In the weeks and months after September 11, 2001, I was deeply saddened by news reports about how folks were staying home, frightened into isolation by the terrorist attacks, clinging to the familiarity and comforts of home. My intuitions suggested that, perhaps, creating something around which folks could regularly gather would help restore some normalcy, some hope, some light in the darkness. So, in January 2002, my friend Diane and I launched the Norway Open Mic Night, held in the fellowship hall of the First Universalist Church of Norway, Maine. On the last Friday of each month, she handled the refreshments, and I handled the entertainment, and we opened the doors to whomever would show up. For the next ten years, it was a local staple and a wildly popular event both for churchgoers and folks in the wider community.
On a last Friday in early 2003, the church’s board meeting was wrapping up upstairs as the open mic was getting underway. An older gentleman came down the stairs, poked his head in, smiled curiously, and decided to stay. At the end of the evening, he introduced himself as Mardy, the church treasurer, and could he have one of my cards? What a sweet guy, I remember thinking.
He wasted no time emailing me. If memory serves, Mardy reached out to me the very next morning after the open mic, explaining that their music director was resigning, and would I be interested in taking his place? Even if on a temporary basis? I agreed to a temporary position, and stayed on for 16 years—in large measure because of the loving, caring congregation that grew to be like family—and there at the center of it all was Mardy.
Mardy wasn’t just the church treasurer—it turns out he was a hell of a bass in the choir, and could sing tenor whenever called upon. His excitement for things was infectious— he was able to draw more people into the choir fold, including my dear friend Bernice, with whom I’ve formed a deep and beautiful friendship, out of which has come Heart Songs & Circle Songs.
That was Mardy—always connecting dots between people and things, solving life’s puzzles, lighting up every corner with his boyish, genuine enthusiasm.
Mardy was other things, too—a physicist; a lover and reciter of poetry; a deep, insatiably curious thinker; a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat; a jokester; father; friend; and husband to Cynthia, who also sang beautifully in the choir and recited poetry and nurtured every flower and shrub to maximum fullness of life and beauty and rooted shamelessly for the Red Sox—and loved and adored Mardy until the day she succumbed to Alzheimer’s in 2011. Witnessing Mardy’s care and love and concern for Cynthia, both in sickness and in health, was another bright shining light in the lives of all who were fortunate enough to know the Seaveys.
Mardy was a regular at the open mics, too. He became well known for his brilliant, entertaining recitations of ‘Jabberwocky’, and for his whimsical rendition of Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘When The Night Wind Howls’ at Halloween—and accompanying him on the piano and interjecting with the ha-HA!s is a joy I’ll not soon forget. (And he NAILED it!) And he cheered the rest of us on as heartily and as happily as we did for him.
Directing him in the choir on Sunday mornings was also such a treat for me. Not only was he a gifted singer, and so willing and eager to share his gift, but he was also deeply committed to getting his part right. He’d get so frustrated with himself when he couldn’t quite get some tough passage exactly right, and when I’d nudge him, gently, towards the correct tempo or the correct notes, he’d grumble a little, and then as he sank into it, that voice would grow more and more sure of itself, growing in volume and in intensity… and when it was ‘showtime’, during any church service, wow!, did he deliver, and then some, with so much gusto and style that he’d often bring many of the congregants—and this choir director—to genuine tears of joy.
One of the dearest memories I have of Mardy—of anyone, in fact—is his soaring rendition of ‘The Christmas Song’, sung on some Christmas Eve for a packed house—and lucky me, once again, I got to be his accompanist. For a few sublime moments, we were all transported to a place where ‘kids from one to ninety-two’ were anxiously awaiting Santa’s arrival, wide-eyed and full of joy and wonder—and Mardy, with his smiling, golden voice, took us there.
It seems impossible to me that Mardy died this past Friday, after living for nearly a century, succumbing to his own battle, his with heart failure. I had only spoken to him once since the pandemic began—believing, as we all do, that the wisest and strongest among us will live forever and always be there for us. And whenever I did speak to him in the those years after he moved from the Norway area over to the seacoast, after we got through the usual questions of ‘How are you doing?’ and ‘What are you reading right now?’, more than anything, he wanted to hear what I was up to musically, and after I’d tell him, he would always tell me, more than once, how much he enjoyed my music and his time with the Norway UU Choir. His was a passion that he wanted you to know and not forget, dammit. He insisted on sharing his passion and curiosity with anyone who would listen—and those of us who were lucky enough to know him would simply lean in and listen for more.
I loved him so much. I still do. Everyone who ever heard his voice, and his chuckle, and experienced his kindness, his humor, and the light of his curious eyes couldn’t help but love him. And boy, did he love us back.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.