When I was in third year university, a flautist and fellow student named Jessica was killed in a car accident. I remember that winter being very traumatic at school, but one moment was particularly so.
While I wasn’t in the U of M Symphony Orchestra, my friends who were told me that the next rehearsal was cancelled, but practice would resume on its next regular class. The following rehearsal was very quiet and had one noticeably empty 1st Flute chair.
That’s one image that always stuck with me: The quiet orchestra and the empty chair. If we extrapolate that, there is an absence of that part when the music is played like the ensemble is waiting for a flute solo that will never be heard quite the same way again.
Losing one of my students is my worst nightmare and, at the very beginning of summer, it happened to Karri Anderson in Olds, Alberta. In fact, it would be more appropriate to say that it happened to everyone in the community. To celebrate Madison’s life, the music program at the school has commissioned me to write a piece about her.
It’s difficult to look into the face of something you so dreadfully fear, but you need to because that’s life. With that said, I’ve begun learning about her, starting with a piece in her local paper and obituary. When you read about her life, her interests, and her personality, it’s hard not to believe the adage that the brightest flames burn quickest.
One thing stuck out more than others, though: Kindness matters. It was her favourite saying and something that I live by as well. I feel a strange kinship with this 16-year old that I’d never met and, sadly, never will.
What’s difficult about the commission is that it’s for people who not only knew her, but have had to endure her absence. It can’t just be warm and bubbly because that’s not real – that’s not their experience. The piece is as much for the band, the family, and the community as it is for her and it needs to give them solace too.
It needs to be deep and moving with a delicate balance of warmth and loss. It can’t be entirely depressing, but it can’t be devoid of hurt and heartache.
I feel a lot of pressure to do an exceptional job, but I think that’s okay. We’re not writing about a trip to the fair or an English field – this is about someone who was loved but taken too quickly.
While tragic, it reminds me that we don’t always have everyday to say what we’re feeling, so make sure you tell your loved ones that you love them today.