I stepped back into the choir classroom yesterday for the first time in three weeks and was struck again by the sound of 52 voices crammed into a small space.  Oh, it wasn’t transcendental harmonies and flawless diction that caught my attention.  It was noise—the kind of noise that hums with reunion talk and spikes with staccato laughter and swells with an undercurrent of expectation and pulses with the indistinct beat of routine trying to reassert itself.  When there is love, though, even noise can become music.

On this January 9th, I am reminded of the most boisterous noise-maker in my life, the man whose baritone bullhorn was a calling card and a badge of honor, whose laughter was as broad as his gift of service, whose every personality trait was larger than life, and whose existence ended exactly three years ago today. How I wish I had been able to witness my father’s final vocal “performance”—in the hospital room next to his, on Christmas eve, when a patient who knew she was dying of cancer asked him to join her in singing Christmas carols.  It was just the two of them in her room: the combative man, pacified by his mortality, who was convinced he’d beat his leukemia, and the frail woman who knew she had but weeks left to live.  I doubt that he turned down the volume on his voice that evening—he never did—and whether the rest of the oncology ward wanted to hear carols or not, I’m convinced they were given no choice in the matter.  Of course, they might have heard more than just two voices singing…I’m pretty sure the angels were already warming up for Ner’s grand entrance into Glory.  He died two weeks later, maybe even before the woman whose final carols also became his.

I am so grateful for the music of life—melodic or metaphorical.  There is music in reconciliation and regeneration—Ner and I were proof of that.  There is music in the love of friends and strangers, in the emails I’ve received in the past few days that have offered prayer and hope and friendship and advice.  There is music in manic recording sessions, when two boys turn up on my doorstep with enough equipment to fill a Radio Shack and proceed to immortalize some of the world’s most unique (ie. wonderfully lame) lyrics.  There is music in the squeals of dorm girls reuniting after three weeks apart.  There is music in the clanking of my radiators after 24 hours without heat.  There is music in the good-natured ribbing of 12 creative writers back in the artistic process.

There is music in figuring out the course to follow with my recent medical issue (see last week’s post).  Thank you for expressing so much concern!  This one is a complex composition that demands precision and insight—played by a blind musician following an ill-lit score, but guided by an infallible teacher.  I’m still working on the details and will let you know what step I will take next just as soon as I finish sight-reading a few more measures.  But there is music in the Peace that still transcends understanding and still covers me through the “what ifs” and “maybes.”  There is music in a faith that not only soothes, but heals.  That not only lifts, but carries.  That not only guides, but strengthens.

I’ll close with a few more pictures of the recording session last Sunday.  Those above are also from my “Jackson and Collin” collection.  The two-hour marathon offered a great opportunity to experiment with Clark and get my mind off Mac.  And the lyrics of the songs were…I’d like to say “redemptive,” but they were more like “perplexing.”  Example:  Unless you’ve made friends with a wildebeest, you’ll die alone.  Sure…whatever. 



  1. i spent January 1-3 of this year in University Hospital. every time i enter those doors i am reminded of your father and his incredible strength and presence, and his joy of song. I can just hear his voice reverbrating through the halls.  I’m glad that in this time of rememberance you have more memories of music and reconciliation and grace. May you find peace this week as you remember and create moments in honor of your father.

  2. Hard to believe it’s been 3 years…it just struck me for the first time that our fathers’ death dates both fall in the months of their daughters’ births. Hmm. Thanks for writing another blog honoring the enigma that is Ken Phoenix. Not sure enigma is the word but you get the idea.

    I like your analogy of sight-reading. The music is sounding pretty good from where I’m listening…even from a blind musician.

  3. So blessed by your sensitivity to the power of music…timeless isn’t it?  I love that you listen to the rythym of life and celebrate the depths that it touches in our souls!  My brother and I were also reminiscing of our dad’s love of “modern” and international music – to hear strains of those familiar groups or musicians emits such memories of our dad gone 30 years ago this summer.  May you hear the Master Musician’s song especially written for you in these days and weeks ahead.  HUgs and love and prayers, a fellow music lover and someone who misses her daddy too.

  4. Hyello Michele! Long long long long long time no speak.
    I just remembered that little part of that movie you made with kind christopher’s help where we were complete nerds in front of the camera with your little riedlingen in the background.
    just something I remembered, and it made me a little melancholy and wish that things were a little the way they used to be.
    I love you dear

  5. i love those guys.

    can i give you some photo tips? i hope so, ’cause here i go:

    black and white contrast is a tricky thing, guided in part by personal taste, which is hard to grade or really nail down at all. the two things you absolutely HAVE to have in a B/W piece, however, are absolute whites and absolute blacks. otherwise the shot is either under- or overexposed. no good, in other words.

    the uppermost shot is perfect. absolute blacks in the background, with absolute whites in the guitar’s reflection and guitarist’s arm. the others, however, were obviously shot indoors with a pre-market flash. my advice? shoot at a higher ISO, get the light behind you, and lose the flash.

    the problem you have isn’t the composition, which is good. composition can be taught, but it really takes an eye for photography to pull it off. you have the eyes, you just need the technical worked out.

    these shots are good. both of those guys have incredibly expressive faces, and you captured the moment.

    boy, i hope i didn’t just make you angry…


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