Packer Chapel at Lehigh

My friend Lloyd Steffen asked me to play for a memorial service for a Lehigh professor who had passed in November, 2020 (mid-Covid) and the family had a chance to gather in his memory. I said I’d be glad to, and the family asked for John Lennon’s Imagine. I said I will work it up. At the time, I didn’t recall James McIntosh, but got to know him at the service, and then recalled him quite well. He was the weirdo Social Science guy in Price Hall. In a sea of conservatism, his shorts and T-shirt set him apart.

I spent four or five sessions working on an arrangement for it. I like doing this stuff. Listening to the original, jamming with the chords, looking them up, finding a key I can sing in, and then just playing the tune for a while.

It’s tough doing a song that such a well know anthem; everybody knows it. It’s the LICK that everyone expects, so I concentrated on the quick arpeggio between the verse lines, got it down on guitar. I then figured I could use it as a vocal community tool to get everyone to sing it. I decided to do it mid stream, after the first chorus. It should work.

I don’t have the head for memorizing lyrics. I don’t play the songs out enough these days to keep them on the mental desk top. So, I print ’em up, and sit and play, make sense of the song, find places to breathe before a falsetto (boy, you don’t want to hear that in process…). I have to pitch Beatles and Lennon songs lower, where I can sing with conviction. What was C was now in A (G capoed 2), and it fell together nicely, with several shots a couple days ahead that sounded really good. I looked forward to performing this in PackerChapel.

I got there in time to set up, check in with Lloyd and drink in this place, a sanctuary for me for over 50 years, from freshman student, to Sunday folk mass with Hugh Fleisher (after bar gigs in Allentown the night before), and my early folk roots in the Catacombs Coffeehouse in the basement beneath us. And the room itself is quite awesome, in the richness of that word.

Jim’s widow Sally was seated up front, right in front of me, and started up some conversation, sharing our memories of the early Musikfest days, when this community felt that it had a place in its construction and its implementation. Esprit de corp.

My workspace for the morning.

Several other folks came over to say hello, mostly folks who have seen me over the years at Musikfest, and it felt good.

Professor McIntosh, bearing the Mace

The organ cracked up with the opening. My god, what a sound. Gets your attention. The service started with Lloyd doing his best self, setting folks at easy, chatting about Jim’s honors at Lehigh (he carried The Mace at Lehigh’s formal function – rumor had it that he also carried Mace in case of a felony.). As I listened, I was studying the audience, and noticed that Jim’s son was sitting next to Sally. Then it all came together in his son’s resemblance. Yeah, I knew exactly who Professor McIntosh was.

Lloyd wrapped up with the readings and it was my turn. I chatted that I was wearing the requisite Lehigh Brown, that my diploma was checked at the door, and my connection with The Catacombs, and how I had now broken through the slate ceiling to be here today. Chuckles.

I launched into Imagine with two bars of the intro – I’m glad I could posit it, from my practice that week. Two verses and then the chorus with its falsetto (You oooo, may think that I’m a dreamer.) I did fairly well, enough to get me through.

My view from up front, a tad to the right.

When it came around on the guitar, I asked the audience to sing the LICK, “it’s easy if you try….”, and slightly badgered them to sing louder, and then proceeded to the third verse. I could see some folks singing along and the LICK seemed to hold. We finished with the chorus and we did the LICK three times – last time just the audience – to a fade. The last part was what I wanted to nail, and it did, with the common voice of the people, filling up this marvelous and historical space. It landed as I hoped it would.

I stuck around to hear the fine memorial speeches, and everyone was great. The family and friends soaked it up. And, it was nice that enough time had passed that their was more joy than grief. I packed up, thanked the organist for such an experience, and headed out into the gray Lehigh afternoon.

Another gig later.