Lilacs and music: evocative power of sight, scent and sound

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 22, 2017

Lilacs and music call forth a lifetime of treasured memories from the human heart. Photo by Warren Harbeck with noteworthy addition of Adobe Clip Art

Last week’s column on lilacs resulted in some inspiring responses from our readers that go beyond simply what our eyes enjoy.

Jan Stefanic, of Edmonton, has an aromatic memory: “When I was a little girl my grandmother wore the sweet smell of lilac perfume. I loved her so much, and every time I smell those beautiful flowers, memories of her come back to me!”

So much for sight and scent. But sound, too? David Forbes, of Medicine Hat, responded with words from a song by his friend, the late Bobby-Jay “BJ” Garrison:

“BJ was in his final months of life on this earth when we were walking through a church and he sat down at the piano and started to play and sing,” David says. “It was a song about his life and forthcoming death, and drew from our common love of lilacs.” The song begins:  

When I die, May is when I’d like to go
with the lilacs smelling so sweet
like they’re trying to let you know,
(that) Heaven’s only ’round the corner,
just one sniff away from leaving all your troubles
on the doorstep of today…

Music and rising above troubles? Fellow Cochrane lilac-lover Marlis McDouall responded with a reference to the evocative power of Irish singer/songwriter Phil Coulter’s piece, Scorn Not His Simplicity.

“Coulter’s little boy died of Down’s syndrome,” she says. “It’s very authentic, and has great meaning for me, as my oldest granddaughter is severely handicapped.”

I should add here that Marlis is not only my mentor in the German language, but a real inspiration to me through the musical pieces she regularly brings to my attention. Over coffee the other day she spoke passionately about how certain pieces of music “affect our emotions, and evoke feelings and longings in us.”

I totally agree. Like the sight and scent of lilacs, so there are musical compositions that never cease taking me back to some of my most beautiful memories. And sometimes I’m even given the privilege of enriching others with those memories.

A perfect example of what I mean occurred last Saturday at the wedding celebration for my goddaughter, Kateri Cowley, and her husband, Leroy Hofer. Kateri asked me to provide a blessing during the outdoor gathering at the Rafter Six Ranch.

Mary Anna and I chose to bless the couple with a song that was sung at our own wedding 54 years ago next week. It’s based on the words of the 23rd Psalm:

Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
much we need Thy tender care;
in Thy pleasant pastures feed us,
for our use Thy folds prepare;
blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are;
blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.

Later, Kateri spoke of how our duet left her “almost in tears for the next half-hour.”

And yes, that song continues to leave my wife and me almost in tears, too, as we reflect over the “pleasant pastures” in which God has led us all these years – pleasant pastures here in our beautiful lilac-scented Bow Valley among beautiful friends, neighbours and goddaughter Kateri and the man in her life, Leroy.


© 2017 Warren Harbeck

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