A partial remedy to the absence of live music during the pandemic is the potpourri of livesteamed opportunities. A silver lining for us, Mom would not be getting out to any of them even in the absence of a pandemic, nor would I. We have watched key arias of the Messiah in the kitchen while I baked sugar cookies, the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus Snowed In performance from the family room, and the Portland Youth Phillharmonic Christmas concert as Mom lay in her electric bed in our dining room, now transformed to bedroom. For as long as it is. Dad might remind us if he could: one day at a time.
Readers unfamiliar with my published books may not be surprised, given its title, to learn that one of the lengthiest chapters in My Music Man emanates music. As I spend these hours, days, months with Mom, it is music that fills our moments. The notes from her collection of musicals and classical music spill out of the dining room throughout the day until bedtime. Recently as our conversations lag, our dinner companions are musical soundtracks and compilations: Carousel, I Do, I Do, West Side Story, Oklahoma, South Pacific, Joseph and the Amazing Dreamcoat – you name it. Story lines dated today, but scores and melodies that linger and resound in my heart and mind.
While Mom and I have regularly listened to these CDs during the six years since Dad died, it is only within the past month that I dug into the collection that had been our parents’ traveling companion, stored in the glove compartment of their Honda next to Dad’s package of black licorice. Music accompanied them on their long drives to Champoeg, the Columbia Gorge, and other parts of Oregon, even late in their lives. Now, as I sit with Mom, or she rests alone, the Velvet Voices of the Norman Luboff Choir or Aaron Copeland‘s Billy the Kid Rodeo and Appalachian Springs or the London Promenade Orchestra or Leroy Anderson as conductor fills our home….the list goes on and on. And with each CD, my heart travels back to my childhood and later visits to my parents’ home, sentimental with each track all these years later. A gift they shared, even now returning us to a bygone era.
Watching the Portland Youth Philharmonic that evening, Mom stayed awake beyond her 7 pm bedtime, recognizing so many of the pieces, tapping her feet in her hospital bed. I wonder if it took her back to her own kids’ earliest orchestra and band performances, all of us far less skilled than this group of musicians.
As my brothers and I crossed the threshold of Riverbank, music would stream from either our grandfather’s den or the living room. When Pat stopped by with his viola, Daddy Dick would take it by the grip, go into the living room with its plate glass windows looking out over the Willamette, and play the viola like a cello. The cello: our grandfather’s instrument, from his beginnings in Portland’s Lincoln High Orchestra to later performances in Portland recital halls.My Music Man Chapter 5: Heart Strings (listen to the entire audio reading of this chapter below).
“Daddy Dick, will you go to my orchestra concert tomorrow night?” Patrick asks.
“Wouldn’t miss it, Pat-the-Wat,” our grandfather replied, who coined nicknames for each of us and inspired brothers Pat and Andy to carry the creation of nicknames, many much cruder, onward to future generations. Thanks to my brothers, during my childhood I became Dorkus, Dumdum, and Doodoo.
The next night, our family filed into the West Linn High School gym, joining other families from across the school district for this concert, a district mixing kids from then-unincorporated Wilsonville with those of West Linn. Parents and grandparents: proud of their children learning strings. Younger siblings hanging on, holding out, hoping maybe they would get a special dessert later if they could just make it through the long evening without incident. The Wilsonville contingent was mostly represented by farming families. Our Daddy Dick sat among them like a refined English country gentleman, wearing a collared shirt and sport jacket, perched on a well-worn, creaky upper bleacher overlooking the high school basketball court. The kids in the spotlight were dressed up in their Sunday best: Pat proudly wore a sport coat with slightly mismatched slacks usually reserved for church; scuffed shoes. The music began—squeaks and off-tune strummings and squawkings of new musicians. It didn’t matter.The English gentleman fixed his eyes on his grandson. His hands moved to mimic holding a bow, moving it back and forth in beat with the hands of the eleven-year-old string players. He swayed to the music, never moving his eyes from his grandson on the floor of the gymnasium—for now, elegant as any recital hall.
“That was grand,” he whispered in Patrick’s ear afterward.
Listen to Heart Strings from My Music Man (Bedazzled Ink Publishing, 2017).