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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Strife is O'er*

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!

In the Lutheran tradition (and other Christian churches, I'm sure), the funeral service emphasizes the Resurrection, with corresponding hymns.  I couldn't think of a better prelude to my remembrance of my high school orchestra teacher, Gerrit Van Ravenswaay. This was originally posted on Facebook:


Today I learned of the passing of my high school orchestra teacher, Gerrit Van Ravenswaay, or as most of his students called him, “Mr. Van”.  Although it’s been over thirty years since I last played under his baton, the lessons I learned in his 5th period orchestra remain with me to this day.  My first concert with the orchestra featured the Grand Rapids-based Jubal Brass Ensemble, who joined us on the finale for a performance of the last movement of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony.  As a lowly sophomore tooting away on my Bundy trombone, I felt overwhelmed, overmatched, and really out of place. He didn’t have to say anything; the expectation was that I would improve, and even though I earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Music, I’m still practicing, forty-plus years later.

The music was always important, and Mr. Van challenged us with the best. Symphonies by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Haydn, student performances of concertos by Lalo, Wieniawski, and Gordon Jacob, and Wagner’s Parsifal were all on the program during my time at Holland High.  He encouraged us to seek out more demanding performance venues, like Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, music camps, and All-State ensembles.

But the music, as exalted as much of it was, paled in comparison to the life lessons we learned.  He had so much to teach that would make us better people and better citizens, and I remember the orchestra would sit patiently while Mr. Van held forth on some topic totally unrelated to what we were playing that day.  It never seemed like preaching—although I can imagine some folks might have seen it that way—and  I often wondered what his sons Steve and Gary, as well as his daughter Julie, were thinking as we sat together in class.

The people with whom I performed in the Holland High School Orchestra have grown up and grown older, and some perform on the instruments they did in high school, but most have gone on to other things. I won’t say I was one of the lucky ones; even though a good part of my adult life has been spent performing music of the great composers—which is truly a blessing, make no mistake—the greater blessing was to have learned life lessons from Mr. Van as a trombonist in his orchestra, and later as a teaching colleague and trusted friend.  Thank you, Mr. Van, and well done, thou good and faithful servant.

Amen.
Onward.

*--Words: Un­known au­thor, poss­ib­ly 12th Cen­tu­ry (Fi­ni­ta jam sunt prael­ia); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by Fran­cis Pott, Hymns Fit­ted to the Or­der of Com­mon Pray­er, 1861.

Music: Vic­to­ry (Pal­es­tri­na), Gi­o­van­ni P. da Pal­es­tri­na, Mag­nif­i­cat Ter­tii To­ni, 1591

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