Last Friday, my family and I hosted – at long last – an in-person service of thanksgiving for my mother, who passed away in late 2020 at the age of 92. Travel restrictions denied us the opportunity to gather sooner but this year’s Thanksgiving weekend seemed most appropriate. The service program included hymns, Bible readings, a biographical homily, and reflections from my four brothers and me. But it was another element – a solo of “Going Home” – which brought a flood of tears and took my breath away, all at once.
As if the singing of “How Great Thou Art” or the reading of Psalm 23 wasn’t moving enough, “Going Home” brought my emotions to an entirely new level. Sure, the song’s lyrics speak beautifully – to the peaceful transition from a life well-lived to what lies beyond – but it was the music that made my heart skip a beat. “Going Home”, you see, borrows its instrumentals from the Largo movement of Antonin Dvorák’s “New World Symphony”. And Dvorák’s symphony is one of my very favorite pieces of classical music.
I alluded to classical music when I spoke at my mother’s service. I took piano lessons for several years as a child, and it was my mother who pushed me to practice when I would’ve much rather been playing outdoors. It was my mother who faithfully attended my many recitals and competitions. And it was my mother, as a result, who I credit for my lifelong love of classical music.
The New World Symphony’s (NWS) Largo movement is instantly recognizable to anyone who knows classical music (listen to the first two minutes above if you don’t believe me). It may be the most beautiful solo ever written for the English horn; a short, meandering melody backed by soft strings. I can’t think of a more appropriate instrument for the Largo, even though the English horn is an orchestra oddball with its distinctive wail. Now layer the “Going Home” lyrics on top, as with the crystalline voice of Sissel Kyrkjebo above, and you wonder if music can get any better.
Following the English horn solo, the NWS Largo shifts to a minor chord passage which “evokes a nostalgic and desolate mood”, sometimes perceived as a funeral march. But let’s be clear; my mother’s service was no funeral. Rather, it was a blessed celebration attended by those who loved and admired her. I think Dvorák knew this because the NWS Largo leaves the funeral march behind and concludes with another round of the peaceful English horn solo. For me, this music brings a cleansing sigh, and a feeling of calm and content. Just as my mother would want it to be.
I’ve saved the best for last here. After my brothers and I finished our remembrances, my father spoke. He said – to my utter amazement – my mother had effectively written her own service, picking the hymns, readings, and solos. In other words, “Going Home” was no random choice; it was my mother’s preference. Just as the New World Symphony Largo movement is my own preference. Maybe she was aware of the connection? Maybe not but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is I’ll always remember her, especially when I hear the English horn.
I miss you, Mom.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.