In Memoriam: Jane Smudin (Updated, 5/15)

Before our performance of the Mass in B-Minor this afternoon, Greg Funfgeld shared with the audience the tragic news that a longtime friend, guarantor, and member of the Board of Managers, M. Jane Smudin, had died last night after a pedestrian accident.  He spoke eloquently about Jane’s contributions to the Bach Choir organization and family, and shared a quote from the late, great choral conductor, Robert Shaw.  Shaw was asked what he thought about while he conducted, and he said that when he was younger, he thought about the people who would hear the music he was conducting for the first time, and, later in his career, he thought of people who would hear the music for the last time.

I didn’t know Jane terribly well, but hers was an always-cheerful presence, both at board meetings, and at the marketing committee meetings I’ve had the privilege to chair.  She was a passionate enthusiast of Bach’s music, and a dear member of the Bach Choir family, and the news of her passing was devastating for so many among us who knew her well.  We are consoled that the music that she heard last was Bach’s beautiful Cantata No. 4, which speaks so beautifully of the victory of resurrection, and we are comforted that she didn’t suffer at her end.

Earlier this season, The Choir sang the beautiful piece by Daniel Gawthrop, Sing Me to Heaven, with words by his wife, the poet Jane Griner.  One passage was particularly compelling and seems appropriate now:

Words alone are vain and vacant, and my heart is mute 
In response to aching silence, memory summons half-heard voices 
And my soul finds primal eloquence, and wraps me in song 

We sang a very passionate Mass in B-Minor this afternoon, in Jane’s loving memory,  hopefully with an eloquence that surpasses mere words, and, in some small measure, reflected our love, gratitude, and affection for our dear friend.  Requiescant in pace, Jane.  

Update, 5/9:  David Beckwith and Greg Funfgeld have penned statements of remembrance for Jane.  

Our loss so suddenly of our dear friend Jane Smudin both personally and as The Bach Choir has stunned us with a visceral emptiness. Jane loved The Choir in its every aspect – the inspirational music, its volunteer Choir, the staff, Greg, the Board of Managers and our mission as an organization. I am grateful for all she contributed and will miss her very much.

-David Beckwith, PhD, President of the Bach Choir

Jane Smudin was a remarkable woman – gracious, artistic, humble, adventurous, generous, thoughtful, loving.  Jane was a devoted member of The Board of Managers of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem for  many years, and one of its biggest fans and most ardent supporters.  Jane travelled regularly from her home in Bucks County to attend our Bach at Noon concerts, the Festival and other season concerts, Board and committee meetings and, on occasion, just to enjoy the company and fellowship of some of the people she most loved.  Jane was an artist, a successful painter with a keen eye, a great sense of color and proportion, a lively imagination and joyous spirit.  In a recent conversation, Jane told me how much she was enjoying her painting, that her work had been accepted in several juried shows for the first time, and that her creative juices seemed to be flowing with dynamic energy and creativity.  Jane loved adventure – she flew her own plane, liked convertibles, loved to travel and discover new places and people.  Jane enjoyed simple pleasures – good conversation, a glass of wine with friends, the beauty of nature.  I have taken great comfort from the fact that, in her last hours, Jane enjoyed some of the things she loved most – the music of Bach – both for the sublime beauty of the music and its profound spiritual message, the company of friends, being at Packer Memorial Church for the Festival, and a fine meal with people she loved.  I take comfort from the assurance I’ve been given that she did not suffer in the last moments of her life and that she is reunited with her husband and son and so many others.  In dedicating our performance of Bach’s monumental MASS IN B MINOR to Jane’s memory the day after her death, I shared a story about the great American conductor, Robert Shaw.  He was once asked by an interviewer, “what do you think about in the moments before you go on stage to conduct the concert?”  I’ve never forgotten his response – “When I was younger, I used to think about the people who were hearing this music for the first time…as I’ve gotten older, I now think about the people who may be hearing this music for the last time…”  The last music Jane heard was Bach’s beloved Cantata 4 – an Easter piece – a celebration of the resurrection with words by Martin Luther and music by JSB!  What a parting gift to a dear friend, one whom we loved and will remember with deepest affection and profound gratitude.  Rest in peace, dear Jane.

-Greg Funfgeld, Artistic Director and Conductor

Update: 5/15:  The Bucks County Local has a beautiful remembrance of Jane up on their site, including details about her memorial service.

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2 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Jane Smudin (Updated, 5/15)

  1. My wife, Jane Griner, and I are both gratified to learn that our little motet “Sing Me to Heaven” was able to relieve a bit of your grief and honor the memory of a believed friend and colleague. On a more cheerful note I am pleased to be able to let you know that Jane Griner (referred to above as my “late” wife) is very much with us and continues to write texts for me to set to music in the many commissions which I receive.

    Dan Gawthrop, Composer

    1. My apologies for the error! I’ve corrected the original post, and would only add that we sang your beautiful piece in St. Paul’s Chapel, NYC, as part of Trinity Wall Street’s 9/11 remembrance, and it was deeply, deeply meaningful for all involved. Thank you for your beautiful music (and poetry)!

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