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Magically, music can transform unbearable grief to bearable sorrow. When our day-brightener of a son died I read the poems, played all the right hymns and wept and wept. So I recommend these requiem songs and urge you to cry freely, remembering that “The heart could see no rainbow had the eye no tear.”

  Rev. William Sloane Coffin

If we do not deal with our painful feelings they remain stored within and can destroy us. When we bring them forth they can help us begin a new life. When experiencing loss or pain one must move, cry and make sounds in order to heal. When those sounds are songs as beautiful as the ones created here, we are reborn and healed. Listen, learn, heal and sing your song.

  Bernie Siegel, MD
Author of
Love Medicine and
Miracles and Prescriptions for Living

As someone who lost a young child, I know how music can ease the anguish. Oh, it’s not like some quicky diet: music cannot by itself diminish the awful sorrow, but I do believe that it can help guide you away, gently, to a sweeter place. This is especially beneficial when someone young dies young, for we are confused as much we are saddened by that more awful death.
I found Before Their Time to be a wonderfully tender escort to that greater comfort we need.

  Frank Deford
Author of
Alex: The Life of a Child

“The songs of grieving on a compilation CD have a new resonance since the losses of Sept. 11.”

  Joseph Kahn, Boston Globe

Sometimes when grief’s pain is so sharp you think it surely will kill you, the sad, sweet cry of a fiddle seems perfect company. Before Their Time is a collection of heartwrenchingly beautiful tributes to the strength of love and loss.

  Anne McCracken and Mary Semel
Co-editors of
A Broken Heart Still Beats
Hazelden, 1999

These past few decades, epidemic AIDS, breast cancer, leukemia and gun-toting mayhem, to mention only a few of this nation's proliferating ills, have been making mourners of most of us. It’s a rare person, indeed, who has not seen one or more dear young friends, lovers or relatives fall Before Their Time to some form of physical assault. Therefore, these songs are timely and should be welcome for the comfort they can bring. The album is not maudlin; one can clearly hear sorrow and anger and compassion and yes, even a kind of painful joy, in the collection - all appropriate responses to loss.

  Ronnie Gilbert
The Weavers

A Review of Before Their Time, Volumes I and II (Hospice VNH Records)

These two CDs arrived on my desk here in England when I was up to my eyes in things. At first it seemed they’d been delivered at the most inopportune of times, but then after playing them, I realised it was a time chosen by the gods. Let me explain.

Literally 24 hours before the CDs turned up, I received the saddest of news from Mexico that the first Love of my Life - a woman who when young in the late Seventies, had given me the greatest gift a Mexican señorita CAN give anyone - had died in Mexico. I had not realised she was even ill. I was shocked and grieving.

And then I played the CDs and they worked their magic on me. As I am sure they both have and will on countless other people. These are compilation albums with tracks kindly donated by the performers with royalties waived. Why? Well, here is the clue. The theme of both albums is the attempt to provide comfort for grieving loved ones, when someone dear to them has died much earlier than they should.

So it is natural that the profits of the two CDs should go to suicide prevention and hospice organizations.

And whilst my dear Socorro did just attain her middle age, the sense of loss was still immense. She too died before her time. For a day or two after receiving the news, my mind was racing. And then the albums soothed me, and helped me find a measure of peace.

Now I realise that this is supposed to be a critique, but one somehow feels it almost BLASPHEMY to apply normal critical rules. After all, had not the artistes shown great generosity in donating their work in the first place? However, Executive Producer Michael Whitman - whose “babies” these two discs emphatically are - has told me to feel free to give it the same “inspection under the magnifying glass” I would give any other review copy. So here goes.

Both CDs contain some big names. But the first album starts off with a song and singer unknown to me here in the UK: Priscilla Herdman. WHAT an inspired start! It is a voice of purity and integrity: the perfect cool and steady hand on one’s fevered brow. And as in any compilation album, the next selection is CRUCIAL. I always liken it to hanging pictures in an art gallery: you need “logical juxtaposition”. And thus it was that this strong opening cut was followed by a natural “companion”: the ace track of the album, Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell”. This hauntingly beautiful melody first came to my attention a decade or so back, when it was used as the theme music for the magnificent television series on the American Civil War made by Ken Burns. Indeed, it was THAT music that turned a very GOOD documentary series into a FLAWLESS one.

Then we come to Tom Paxton’s “No Time To say Goodbye”, which from anyone else would have been just fine, but when Paxton has “Phil”, his great song for Phil Ochs under his creative belt, well, I’d have plumped for the latter. (The thought occurs that maybe Michael Whitman wanted “Phil”, but this was the track that Tom offered. Whatever the reasoning, it is still a decent song.)

“Breck’s Song”, by Sydney Long, features some profoundly moving piano the song’s writer. This is a song in memory of Whitman’s son Breck who died at 23 in 1994, and this aching loss prompted the whole concept.

And then a little later we come to the second mini-masterpiece on the first album. I refer to "Turning Toward Morning" a song written and performed by Gordon Bok.

Bok is a name not unknown to the cognoscenti here in England, but the rank-and-file British folkie does not know of him. That is THEIR loss. What an authoritative delivery! A voice that has dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate running through it (and all connoisseurs of chocolate know which style attracts the purists!) and here he sings a wonderful self-penned song which actually sounds more "Paxton" than the Paxton!

Volume 2 also has some big names. Again it starts with a very strong song indeed, Beth Nielsen Chapman’s magnificent “Sand and Water”. It also includes Kate Rusby’s “Who Will Sing Me Lullabies?” which won her “Best Original Song” at the BBC Folk Awards held in London in February 2002.

And the choice for Volume II’s final artiste is wonderfully fitting: the late Eva Cassidy. A talented singer cut down in her prime. And a singer now quite famous here in Britain, where she was unknown during her lifetime.

Any suggestions for a possible volume 3? Oh golly, YES.

A song that has long haunted me is Judy Collins’s “Song For Martin”, which is on her “True Stories and Other Dreams” album. It was several years before I knew the actual story of who the “Marty” really was. But that did not matter. I have never known a song that was so therapeutic: guaranteed to lift me when a depression set in.

And another song that CRIES OUT for inclusion is Britain’s own Eddie Walker’s deeply moving “Song For Steve” from his 1985 album “Picking My Way”. It was his tribute to the great Steve Goodman, who had succumbed to leukemia aged just 37 the previous September. Indeed, it could segue straight into Goodman’s “City of New Orleans”, which could then serve to be the final track, in the same way as Eva Cassidy’s version of that immortal song of Harold Arlen’s, is the closing track on Volume II here. Both are very much about death and re-birth, it seems to me.

And I suppose we could all list a dozen different candidates for a third volume. Would that they were not needed: that there was not THAT much grief needing to be assuaged. Alas, however, this truly is a Vale of Tears that we pass through. And it really is “all hands to the pumps”: we must TRY at least to dry the world of the surfeit of tears.

And who would have thought it? Until these two CDs arrived, I would have automatically taken comfort in the King James Bible in my darkest moments. Now, I have a very real alternative in these two albums.

And unlike some review CDs which I give away, these two will I hope be near to hand for all the remaining days of my life

Reviewed by Dai Woosnam, Grimsby, England

“All alone I didn't like the feeling / All alone I sat and cried
All alone I had to find some meaning / In the center of the pain I felt inside.

“All alone I came into this world / All alone I will someday die
Solid stone is just sand and water, baby
Sand and water, and a million years gone by.”

from “Sand and Water”, by Beth Nielsen Chapman

Before Their Time, a just-released compilation of memorial music on CD and cassette. Music has the power to touch the soul and release the emotions we keep hidden in the deepest parts of us. An Upton Sinclair quote included in the cover notes sums it up: “ The magic of art is that it transforms sorrow into beauty.”

As I approached the second anniversary of my husband’s death, Executive Producer Michael Whitman gave me a copy of Before Their Time, Vol. II. We had been following the progress of the creation of this new CD in our SOS group - of which Michael is one of the longer-term members. I listened to the entire CD in one sitting, and I have listened several times since. The CD brings you through the grieving process, from agony to acceptance, with little islands of respite throughout.

The sequence of songs is very sensitively done. Most of the music is sung or the instrumentation played by the original artists, mostly but not exclusively on stringed instruments. This seems appropriate to the mood and to the music. The cover notes include the story behind the creation of each piece as well as the words. If you are afraid to listen, the stories and the words will give you the courage. Some of the music is just that, music - where the composition will pull out, honor, or soothe your own emotions. As Connie Dover writes in the introduction to “An Air for Mary Tipton,” a song composed for her grandmother, “It’s a song without words because I could not find words.”

Many of the artists whose work is gathered on this CD have found the words. We who have shared the emotional turmoil of losing someone we love to suicide, can find comfort in the music. Friends who have suffered the loss of anyone, through any means, will also find solace here. Each member of my SOS group has favorites - music that has touched their soul, that has met them at different times in different places along this journey we call mourning. Karen Nash’s song for her brother asks the questions we all ask: “Where are you now? / Is there a chance I could have helped somehow? . . . Wasn’t anything good enough? / What was the last thing that made your mind up? Wasn’t there anything we could do? / Didn’t you think anybody loved you?”

The sound quality of this very professionally done CD is excellent. The cover notes also include artists’ websites, a listing of internet resources of special interest to survivors, and brief essays from others who share their insights on the loss of someone they loved. This CD honors the connections between us and those we have lost, with each other, and with the music.

In the end, we have to continue with our lives. We must live in a world that is rushing by unaware of how brief and fragile this thing we call life can be. Do not be put off by the last song on the CD: “Over the Rainbow.” The words are the ones we’ve grown to love, but Eva Cassidy’s rendition is unlike any you have heard. It “captures the essence of longing for someone forever absent,” Michael writes in the liner notes for this song. It buoyed my spirit. It is the perfect ending to a beautifully rendered CD. I hope you will find the peace and the release I have found in listening to the music assembled here.

All net revenue benefits Hospice VNH (VT/NH), the NH Youth Suicide Prevention Assn., the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Reviewed by Mary-Anne Johnson, Brownsville, VT

I was very intrigued when my friend Jack Jordan lent me his copy of a new CD of memorial music produced by a small hospice on the rural border of Vermont and New Hampshire. When I took Before Their Time with me to play in my car while on a speaking tour through Nebraska and Iowa last Spring, I found it to be a profoundly moving and beautiful collection of music written in memory of people who died young - and not a single note was overly sentimental!

Intended as a musical resource to promote healing, the album grew out of executive producer Michael Whitman’s own experience with loss. “Music was tremendously comforting for me after the death of our son several years ago,” he explained. “A close friend composed a memorial song for our family the day after he died, and a- tape of songs and lullabies that she made for us that day helped me make it through the first, worst, days and weeks.” Whitman has assembled 14 songs in a variety of styles - folk, popular, jazz and classical. “They're not about individuais or specific events,” he pointed out, “but about the spirit of life as well as the poignancy of loss. Songs written in memoriam represent some of the finest work by many composers and songwriters, and loss stimulates their creativity more than any other life event.”

The album’s total running time is more than one hour and the music ranges from well-known pop and folk-style classics such as Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell,” and Gordon Bok’s “Turning Toward The Morning,” to a country/jazz instrumental by acoustic guitarist Russ Barenberg, to a classical piece: the “Lux Aeterna” movement from John Rutter’s Requiem. Other performing artists in the collection include Tom Paxton, Sweet Honey In The Rock, and three of my favorite folk artists, Priscilla Herdman, Anne Dodson and Anne Hills. Most of the creative work was donated, including reduced royalties for the music. Funds to produce the CD were donated by individuals and foundations.All net revenue from the album project goes to organizations providing services to individuals and families going through end-of-life experiences - Hospice VNH, which provides assistance in both Vermont and New Hampshire for the terminally ill as well as bereavement support to survivors; the New Hampshire Youth Suicide Association, a non-profit organization that has provided educational and intervention programs statewide since 1993; the National Hospice Foundation; and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

By Rob Zucker,
reprinted from The Grief & Healing Newsletter



Before Their Time, Box 222, Lyme, NH 03768 |603-795-4435

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