“Could you join our band and help us surprise Heather at her wedding reception?”

In just two months, my brother’s daughter would marry, and he, always one to hate parental lectures himself, no matter how well-meaning, had found a respectful way to offer up his own hard-won marital advice to his young daughter. He had wrapped his fatherly concern for her in music.

Knowing she might not hear his words if he spoke them to her, he turned to his creative skills for help. He wrote out his own lyrics—all the things any father wants to say to his daughter as she marries—and wedded those lyrics to a beautiful melody. Then, he welcomed other family members to help him express his love in song. His son, the bride’s brother, would accompany him on guitar, while his wife, the bride’s mother, and I would offer up lead vocals. My own son would devise a piano accompaniment to play on the keyboard. It would be a true family affair.

We hoped to maintain the factor of surprise over the next weeks. Emailing melodies and chords, tablatures and lyrics back and forth, we five put our hearts into helping accomplish—and keep—this surprise! We had even snuck in our one and only rehearsal late the night before the wedding, after the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner were over. Just before midnight, we decided we were ready.

At my niece’s wedding reception the next day, we at long last offered up his surprise to her. My brother found the right moment: the bride and groom were sitting in their places, sipping champagne and talking with well-wishers.

“Heather, now it’s time for a little musical surprise from your family,” he said, attracting the attention of all. Everyone looked at us, and then at the bride. She looked inquisitively at her father.

And now, she was clearly trying to make sense of it all. As we began, her eyes filled with tears. The music was working its magic on her. She listened intently as this song gently unwrapped our love and joy and hope and, yes, concern for her happiness. The message she might not have heard as clearly if spoken by Dad glided through the music and into her outstretched hands.

Music’s many guises wield such power to communicate our most complex feelings. At weddings, end-of-life ceremonies, baby welcomings, house warmings, and all ceremonies, rhythm, melody, and harmony create a lyricism that serves as a vehicle for the expression of powerful human truths, allowing us to receive those truths with equanimity and openness.

I like to imagine Heather, fifty years hence, recalling her wedding day, and the many gifts it wrought. May the love of her family be the gift that, more than any other, still resides with her. Although many of us will likely be gone by then, the musical memory of her family’s love will most certainly remain, still playing in her heart.

Mostly, I like to imagine my niece and her husband at their own family’s weddings, offering up their hard-won advice via the soothing refrains of music.IMG_3244