I’m told that my grandmother was a trained concert pianist or maybe that is what I would like to remember that I heard. It explains a lot about my father whose love for music evoked a range of emotions from irritation to “awe” in his children. My father loved Opera and was compelled to listen to it much too loudly in the house on a Saturday morning when I would have preferred to have been sleeping or during dinner parties where his guest craned their necks to hear their dinner partners speak or worst of all in the car where I was captive audience in the back seat. My fondest memory however are those times when the music was not obnoxiously loud and I would see him with fingers laced behind his head, elbows out, legs extended straight in front of him, crossed at the ankles, sitting with his eyes closed and completely lost in a violin sonata.
I like to imagine that as a very young child he may have sat at his mother’s feet while she played the piano. I like to imagine her lanky body swaying to the music created by her fingers striking the keys that hit the piano strings that produced sweet music that floated about her Amsterdam flat. I like to imagine that it was there that my father first learned to transport himself into another consciousness watching his mother’s feet instinctively touch the piano pedals. At those moments, he at his mother’s feet, I’m certain that neither of them could imagine that at age 17 he would be held in a German prisoner of war camp. I also like to believe that on dark lonely nights during his imprisonment, he heard those melodies in his mind, and they soothed him.
My father’s memorial was void of scripture or promises of the kingdom of heaven. My father had already found his heaven in music and found proof of God I’m certain in the creative ability of composers. It was only natural therefore, that his memorial reflected that fact. Each of his four children eulogized him with our words and his favorite pieces of music played in his honor.
Although none of my father’s children are musicians, I think that we all have a love of music and understand and take part in its ability to transform us and our environment. Music serves as a wordless form of communication between me and my brothers. When at Christmas, one brother shares a CD of the Vienna Boys Choir, we don’t need to exchange words to say, “Remember the sweet voices that soared through our home singing, “Stille Nacht” each year during the holidays?”. We each know that it is an ode to our father. When I send my brothers a Youtube of Nina Simone singing, “I Loves You Porgy”, no words are needed. It takes us back to our old Kansas Farmhouse, where the unlikely music of Gershwin poured from the open windows swirling through the reaching branches of the trees and traveled to the ears of the curious barnyard animals. I like to think that for a moment they were silenced as they cocked their heads in wonderment.
Needless to say, music is an essential part of my life. It has carried me through moments of darkness, and as it did for my father, transports me to another level of consciousness. Every few weeks my husband and I visit a local bar owned my husband’s coworker where we have a few drinks and listen to live music. This bar, happens to be part of a circuit tour for some outstanding musicians. One of my most memorable evenings of music included an opening act named Otis, which consisted of 6 musicians who met at the Chicago Columbia School of Art. They were easily the youngest musicians that I had ever seen play this venue and they might well have been the quirkiest. The lead singer was a 24 year old young woman from Arkansas. Her brunette hair was pulled into a bun and she had a rather elegant look about her. She was also drop dead sexy. It seemed to be her habit to stare straight out into the audience at a fixed spot at the back of the bar. She was unaware of how a lingering glance at an occupied table might have increased the heart rates of the middle aged men or awakened the green eyed monster in their female companions, the very scenarios that fill the air with “atmosphere”. Her voice had great range and also the ability to capture her audience with throaty depth. She swayed her hips in a smooth movement that fell somewhere between restrained self-consciousness and innocent but sensual gyration. Meanwhile her fellow musicians all male, each her age or younger were rigid and so engaged in their instrument that one might have guessed that they were just outside the radar of autism spectrum, not once did they look out into the audience, much less make eye contact. Their sound was a sort of a funky jazz that had a level of sophistication that one would not expect of such a young group. Each musician was an artist who demonstrated tremendous potential though still in search of individual identity. They were a really good band. It was obvious that with more experience and confidence they will easily capture their audience and leave them with the lingering memory that one has after being touched by something of beauty.
The main act was a trio, a guitarist, a bassist and a drummer known as the Bel Airs. Each was old enough to be the father of each of the musicians in the opening act. The trio was “tight”. Their bluesy rock tunes had the audience on their feet and the dance floor was overflowing with movement. The trio played with the obvious familiarity of seasoned musicians and the young musicians looked on with the respect and intensity that only a truly dedicated student gives a classroom instructor. When the trio returned to the stage the young musicians began to dance together and their youthful vitality seemed to invigorate the audience. It was impossible not to be enchanted by their lithe movement and soon they were absorbed into a mass of more middle aged dancers.
As the evening wore on the young saxophonist from the opening band took his instrument out of its case and approached the stage followed by the trumpet player. The trio made way for the young musicians who immediately fell into rhythm with the veteran performers who watched on like adoring fathers. It was nothing short of magical.
I doubt that my father would have appreciated the music of Otis or that of the Bel Airs but he would have loved the magic that took place that evening. More and more often I find myself wanting the answer to a question that only he could answer and this confirms my belief that our sense of loss for our deceased loved ones does not dim but evolves to something new. I am comforted by the strange realization that that he is such a large part of me and that finally, when I see some part of him looking back at me in the mirror, it is indeed a good thing.