The deep sorrow of the grieving process is universal to the human experience. For all who have fought or watched a loved one fight a terminal illness, the choice of treatment for the emotional and spiritual needs can be just as critical as the choice of treatment for the physical. From the moment of diagnosis, we all struggle with our role as patient, spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend. Even as we grieve in a deeply personal way, we are grieving together. Finding ways to share in our grief makes it possible to work through the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of these experiences. To share in anger. To share in hope. To share in faith. To share in love.
One such journey has served as the inspiration behind Aaron Perrine’s concerto for alto saxophone and wind ensemble, It Has to Be Beautiful. In the fall of 2013, Perrine discovered a CaringBridge post online. The post, written by his friend Tim, referenced Tim’s wife Toni and her ongoing struggle with breast cancer. This initial post provided inspiration for Perrine’s earlier work, Only Light. He continued to follow their story as they both regularly posted entries online until and after Toni’s death in October 2015. Discussing the concerto, Perrine states:
Sometimes you simply need to write a piece of music. From the moment I read Toni’s post, It Has to Be Beautiful, I knew. Kenneth [Tse] and I first discussed the idea of a concerto about four years ago, and I felt he would be the perfect person to further express the message so deeply embedded in her words. I reread those amazingly enlightened words every morning before I composed. The duality of my feelings was apparent; my heart constantly ached for things to somehow be different, yet I was comforted in knowing she was at peace and headed to a place more beautiful than any of us could ever imagine.
The first movement, Screaming at the Sky, is inspired by an entry written by Tim reflecting on his anger and frustration at their current situation. The second movement, It Has to Be Beautiful, is inspired by an entry written by Toni who, in the face of death, found hope in transitioning from this world to the next. The third movement, Illumine, is inspired by an entry that shares words from the homily given by the priest at her funeral.
I. Screaming at the Sky
She can’t be sick, can she? She’s 41. We have plans. She has said from early on that she can’t wait until we retire so we can spend every minute together. When do we get to do that? She is 41, for crying out loud…If you need me, I’ll be outside, [screaming] at the sky.
II. It Has to Be Beautiful
I’m thankful for my special team of spiritual friends and guides who help me prepare for the Glory that awaits me. The balance there is difficult – wanting so much to be with Jesus but digging in my heels and wanting to stay here with my boys like I had planned all those years. But the word to notice there is I, not He. It is God’s Will, not mine, that is the best ending to this and all stories. I will ask for your prayers to help me remember to continually ask for and accept His Will for me. It cannot be a bad ending if He is in charge. It has to be beautiful.
Even though I met Toni towards the end of her bodies’ journey, her soul was far from dimming. Maybe it was the fact that her body was dying before my eyes that was what made her soul so illumined. It made no sense to see the outside wither while the soul grew and glowed…only God would work such a marvel.
It Has to Be Beautiful was written for Kenneth Tse, Professor of Saxophone at the University of Iowa and premiered at the World Saxophone Congress in Zagreb, Croatia, on July 11, 2018.
–Justin T. Zanchuk
July 11, 2018 by Kenneth Tse with the Symphonic Wind Orchestra of Armed Forces at the World Saxophone Congress XVIII, Zagreb, Croatia