Memorial Service for Anne Blank

 Main Line Unitarian Church
Devon, Pennsylvania
31 July 2011

Memorial Service
for
Anne Blank
(20 July 1929 – 8 April 2011)

Prelude:  “Sonatine,” Maurice Ravel                 Dr. Vincent Craig
I.  Modere

Invocation:                                                                                         (J.S. Osterman)
We gather this day, summoned by respect and affection,
to demonstrate our love for both the living and the dead.
We gather to comfort one another,
for we have suffered loss.
We gather to celebrate together,
for we have been blessed by a life.
With love and gratitude we gather.
May peace pervade this space today
and the hearts of all who enter here in.

Welcome:

Friends, we gather this afternoon to say our final goodbye to a truly remarkable woman:  Anne Blank.  We remember and celebrate Anne as a beloved wife, devoted mother and grandmother, gifted artist and skilled teacher, cherished friend, and dedicated member of this church for over 45 years — we mourn her passing and give thanks for her time among us.

On behalf of the Blank Family, I want to thank you all for making time to be here this afternoon.  Your presence is a powerful expression of your respect, appreciation, and affection for Anne.  In this room are gathered the people, the family and friends, with whom she shared her life – through all its joys and sorrows.  We who knew Anne are forever enriched by her presence in our lives, and so it is with great sadness, deep gratitude, and abiding affection that we bid our farewell to her today.

Reading:         Music, by Walter de la Mare

When music sounds, gone is the earth I know,
And all her lovely things even lovelier grow;
Her flowers in vision flame, her forest trees
Lift burdened branches, stilled with ecstasies.

When music sounds, out of the water rise
Naiads whose beauty dims my waking eyes,
Rapt in strange dreams burns each enchanted face,
With solemn echoing stirs their dwelling-place.

When music sounds, all that I was I am
Ere to this haunt of brooding dust I came;
And from Time’s woods break into distant song
The swift-winged hours, as I hasten along.  

Eulogy:                                                                                               Rev. Osterman

“When music sounds, gone is the earth I know,
And all her lovely things even lovelier grow”

The world is, indeed, a lovelier place to the sound of music.  Whether it be nature’s orchestra of birdsong that alters our experience of life or soulful notes struck on a piano, music moves us, changes us, and makes “lovely things even lovelier.”  Anne Blank made the world a lovelier place over the course of her 82 years on this earth.  Certainly, she accomplished that through the gift of her music performed to appreciative audiences; but, more importantly, she made the world more lovely in her everyday life through her gracious, gifted presence.

Many of you know the remarkable story of Anne’s life; from her comfortable childhood in Shanghai to refugee student in rural North Carolina; from leaving her family in her native land to raising her own family in her adopted homeland; from avid student to accomplished teacher; from shy performer in church services to acclaimed performances in Philadelphia, New York, and Europe.  Anne Blank personified the American Dream realized.  She was a special and inspiring person.

Born on July 20th, 1929 in Liaoning Province, in northeastern China adjacent to Korea, Anne was one of four children and the only daughter in a prominent shipbuilding family during China’s Republican years.  As a young child, her family moved south to Shanghai where Anne grew up, attending St. Mary’s Episcopal School.  Her childhood school experience did two crucial things for Anne:  bequeathed to her a love of the piano at the age of 6 and laid the foundation for her fluency in English.

With the communist takeover in China following the Second World War, Anne’s family smuggled her out of the country, aided by the family of her best friend and a reputed “pirate,” and sent her to Red Springs, North   Carolina where a kindly Protestant minister and his family received her into their home.  They helped Anne enroll in nearby Flora MacDonald Women’s College in the town of Laurinburg, NC.  I remember when Anne first told me of her year in NC.  When she mentioned Flora MacDonald, I said, “Oh, in Laurinburg.”  She was quite surprised, as Laurinburg is still a small town in rural NC.  I told her that, while the school’s name had changed to St. Andrews Presbyterian College, it was the same college that I attended and from which I received my degree.

Anne, on the other hand, stayed in NC only a year before transferring to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, which is now part of Johns Hopkins.  With no money and no family, but with her command of both English and the piano, Anne approached the minister of an Episcopal church adjacent to Peabody and asked if she could play there to earn money for food.  The minister, Rev. Wilkes, not only hired her to play at the services, but gave her a place to live and a second family, in which Anne also cared for the Wilkes’ young children.

In 1950, Anne was invited to dinner by some Chinese friends and discovered that they had also invited a young instructor from the Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins, named Dr. Gordon Blank.  And so began a truly remarkable love story.  Perhaps it was mere coincidence or maybe fate, but their first date was a road trip to Philadelphia in Gordon’s new car.  I guess that made quite an impression on her, because on July 18th, 1951 she became Anne Blank.

She graduated from Peabody in 1952 and was immediately offered a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in Europe.  Much as Anne loved music, she loved Gordon more and she turned down the fellowship to join Gordon in Chicago, where he was an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois   Chicago.  In 1955, they welcomed their son Mike into the world and also moved to Philadelphia where Gordon had joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.  After living for several years in Germantown, they bought their home in Merion Station in 1958 and welcomed their son, Tom, into the family as well.  With the arrival daughter Amy in 1963, the Blank family was complete.

While raising her children and supporting Gordon in his career, Anne slowly began to build her own career, both as a teacher and a performer.  The mid-60’s marked a significant turning point for Anne.  In addition to having joined formally joined this church in 1965, Anne became active in the Main Line Music Study Club and also took Masters Classes from Adele Marcus at the Julliard School in Manhattan.  In addition to tutoring a growing number of students in her home, Anne’s public performances increased as well.

Her brilliance as a pianist was recognized from the moment she first played in this church, and our congregation was a great source of support and encouragement for Anne as she made the choice to pursue a career as performance artist.  When Anne made her debut at Carnegie Hall in 1978, the Women’s Alliance of this church chartered a bus so that members of this congregation could be there in support of Anne.  Over the years, she played in numerous venues locally (including the Academy of Music and the PhiladelphiaArt Museum), nationally, and internationally.  Gordon recently recalled with great fondness listening to Anne play Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” in Budapest while on one of their European visits.

Gordon and Anne made numerous trips to Europe together, often in conjunction with his lecturing.  As family, the Blanks would regularly summer in Woods Hole, MA where they owned a cabin for many years.  Anne was a voracious reader across a wide range of subjects.  She had informed opinions about a variety of subjects and, wide a modest and private person by nature, she would express her opinion with confidence when she felt it was appropriate.  She was open-minded and tried to see multiple sides of issues and she was supportive of and encouraging towards others.

That said, she had high expectations of others as well.  But she expected no more of anyone else that she expected of herself.  Anne believed that everyone had a gift, or gifts, to share and we need to identify and cultivate those gifts for the good of all.  I think sometime she believed in people more than they believed in themselves.  That is a wonderful quality to possess as a teacher.  I suspect that some of her students would tell you that she succeeded in coaching and coaxing out of them things that they weren’t sure they had to give; but Anne saw the potential in people.

Her educational approach to teaching music was that learning to play the piano was good for our minds.  She believed that the discipline and concentration that her students learned through music would serve them well, no matter what they ultimately chose to do with their lives.  Whether a person went on to become a physician, a geologist, or a teacher, learning to play music was as much about developing the mind as mastering keys.  Anne modeled the discipline and commitment that she expected of her students.  However you might remember Anne in the years to come, I’ll tell you one memory that will always stay with me.  When Anne had a performance scheduled her at church, she would come in during the weeks prior and rehearse right here in our sanctuary.  Sometimes, on weekdays, I would emerge from my office to the sound of beautifully piano music floating through the church.  I knew that it was Anne, and I would stand outside the sanctuary, peering through the crack between the doors, watching and listening to her rehearse.  I would always wait until she paused in her rehearsal, because I knew how important that time was to her and I never wanted to interrupt her, but I loved watching her play.

This church meant a lot to Anne.  It really was the center of her social universe.  She was dedicated to the church and the congregation admired, respected, and treasured her in return.  When it came time for our congregation to buy a new piano – this piano – everyone knew that we needed an instrument big enough to accommodate the talent within the congregation, and Anne was one of our leading talents.

Anne never needed the church more than when, in January 2004, her son Tom died suddenly at age 46.  There is no greater loss for a parent than to lose a child.  Sadly, some of you know this all too well.  Anne managed the burden of this staggering loss with the grace and poise that anyone who knew her would have expected of her.  She was a woman of extraordinary strength and courage.  From crossing the world alone as a young woman to make a new life for herself, to holding her family together through the grief of losing Tom, to her own battle with pancreatic cancer.

I remember visiting Anne in the hospital after her surgery.  She was so grateful and we were all so hopeful in the months following.  We were hopeful that we would have many years before us in which to savor Anne’s company and gifts; but, that was not to be.

I remember planning our worship services for October 3, 2010.  We designated that day as our “Bring a Friend Sunday” when we ask our members to invite their friends, who might be seeking a religious home, to come visit our church.  It’s an important Sunday for us and, as a community, we try to put the best face on for our visitors.  Our Music Director, Dr. Vincent Craig and I both immediately agreed that we should ask Anne to play that Sunday, because – when it came to music – she was the best face of our church.  I did not realize that morning back in October that it would be the last time I ever heard Anne play.  It’s a good memory.

“When music sounds, all that I was I am
Ere to this haunt of brooding dust I came”

            And so we bid farewell with heavy hearts; weighed by loss, laden with gratitude for this special woman who graced our lives with hers.  Grieve as you must and then open your heart to the future, knowing that Anne is in that future too.  Forever more, when the notes of a beautiful piece of classical music alight on your ears, may they strike the chords of your heart, and may they stir in you a sweet melody of memory that brings Anne Blank to life again in all her fullness and beauty.

Musical Interlude:  “The Little Shepherd,” Claude Debussy           Dr. Vincent Craig

Remembrances of Family

Prayer:          
Spirit of Life and Love,
Holy Presence that dwells within each and moves among all,
we gather this afternoon in mourning, celebration, and gratitude.
We mourn the loss of a special woman.
Mother, grandmother, and dear friend,
Anne Blank was an inspiring presence in many lives,
who gifted the world with her talent,
and left the world a better place for having lived.
She will be deeply missed,
and so we mourn.
We are grateful, too, that the arc of Anne’s remarkable life touched our own.
While our lives are poorer for her passing,
our lives are infinitely richer for her having been a part of them.
We pray blessings of peace and comfort upon her family
for whom this loss weighs most heavily.
May the generosity of spirit,
love of beauty,
and steady devotion that Anne exemplified
be alive in us in the days and months and years to come,
as we turn our hearts from grief to gratitude
and from loss to life.
Amen.

Silent Reflection

Musical Interlude:  “Nocturne in B Major,” Frederic Chopin          Dr. Vincent Craig
Op. 9, No. 3

Reading:         They Walk Softly, Hugh Robert Orr

They are not gone who pass
beyond the clasp of hand,
out from the strong embrace,
they are but come so close
we need not grope with hands,
nor look to see, nor try
to catch the sound of feet.
They have put off their shoes
softly to walk by day
within our thoughts, to tread
at night our dream-led paths of sleep.
They are not dead who live
in hearts they leave behind
in those whom they have blessed
they live a life again,
and shall live through the years
[eternally], and grow
each day more beautiful
as time declares their good,
forgets the rest, and proves
their immortality.

Musical Interlude: “Grandmother’s Lullaby,” Anne Blank (comp.)

Benediction:                                                                                       Rev. Osterman

As we go forth from this time together, let us carry with us Anne’s memory in our hearts . . . and let us also carry away in our hearts these words of Paul’s words to the Philippians (4:8):

Whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.

And as you do, may you remember Anne.

May the peace that passes understanding,
the peace of all that is Good and Holy,
go with you and abide with you,
this day and all the days of your lives.
AMEN

Postlude:        “Clair de Lune,” Claude Debussy (comp.)                 Dr. Craig