we take vacations to various places and I have to carve out time to write, as I am doing at this moment in Quebec City. Oh, well, Alexandre and I can’t help it.
No one knows what this music or musician in the cemetery idea will become. Alexandre and I exchanged cards and I hope one day to see the end result. It clearly is a creative work in progress. Alexandre’s website impresses with the scope and quality of his work. My guess is that he will give this personal project the same care he gives to his professional projects.
But Alexandre said this is a personal project. It really is none of my business. The project may never appear on his professional website. After all, it is personal.
Before Ellen and I left the hotel sunroom to talk to Alexandre, Nika, and Alex the bass player, I mulled over the idea of a musician playing a piece of special meaning to the dead. The special meaning could be for the musician, or for the deceased. Music in the cemetery could be a way to cherish a memory.
I began to wonder, if I were a musician, who I am most definitely and unfortunately not, what would I play for Mother, Daddy, and my older brother Nolen Robert. Would I play their favorite song? But I don’t even know their favorite song. Most likely, they had many favorites.
Or, would I play one of my favorite pieces of music that I think they would have enjoyed? Would it be somber or cheerful? I think it would be cheerful, something that reminds me of a special time with each of them.
I am grateful to Alexandre Claude for triggering such a line of thought. Music in the cemetery is not part of my experience. Somehow it strikes me as a good idea, but implementing it would obviously require some forethought—or it should.
For example, music in the cemetery should not, it seems to me, be a place to continue nursing a grudge. Think of a wronged surviving spouse visiting the grave of a deceased partner and singing “Your Cheating Heart” at the foot of the grave.
Also, a violin or a flute may be a better instrument to play in a cemetery than a drum or a cowbell. An instrumental may be more soothing to the senses than a vocal piece. So much depends on the choice if the idea of music in a cemetery has lasting merit.
While these thoughts reveal some of my personal musical biases, and some of my biases about death and the lives of survivors, I have enjoyed this mental exercise and hope you have, too.
Again, I’m grateful to Alexandre Claude, his partner Nika, and the bassist Alex in Tadoussac for being open to my writing about this unexpected travel experience. They’re good sports, fine human beings, and maybe people who will start a movement of music in cemeteries, thereby bringing life and death into closer harmony.
Sounds good to me anyway.