by Michael J. Klassen
He didn’t look like an extremely talented musician. Standing about 5’8”, the guy was ripped. From head to toe, muscles bulged in places I didn’t even know existed. I mean, the guy had muscles in his hands that were bigger than my biceps. Shaking his hand felt like I was grabbing on to a baseball bat.
While in high school, Dave reigned as one of the top amateur weight lifters in the country. Funny, he never boasted about it. On occasion, he confided in me that he had won a national weightlifting competition, but it very, very rarely came up in our conversations.
Throughout high school, Dave sang with me in the school choir. And in his spare time, he practiced the piano. Sometimes, after choir rehearsal, he would sit at the keyboard and give us a taste of his immense abilities. I loved watching Dave play because the piano—situated on a portable stand—shook under the power of his talented, brawny hands.
From time to time, our choir director asked different choir members to play instrumental solos for our quarterly concerts. As a violinist, he asked me to play a solo once or twice. And one day, he asked Dave to play a piano solo at our spring concert. Dave said “yes.”
As the concert drew near, Dave gave some of us a taste of what was coming. Apparently he was studying a piece of music that would be considered “ragtime.” If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, it’s a distinctly American style of music. Popular in the early 1900’s, the music is fun, peppy, and known for its syncopated rhythms. Probably the most well-known piece is entitled “The Entertainer,” composed by Scott Joplin.
Dave decided to play a different piece, I think it was the Pineapple Rag. You can watch it being played in the video above. Anyway, everyone knew Dave was going to play the the Pineapple Rag in our upcoming concert. Even the program the audience would receive included this fact.
The night of our concert, just before we started, Dave mentioned to me that at the last minute he had decided to change his solo. Instead of playing Pineapple Rag, he decided to play Frederic Chopin’s Funeral March. You’ve probably heard it—nearly every movie uses the piece as a backdrop to a funeral. You can watch the video below to reacquaint yourself.
When Dave informed me of the change, I knew this would get interesting.
Although the choir members were supposed to remain backstage during the solo acts, I snuck out and sat in the back of the auditorium. Remember, everyone was expecting to hear the Pineapple Rag…
So Dave walked slowly to the piano. People clapped and Dave bowed. He sat down, adjusting his chair just a bit, and rested his fingers on the keys.
Slowly, he began. The grand piano swayed under the power of his hands. With exquisite sensitivity, Dave painted a musical picture of a funeral procession…while everyone expected a happy-go-lucky ragtime song.
Assuming this was a joke, laughter erupted everywhere—except onstage. Ever the vigilant performer, Dave continued while people waited for Dave to break into a happy song. He never did, and I’m not sure he ever realized the unintended joke.
This last week, mourning the passing of a family friend (I blogged about it two weeks ago), I remembered Dave and his funeral march.
Playing a funeral march when everyone is expecting a ragtime song seems so…so hilarious. And playing the Pineapple Rag at a funeral seems so…inappropriate. How can people grieve with such a happy song? But you know what? They can.
The apostle Paul wrote
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 1 Corinthians 15:54–56 (NIV)
Mourning the loss of a loved one isn’t easy. Filling the void the person left behind is impossible.
Yet death doesn’t need to be the finale. Jesus Christ offered us the greatest gift of all when he died on the cross for our sins. And while people grieved while he hung on that tree—as did his father in heaven—I’m sure a happy-go-lucky song was faintly playing in the background. You see, everyone was expecting a funeral march, but God turned it into the Pineapple Rag when Jesus rose from the grave.
Jesus has offered us hope that transcends the grave. And facing overwhelming grief, our faith in Christ never becomes more real and more important. The psalmist wrote:
For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5 (NKJV italics added)
Believe me, I don’t want to minimize the loss anyone feels over losing a loved one–but we have hope. And someday, we may be grieving to the Pineapple Rag.
Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.