Last week, as I sat with Irv in Denver’s darkened Boettcher Concert Hall, the sounds of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony washed over me like a warm summer wave at Brighton Beach. Memories of other concerts flooded back and filled me with bittersweet emotion.
I pictured the words etched on the gravestone of opera singer Richard Tucker, who is buried in the same cemetery as my parents. The etching reads, “Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory.”*
So many memories of my parents – from the first to the last – are about music. One of my earliest recollections is watching Puccini’s Madame Butterfly on the small, black-and-white television, rabbit ears adjusted to minimize snow, in the corner of our Brooklyn living room. It was my first opera, and tears rolled down my cheeks as Butterfly lifted her father’s sword toward her chest.
Decades later, I was sitting in the New York City Opera House with my mother and sister watching La Boheme. The curtain fell, the lights came up, and we stood for an ovation. My mother peered over at my glistening eyes, grabbed my hand and said, “I knew you would like it.”
Other glimpses of musical memories:
My father dressed in his black tuxedo and my mother in her brown mink stole and long black satin skirt as they headed out for a night at the Metropolitan Opera.
Watching the ‘60s Mitch Miller TV show and singing along in our off-key voices to “Meet Me In St. Louis, Louis.”
My father taking the microphone to sing “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” at my cousin’s wedding.
My mother standing on the porch talking to our next door neighbor, Flo, when I arrived home from taking the college entrance exams.
“How did it go?” Mom asked.
OK, I think. Bizet wrote Carmen right?”
“Yes,” she answered, grinning with pride as she glanced at our neighbor.
“Yay. I got that one right.”
And then there’s the final music memory with Mom as she tossed and turned, restless and moaning during her final days. Thinking that music might soothe her, I found the recording of Paul Potts’ songs on my Iphone and placed the phone next to her ear. Her eyes didn’t open, but she lifted her eyebrows, her face smoothed and her body calmed as my brother, sister and I watched in awe.
I still can’t listen to Potts’ rendition of “Time to Say Goodbye” or Mimi’s aria from La Boheme without tears of love, nostalgia, and yes, gratitude, for my parents’ legacy of listening to great music.
*Googling the quote, I just learned it’s from a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, English Romantic poet (1792-1822).