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Bye for Now: Cherished Memories in Song

Six years ago today, my mother was declared brain dead and a few days after that, I bid my mother a final farewell before she underwent organ donation surgery at the University of Iowa Hospital. In the hours that followed, I found myself in Des Moines, helping with funeral arrangements before making my way back to Iowa City to receive my Doctorate in Music. Losing my mother was a devastating blow, and in the years that followed, I struggled to muster the energy to perform or sing. But as time passed, I knew I wanted to pay tribute to her in a meaningful way. Music had always held a special place in our hearts, so it was the perfect choice.

In the wake of my mother's passing, I began to connect more often with my grandfather, hoping to stay close to my mother's memory. He would often leave long voicemails, and I saved every one of them, cherishing the sound of his beautiful baritone voice. These recordings, along with the voicemails I had saved from my mother, became the inspiration for a set of songs that I envisioned creating in honor of my mother and grandfather. Lisa Neher, a dear friend, and composer, and I had been discussing this idea for a while, and in 2021, we finally set a timeline for their completion.

Rehearsing these pieces was an emotional experience, and I admit that tears flowed freely during the process. But Lisa's exceptional talent and collaborative spirit made the journey a fulfilling one. The resulting songs capture the everyday love and familial bonds that sustain us through life, using the modern technology of voicemails as a source of inspiration.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have premiered Bye for Now at Kirkwood Community College in 2022 and look forward to performing them once more at the upcoming MTNA Iowa All-Stars Concert on June 4th of this year. I hope that my story inspires others to find inspiration in unexpected places and to collaborate with friends to bring their ideas to life. Above all, I urge everyone to keep in touch with their loved ones, make a really phone call and if they don’t answer…leave a voicemail.


Watch the world premiere of Bye for Now

Joseph McKinley, piano




Dr. Jessica Saunders is co-owner and voice faculty at Dynamic Music Studios in Coralville, IA.

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