Chippewa Herald * October 22, 2005

Visitation, funeral unite a city -- now rhythm of life goes on

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist (and band parent)

Wow, what a week this has been. Wednesday, October 19, 2005, was a unique day in the history of Chippewa Falls. This was the evening when we all paid our respects to our Music Man: high school band director Doug Greenhalgh and his wife Therese and granddaughter Morgan. They all lost their lives in a tragic bus accident on the way back from marching band competition last weekend.

The visitation in the Chi-Hi gym was scheduled for 5:00-8:00 p.m. But early on, the line to get in snaked all the way around the outside of the school. When it got close to 8:00, they had to open all the doors and let people find whatever seats they could. The gymnasium bleachers were completely packed floor to ceiling, with even the standing-room-only area fully occupied.

Finally the musical tribute began. The orchestra played two sad-sounding songs as a tribute to "G." They had to play standing up, since there was not room for chairs. The dozens of stringed instruments cried in harmony.

The choir sang Amazing Grace and another song about "I am better because I knew you." After the choir was done, the orchestra members scurried back into the gym and sat on the floor in front of the bleachers. There was a moment of anticipation before the band kids entered.

When the marching band started filing in, the place erupted into a sustained standing ovation. It went on for five minutes, as all 173 teen musicians lined up into their spots and stood at attention.

They played the two songs that they used at state competition that was only four days ago -- but seems like an eternity ago.

The quality and emotion was overwhelming. They did an unbelievably fantastic job, playing their hearts out. Their second song ended in a final chord so intense it shook the foundations of the building.

The expression "There wasn't a dry eye in the house" is overused, but this time, I think every person in that gym was weeping by the end. Not only for the pain of the loss, and sorrow for these kids, but because the music they created that night was just so unspeakably beautiful that any human could not keep from being swept away by it.

It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I kept thinking that this was the saddest part of a very well-written movie, then I had to remind myself that it's real life. Seeing these kids all standing at attention to give their director a musical salute reminded me of the photos of John F. Kennedy's young son sharply saluting his daddy's casket as it went by.

After they finished playing, they laid down their instruments and filed over to the three caskets, which they surrounded in a semicircle. When they invited all Marching Cardinals alumni to join them on the gym floor, FIVE HUNDRED people made their way down through the crowded bleachers.

Once assembled, they put arms around each one another, swayed together and sang "Forever Cardinal Bound," the song they sing after every marching band performance.

Thursday morning was the funeral. Everyone was emotionally drained from Wednesday night's visitation, but we had to say our final goodbyes. The band kids watched the video feed from the church cafeteria, so they could all be together. There were also overflow sites at another church and in the high school cafeteria.

Students from 25 different marching bands lined the streets to pay respect to "G". They stood at attention in full uniform as mourners filed into the church. Schools represented include Altoona, Antigo, Augusta, Barron, Cadott, Colby, Colfax, Cumberland, DC Everest, Durand, Elk Mound, Fall Creek, Greendale, Hudson, Irondale, McDonnell, Memorial, Menomonie, North, Northstar Middle, Osseo Fairchild, Rice Lake, River Falls, Spring Valley, and Thorp.

Music at the service was provided by an alumni ensemble. They also played "When the Saints Go Marching In" as mourners exited past the visiting marching bands that were still standing at attention. It was hard to handle seeing three hearses in one procession.

At the burial site, when the minister said the final prayer and announced that it was over, nobody moved or said anything for a short while.

Then the sound of the Leinenkugel's noon whistle floated through the air, as if on cue.

It seemed to say that this town still has a rhythm, and we need to get back into after these five agonizing days.

Getting into the rhythm is part of the healing process -- I'm sure "G" would agree.


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