Amazing Grace is the kind of song you expect to hear at a memorial service, but when it sounded through the U.S. Naval Academy during the funeral service of U.S. Senator John McCain last week, it was a version composed by Esquimalt’s Stephen Hatfield.
“It’s been out there for a while,” he says of the piece he composed more than 20 years ago that includes a choral accompaniment and bagpipes and was performed by the Brophy Student Ensemble of Phoenix, Arizona.
“It’s so plaintive,” he describes. “It just goes into your heart and can make you weep when you hear the pipes and hear the music floating over you.”
Hatfield, who grew up in 1950s Langford, credits his parents for providing him with an education in music.
“My parents busted themselves to get me good piano lessons,” he says. “I feel really fortunate to have had this career because I didn’t expect it. I didn’t think I was talented enough.”
Now a world-renowned choral composer, Hatfield – who has worked with choirs in Washington, D.C. – says he was “tickled pink” to have his music be part of a public mourning for a man who he felt had both dignity and honour.
“I admired the man,” he says. “He had a rather anodyne idea of what U.S. military intervention might accomplish but given his background he had the right.”
McCain, who died Aug. 25 at the age of 81, after a year-long battle with brain cancer, was a prisoner of the Vietnam war who served his country politically for 35 years, including a run for president on the Republican ticket with then-Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.
Hatfield isn’t sure if McCain personally chose his version of Amazing Grace after it was widely reported the Senator had planned much of his own funeral, to which he did not invite President Donald Trump.
Regardless, to think his “little piece of music” could be a part of such a “deep public expression of grief” leaves Hatfield heartened.
These days, Hatfield’s creative outlet is working with local a capella group, The Millies. Having long admired the work of Lynda Raino, Hatfield calls the chance to connect with the trio musically, “the ultimate fan story.”
“I just love working with them,” he says. “It’s so different from a concert choir. It’s just so cool to think that here’s somebody of whom I was such a big fan and they pull me aboard. It’s so rewarding.”