ATLANTA -- Music filled the Atlanta Symphony Hall, as it often does, on Sunday – though one deep tone was sadly absent.
It was the memorial concert for Jane Little, the longest serving member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra – in fact, the longest serving member of any orchestra in the world.
Little collapsed during a concert just a week before and passed away, but not before making memory after memory with her fellow musicians for 71 years.
“Jane Little was standing next to me last Sunday when she played her last note, surrounded by people she loved in a place that was like home to her,” bass player Michael Kurth said.
That brought some comfort, but not enough to fill the empty spot in many hearts that loved her.
Little was remembered in word and song as the orchestra performed and shared their fondest and funniest memories of someone as ubiquitous to the orchestra as the very instrument she played.
“She was strong, remember how she never gave up, that’s how she would want you to remember her – strong, fiery and spirited and most importantly happy and smiling,” her friend of 30 years Ellie Kosek said. “I think it was a gift to be as happy as she was. I would call her every day – of course, not before noon – just to chat with her.”
They would talk about life and doctor’s appointments and schedules. They would also take occasional trips to the North Carolina mountains – where Little hoped to one day retire.
“On our many trips to North Carolina, I would drive and sit and listen to her stories which were priceless Kosek said. “Who needed a radio?”
One of those stories involved sneaking away from home as a young girl and taking a Cadillac convertible to Daytona Beach – against her mother’s wishes.
Kosek said her mother hung up on her when Little called but that she enjoyed herself anyway.
“A true modern day Scarlett O’Hara – their philosophy, ‘I’ll worry about that tomorrow’,” Kosek said.
At 4 feet 11 inches, little chose the biggest and bulkiest instrument in the orchestra – the double-bass.
Despite a stature and name that would say otherwise, Little’s contributions to the orchestra as a musician were anything but small.
She had succeeded despite playing an instrument dominated by stronger men who she said have much bigger hands that can handle the difficult string movements more easily
“When I feel sore and weary after a day of playing the base, I remind myself that if an 87-year-old cancer patient with a broken vertebra who weighs 90 pounds soaking wet can do it, maybe I should stop whining and get back to work,” Kurth said adding that he wished he had the chance to tell her that.
Little celebrated her 71st uninterrupted session with the orchestra on Feb. 4, her birthday, and crossed into the history books as the longest consistent member of any orchestra. The feat was verified by officials with Guinness World Records.
Months later, she would player her final note together with the same group that she had made so many memories with.
“Much has been said of the appropriateness of the circumstances of Jane’s passing,” Kurth said. “It certainly seems poetic.”
Little’s last song with this group was “There’s No Business Like Show Business”. On Sunday, a group – a family – of musicians made clear that there was no one quite like Jane Little.
“I would eagerly trade that Hollywood ending,” Kurth said, “for a few more heartbeats, a moment, one last opportunity to tell Jane how beloved she is and how much she means to our orchestra family and how grateful we are for her life and her gifts.”