Callum’s singing teacher suggests he audition for a local choir. A few days later, Ian, one of the choir directors, listens while Callum sings a song from his repertoire. Yes, he can have a place. He will be a bass.
A few weeks later, Ian says, “I hear you’ve got a sister who sings.” Callum nods and Ian continues, “Bring her with you next week.”
So on Monday evening, Callum arrives with Imogen, who is clutching her music. She sings for Ian and he smiles and welcomes her to the soprano section.
One night, Ian says to Imogen, “I hear you play the piano. One day, you’ll have to bring along your music and play for me.”
Imogen looks rather nervous. Play for Ian? He’s a first class musician and piano teacher, and she hasn’t had a lesson for a long time. Her teacher retired and she’s out of practice. Imogen is sure she couldn’t play anything impressive. She smiles and hopes ‘one day’ is a long way off.
For a few weeks, Ian says, “One day you’ll have to play the piano for me…” And then ‘one day’ arrives: He says, “Next week, bring your music.”
So the next week, Imogen plays the piano and Ian listens. He smiles encouragingly.
The next morning, the phone rings and Imogen answers it. “It’s Ian. He wants to know if he can teach me the piano,” she says with a huge smile.
I know we can’t afford the fee for a top teacher like Ian so I say, “Please thank Ian but explain we have a large family, and can’t really afford lessons.”
Imogen hurries back, smile gone, to deliver my message. A couple of minutes later, she reappears. The smile has returned. “Ian says he wants to teach me piano. He doesn’t want payment.”
So a few days later, I sit outside Ian’s house while Imogen has her first piano lesson. When she reappears, I ask, “How did it go?”
“Wonderful!” she enthuses. “Ian asked if any of my sisters play the piano. I told him about Charlotte and he said to bring her along next week. He wants to teach us both.”
So each Monday evening, Callum and Imogen go to Ian’s house for choir practice. And every Thursday morning, I drop Imogen and Charlotte off for their piano lessons.
One evening, Callum asks Ian if Andy can join the choir too, “Dad is driving all the way into town to bring Imogen and me to the practices. Could Dad stay and sing too? He’s a good singer.”
Ian smiles and welcomes Andy to the choir. Another bass.
Imogen and Charlotte tell me Ian wants them to do their grade piano exams. He has already filled out the registration forms and paid the fees. All I have to do is bring the girls into town for extra lessons. All they have to do is practice hard, which they do willingly because they love music, and love pleasing Ian.
The day of the exam arrives and Ian accompanies the girls to the exam room. It is a freezing winter’s day and the cold exacerbates Ian’s ill health but he isn’t put off. He sits in front of the heater while the girls play their pieces. He is eager to know their results as soon as they emerge from their ordeal. “Read out the results,” he says excitedly. The girls obey and Ian smiles. “Two weeks’ holiday and we’ll start on the next grades’ work.” The girls enjoy the break but they’re also looking forward to tackling some new pieces of music.
For more than four years, Ian teaches and the girls practice. Ian enters them for exams and prepares them well, and the girls advance through the grades.
And for more than four years, Andy, Callum and Imogen attend choir practices and enjoy performing.
Music fills our home.
One stormy evening, the singers return home early. “The power was cut and the lights went out,” explains Andy. “We couldn’t see our music. We all used our mobile phones to find our way to the door.”
“Ian volunteered to show us the way,” says Callum. “He said, ‘If anyone wants to take my arm, I‘ll guide them to the door.' You know how he is. He thought it was very funny.” We think about this for a moment. For once Ian was in full control of the situation and everyone else was at a disadvantage. For of course, blackouts don’t affect the blind.
This year’s piano exams are almost here. In three weeks’ time, the girls will be heading off to the exam centre, hoping to play their best in the few minutes allotted to them. They will spend half an hour in the practice rooms before their exams. Then they will stand outside the examination room building, to await their turn. No doubt, as usual, the wind will be whipping around the corner making the girls shiver. They will find it difficult keeping their precious fingers warm. When their names are called, the girls will enter the building and head towards the examination room. The grand piano will be waiting. And they will play their best.
But this year, Ian won’t be sitting in front of the heater listening as Imogen and Charlotte play. He won’t be there to say, “Read out the results!” and add, “Congratulations! Well done!” He won’t give the girls two weeks' break before they start on the next grades’ work. No.
Ian died last Friday. Tomorrow we will say goodbye to an extraordinary person: an extraordinary musician, an extraordinary friend.
Ian, thank you for your friendship, your generosity, your encouragement, your laughter and sense of humour, your example. Thank you so much for including our family in your life and sharing your talents with us. You will live on in our memories. You will live on in the girls’ fingers. Imogen and Charlotte will be playing their best for you in three weeks’ time.
Ian, you are now in the Light and we remain behind, blind in the dark. And we are missing you.
One day we shall follow you Home.