My Most Difficult Gig Yet

Dr Joanna-Skelt

This has been a difficult blog to write.  I started it on 24th Febuary but this situation was too hard to contemplate. I spent time crying and decided to leave this until I could rationally process what to tell you.   Even now, 16th November, as I write tears are in my eyes as I recall my most difficult gig yet…I’m not sure where to start…perhaps the beginning…

In June of last year (2017), I received an email from a prospective adult female student looking for sax lessons.  She wanted a role model, I was flattered. We got on pretty well very quickly.  She was returning to her music after recovering from cancer and a broken relationship. Music was her life line and passion and she was determined to make time in her week for practise. In the space of a couple months she had performed at Church, put on a Jazz service at her church and was making plans to perform more publicly.

Last November (2017) I mentioned to you in Teaching Highs And Teaching Lows  that I received a text from one of my student’s about her health. I can tell you her name now, it’s Joanna.  Prior to that, it might have been around September/October of last year she asked me, at the end of a lesson, if anything should happen to her, could I play at her funeral or her memorial. I was stunned and looked at her.  Silent.  She asked me to think about it.   I didn’t know what to say.   Now, my job entails playing at funerals and memorials but this is the first that a student has asked me to play at their funeral before the time.  The feelings were too icky to handle. Truth be told I relegated it deep down in my mind. Hoping this would not happen.

Joanna postponed her lessons in November because she had to take a course of treatments as her cancer had returned.  She mentioned how difficult it was last time.  I prayed for a miracle, that her life would be extended.  We kept in touch by text over the weeks. She had chemo. We arranged lessons to take place in her strong weeks but those didn’t happen because of complications.

When she messaged to say there were problems with her organs I knew this did not bode well.

Early February (2018) I received a telephone call from Joanna’s Minister, Rev Winnie Gordon.  Joanna  had lost the fight with cancer.  She had passed on.  Rev Winnie told me that she had requested that I play at her funeral.  I felt punched.  What do you do when you’re asked to play at your student’s funeral?  What should I say now?  What should I do?…This will be difficult for me.  Maybe I should send a recording of me playing and attended?  Be brave and play?

I took a couple of days to think about it, cry and work through my feelings. Will I be able to play without breaking down? I reflected on the lessons – her progress, her gig plans, compositions about the places she had visited; planned compositions and our discussions about the place of her saxophone and music in her life.  Eventually I chose to play.  It was her wish and I wanted to honour the request of my student.

I could write more about my feelings, preparations and performance but I think I’ll end up not making sense and even rereading my notes is difficult so I’m going to stop now.  My husband and son attended to give me moral support, I definitely needed it.  My husband filmed aspects of the day for me.  You’ll see I start off pretty positive and in tune but Graveside was the worst. Definitely my most difficult Gig yet.

Joanna was a humble person who never boasted about her achievements. I found out at her funeral that she was once the Poet Laureate for Birmingham.  Although I knew she worked in African studies at the University of Birmingham I didn’t know she was a Doctor.

Any way, thanks for listening.  Welcome your thoughts.







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  1. Oh Sister Millicent, you had a God given assignment without initially knowing it. It was exceedingly accomplished. Stay connected to the Tree of Life (Jesus), He enabled you to process and complete a fitting tribute for your student Joanna. May her soul rest in eternal peace. Love and blessings, Sarah Thomas.

    1. Thank you so much Sarah, I hadn’t look at it that way. I guess I was just focus on the pain of loss. Thanks for pointing that out. Really encouraging.

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