Perhaps some of you knew him. What an incredible musician and teddy bear human being! I remember Frank especially as Holy Week approaches - as choir director of an historic Episcopal Church in New York City his cup always ran over preparing for and living through Holy Week. Frank passed on to his greater reward in 1992- each year since I have felt his presence, his warmth and passion for music, his generousity of gifts, his smile at this point of the year.
Although I had been a communicant at the church for about 2 years I hadn't been particularly active. Things started to change when a member of the clergy asked me if I would visit Frank in the hospital. OK said I... but I didn't know Frank or the particular brand of enchantment he could work on those around him.
Did he have a sense of humor I asked before making my visit. Humor? Oh, Frank has humor. Alrighty then.... off I go to Sloan to pay a call to a man I had never been introduced to but had seen often from a distance... Little did I know.........
Supposedly everyone had to be gowned up to go into his room.... masks over nose and mouth and one of those universally UNflattering paper gowns. I had to break the ice, but how.
Being a Halloween princess I have plenty of odds and ends.... and a collection of animal noses. I popped a few into my pocket and off I went. Getting to the room I thought perhaps a spin on the old Twighlight Zone
episode would do the trick.... first I put on the snout and then the 'protective' mask.
As I walked in Frank was sprawled out on the bed. One hand was behind his head, the other packing an IV as he looked toward the door. He looked about 40ish and a bit pale laying there. Two well known church musicians were paying a call at the same time. I asked whether I should come back another time. He was puzzled at my arrival - who was I anyway? Well, I'm a parishoner from the church and Cathy asked me to pay you a visit. "OOOkkkaaaaaaaaaaayyy
he said with a sceptical drawn-out Brooklyn accent, eyes rolling left and right to his other friends. I noticed that neither of the friends had done the cap and gown treatment - so the spirit moved me to start taking off the 'protective' gear.Honey, ya got the wrong room for that kinda thing
he said out of the side of his mouth that guy is further down the hoooalll to ya right.
'Frank - I was sent to visit you and that's what I'm doing..... but as long as I'm getting to know you, there's something you should know about me....' at which point I took off my paper mask to reveal a rather pink snout where a nose should have been.Are you kidding? You're kidding me, right?
he grunted... and then broke into a laugh until he started coughing. We were obviously meant for each other on some cosmic level.
I visited Frank during my lunch hours every day for a couple of months. He finally returned to work. One Sunday after the service was over he entered the noisy coffee hour. Wending his way through the church business transacted and the social schmoozing he strolled up beside me, tapped me on the shoulder and said Miss Cho-aaaaaana, I hear that you sing. Come audition.
I could sing - correction, I used to sing. In a string of choirs, community, regional, summer theatre. Then I stopped singing. Cold. I hadn't sung in public in front of anyone for more than ten years.
'I used to sing, Frank. You've got a paid choir. I don't think so' Oh, just humor me. Come to the rehearsals and get me a glass o' water if I need it..... and then just sing along.
He had said his peace and sachayed away walking with a slow gate, nearly as much side to side as forward with his feet in the 'ten to two' position.
I did. I did what he suggested. I struggled with whether I belonged in the elite group of musicians, whether my torch-song voice blended with the others. And Frank won. My voice and my love of music inched back gradually at first then overcame my fears. The days of 2nd soprano were gone, but the instrument I once had came back with a new finish. He was so pleased that he was able to give something back.... not one word was ever spoken between us about what his motivation was or why I responded. It happened - in the gut it felt like the right thing to do.
Over time, Frank went in and out of hospital. He was getting progressively weaker, less robust. During preparations for the last Holy Week before his death he threw everything he had into the music. When conducting a chair was nearby somewhere between the piano bench and the music stand. He waved, he flapped, he sputtered, he cajoled, he coaxed. Sometime during Christmas he purchased ambitious pieces of sheet music that ran the gamut of style and tembre and rehearsed us with an edgy zeal. He even wrote a new piece for Palm Sunday.
One Wednesday night we were NOT 'getting it'. Frank was exhausted from conducting and periodically coming around to the piano to go over one measure or the other. Frustrated, he croaked for us to stop and sit down.
Then he sat down, crossing his legs at the knee and pumping his left leg up and down, rotating his left ankle in one direction then its opposite. His now baggy sweat pants were saturated with perspiration, and the white T-shirt beneath his plaid flannel shirt was nearly transparent against his chest. He pulled the ubiquitous oversized white handkerchief out the of fuzzy shirt pocket... wiped his thick lensed black nerd glasses ..... wiped his face and scalp and drew a long breath.You just don't get it, do you
he said in half of his trademark stage whisper - a trace of melancholy laced with sarcasm on his face .... you don't get it. You're all trying to like read the music and sound pretty and be technical..... but it won't make any difference if you don't tell the story. Tell the story. Our job is to tell the story....
Another Francis in another time opened himself to the wonder of God in Creation. His motto was to 'preach the Good News at all times - and if necessary, use words'. Whether you are a deacon in the midst of the congregation telling the story of the Gospel... or a Dad cleaning a scraped knee... or a kid sharing a Pop Tart.... or a Mom tending to a Grandmom...... the job is to tell the story in our own unique way. Coming up on Holy Week there is particular story on our hearts.
Thanks Frank. Because of the way you told the story I learned to become a storyteller.
Copyright © 2006 K.L.Joanna Depue and DJ on http://www.geraniumfarm.org/