Our hearts go out to the family of Robert Daniel Zehr, exemplary bassist and patron of the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, Durham Symphony Orchestra, and Raleigh’s Community Music School, and spouse of longtime United Arts executive Virginia.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 15 at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

The obit is here: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/newsobserver/obituary.aspx?n=robert-daniel-zehr&pid=191237379&fhid=6292.


Homily for Dan Zehr as Delivered January 15, 2019, at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

Psalm 150
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

I am here today hopefully to offer a few words of assurance, comfort, faith, and hope – in gratitude for the life and gifts of Dan – and I also grieve with you. I knew Dan years ago playing together in the Raleigh Symphony – and I also came to work closely with Ginny on the administrative end of things too – and we became good friends through it all. It is a sad time right now – and there’s no way around that. So as we grieve, we look for comfort and for strength and hope. And I believe Dan’s love for music and life gives us a way toward all of that. In fact, that is what I heard as we read our psalm – praising God through music.

I know we’re not supposed to change scripture – add to it or delete from it. But I have to confess that as I read Psalm 150 out loud and thought of Dan, it was all I could do to refrain from saying, “Praise God with tambourine and dance, with strings and with pipe and loud clanging cymbals – and with Dan and his string bass. Praise the Lord!” I think that’s what the original Hebrew really said! Music was his way of loving life, expressing who he was, and being with others in community. I believe music was the way Dan expressed life and faith – a way in which he related to God and to the world.

Music gives us a powerful way to express ourselves – a way that goes beyond words or when words are not enough – and music isn’t just praise and joy and happiness and celebration as in this particular psalm, but music can also express fear, confusion, frustration, uncertainty, and even anger. Read the other 149 psalms – and listen to or play some of the great symphonies and you know that – right. I also believe music carries us, and carried Dan, through life into the realm of prayer.

Music is one of the most powerful prayers that exist. You can find yourself in the thinnest places between earth and heaven – without the need for definitions, or explanations, or doctrines, or theology – just music. Ginny agreed with me that music was who Dan was – the fiber of Dan’s soul, the threads that wove his life into one amazing fabric that we share – part of the fabric of who we are too, as we cherish memories of Dan as husband, father, grandfather, father-in-law, uncle, cousin, friend, and colleague.

Dan played in symphonies all over North Carolina – from Raleigh and Durham and Chapel Hill to Rocky Mount and Wilmington – and in Virginia in Roanoke and Virginia Beach – and I’m sure I’m leaving some out – and countless ensembles in churches and wherever he was needed and could play.

Music was a serious part of Dan’s life – but I also heard a story that showed part of his sense of humor. It was about a time he told his younger sister he was bringing “Bull” home after school. I’m guessing she was “teenager-ish” – old enough to think that whoever had the name Bull was bound to be someone she would want to impress! She made sure the house was cleaned up and she looked pretty good that afternoon. When Dan came home he was carrying his bass. He said, “Here’s Bull!” I don’t know what happened after that…. I think Bull was probably very impressive, but I’m not sure what his sister thought!

I know music was important to the relationship that grew into 51 years of marriage. Ginny shared with me that she and Dan met in college where they both played in a 12- member orchestra. Apparently, there were times when only a few would show up – maybe even 2 or 3 – but Ginny and Dan were always in that number that showed up. I have a feeling they were there to see each other as much as to play music…. Ginny said music brought their hearts together. Music was the fiber of their hearts and their relationship – a relationship that grew – and grew – times one, times two, times three, and then four sons.

Dan loved music – and he loved his family. One thing he was known to say was, “Despite our best efforts, our children turned out fine.” I saw them some over the years as they were growing up and heard about different adventures here and there – and I saw them after many years again just a few days ago – and they indeed, have “turned out fine.” I think they would all say their father had so much to do with turning out fine.

I heard about how they spent time in Indian Guides together – going on weekends to Camp Seagull; spending time at their family place in Alabama – walking and wandering over the land, picking dew berries and making cobbler, fishing, and I heard something about chasing a cow?? And when the family traveled how he would seek out science museums and things to do with nature. Dan had a love for learning that he obviously passed on.

He was a chemist. In my book anyone who is a chemist is brilliant. He loved to read – everything – from Harry Potter to science fiction and politics. He loved to learn. Dan loved life.

This past Friday evening I attended a North Carolina Symphony concert where they were playing Mozart and Shostakovich. My eyes and my ears always go to the violins because that’s what I used to play. And there were the woodwinds and brass and percussion – the violas and cellos… – and the basses – and I couldn’t help but think about Dan. I watched them at times count numerous measures, waiting patiently until their time to come in. Interestingly, a word one of Dan’s sons used to describe his father was “patient” – he had to be if he were a bass player. And also, as I watched these basses I saw solid, steady, persistent, determined, strength, supportive – underpinning of the symphony – foundational yet not pretentious. Ginny said that was Dan. Maybe his name should have been “Bull.”

I understand that for a long time Dan wouldn’t let being sick keep him from playing music – persistence. When he couldn’t play his bass any longer he took up ukulele – determined. Dan loved music and Dan loved life.

Sadly, his life became very difficult these past five years. Ginny said there were so many times when he should have died – but he wanted to live and wouldn’t give up until that was no longer in his power.

We will miss Dan – ensembles, chamber music, and symphonies will, too – there is no question about that. But as you grieve the loss of Dan in this earthly world, don’t give up either and take heart.

This is what our passage in 2 Corinthians that was read earlier is saying – “Don’t lose heart, don’t give up – even in the face of affliction and pain, and even death – do not give up.” This is temporary, it says – and it is preparing us for something so amazing and wonderful that we cannot imagine. What is seen here and now is momentary – and the unseen glory of God to come, is eternal. In the face of whatever we experience now, there is hope.

And I can’t help but go back to Psalm 150 that I honestly think specifically had Dan in mind when it was written (several thousand years ago). It is about praising God through music – the prayer I believe was Dan’s throughout his life and the substance of who he was and will continue to be in the fabric we share together because we had the honor the privilege and the joy of knowing him.

Psalm 150 is called the last Hallelujah – the final psalm in the Bible. And in it, there is also the promise of a new song when everyone who breathes will praise God. And all I can say is “what a symphony that will be!” – one that through the promise of resurrection and new life in Christ is Dan’s now and is ours to look forward to as well. I can imagine Dan and Bull playing away. Praise the Lord! Thanks be to God. Amen.

Reprinted with permission of Rev. Susan Sexton.