The fiddle and guitar music started playing in the back of the church shortly after 1 o’clock. The assembled family and guests were in the pews waiting for the service to begin. We were there to bid farewell to Ted Sannella.
The church, St. Denis in North Whitefield, Maine, is modest, almost spare. It is located at a bend in the road on route 126. There are meadows and trees dropping off of the hilltop on which the church is situated. The parish hall in which Ted led his final dance series is across the two-lane country road.
The twenty rows of pews have kneeling pads, and the ushers urged caution when entering the seating area. The family was seated in the front several rows and the friends more towards the rear. Ted was in a closed casket in the aisle between the family rows of pews.
The service was not a full Catholic mass (no communion was offered), but hymns were played on the church organ. No one sang, perhaps because no hymnals were in evidence. The programs, small and cream colored decorated with a gold foil cross, contained a copy of the 23rd Psalm, from which we all read:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The priest was an earthy sort of fellow who obviously knew Ted, and enthusiastically supported his dancing activities in the parish hall across the street.
Most of the Sannella family was there. Donald, Ted’s son who works at the University in Edinburgh, Scotland, couldn’t make it because he was chairing a conference. I recognized many of Ted’s friends, some of who made a lengthy trip to be at the service: Tony Saletan, Dudley Laufman, Tony and Beth Parkes, Larry Jennings, Marianne Taylor, Vince O’Donnell, and Sylvia Miskoe. Nancy Raich, a local caller who was going to be sharing the calling duties with Ted at the dance two days later, was also there.
The reading, as I recall, was Ecclesiastes 3:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
I was asked by Janet Sannella (Ted’s daughter) on behalf of Jean (Ted’s wife) to do a reading at the service. It was quite difficult to do, and I needed to take a deep breath during the reading to hold myself together.
THE FIDDLER OF DOONEY
William Butler Yeats (1871-1957)
When I play on my fiddle in Dooney.
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;
My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,
My brother in Mocharabuiee.
I passed my brother and cousin:
They read in their books of prayer;
I read in my book of songs
I bought at the Sligo fair.
When we come at the end of time
To Peter sitting in state,
He will smile on the three old spirits,
But call me first through the gate;
For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle,
And the merry love to dance:
And when the folk there spy me,
They will all come up to me,
With “Here is the fiddler of Dooney!”
And dance like a wave of the sea.
Larry Jennings then came up to do the other reading. Larry said, “Jean knows that I’ll take this opportunity to say something about Ted. So I’ll say this: Ted was the most supportive person I have ever known.”
LORD OF THE DANCE
I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the moon, the stars and the sun
I danced down from Heaven and I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth
Dance, then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said He
The church service concluded, and the casket was wheeled out into the waiting hearse. The graveyard is located down the road a few hundred yards from the church; most people walked there. The casket was placed on wooden supports covered by a green blanket.
The priest, now clad in a more-practical garb of red and black checked hunting jacket and hunting boots, began the short service. The family members, one by one, placed roses on Ted’s casket.
So on November 22nd, 1995, in a cold breeze beneath broken sunlight, in the presence of fifty sad and sobbing family members and friends, and in view of the dance hall where he called his last dances, Ted Sannella was laid to rest.
— Dan Pearl