Just Play for the Music

My dad was diagnosed with recurrent kidney cancer in May 2014.  One month ago, he lost the long battle against cancer and I lost my hero.  He was the man who introduced me to classical music.

The story and legacy of my father is one of an immigrant, a medical doctor, a proud American citizen, and beloved family man.  He was born in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia), however, he was raised in Iran.  He moved to Tehran, Iran with his family when he was just two years old and resided there throughout his childhood.  A Methodist missionary assisted my dad in getting into college in the U.S.  At the age of 18, my dad arrived in New York, and ultimately made a career as an open heart surgeon.  He eventually saved up enough money to bring his mother and then his sister to the United States.  His father, head of a construction company that built many bridges and roads throughout Tehran, passed away before he had the chance to touch U.S. soil.

He was known for his precision and patience in the operating room and as a medical professor.  I was so moved to learn that the Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UNC started a Visiting Professorship Fund in my dad’s honor.  Another doctor and friend of my dad’s had driven down from his home in Virginia on three separate occasions to visit with my dad while he was ill, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at my dad’s memorial.  We received numerous, touching letters from friends, family, colleagues, and family members of patients, all who had been impacted my dad’s work and life and expressing thanks and appreciation for all that he did and stood for.

My father lived a well balanced life and enjoyed so many things, including figuring out how things work and fixing things on his own; monitoring and trading on the stock market; skiing, swimming, and running; dark chocolate, nuts, coffee with cream (but no sugar), and burnt toast — his mother and sister loved their toast this way too!  And boy, was he a softy for dogs!  He took me to symphonies, operas, and ballets starting when I was only a child, which turned into a love of classical music that we shared.  He was an opera buff and bass singer in his own right, and once upon a time, he auditioned for the MET.

My love of classical music turned into a career.  I went to school for music education (instrumental) and performed for 5 years with the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra in North Carolina on flute/piccolo.  Later, I went on to complete my graduate school degree in arts management in at American University in Washington, DC.  Despite hours of practice and years of performing, I would always get nervous before a concert.  My brother and I always admired my dad for his wisdom and the advice he offered turned into my personal and professional mantra.  “Catherine, you’ve done the work…just play for the music.”  This helped me focus on what mattered and enjoy the essence of classical music – the artistry, expression, and beauty of sound and storytelling through music.  I had practiced the technique and done the hard work and now it was time to let the emotion of the music shine through.

One of my dad’s favorite opera singers was Maria Callas and he had always hoped for an opportunity for me to play the flute part in Casta Diva from Billini’s opera ‘Norma’.  I haven’t yet had that chance, but hopefully someday I will.  And in honor of my dad, I’ll make sure to play for the music.

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“I took my 9-year-old to the opera, and she loved it.”

I took my 9-year-old to the opera, and she loved it | The Mommy Files | an SFGate.com blog.

Amy Graff, author of The Mommy Files, an SFGate.com blog, illuminates the powerful impact of and wonderful experiences surrounding Classical music performance.  She highlights the thoughts, emotions, reactions, and impressions that were involved in taking her nine-year-old daughter to the opera.

Her daughter’s interest in opera emerged from their participation in a family (shortened) version of Bizet’s Carmen.

She was enchanted by the elaborate costumes, the richly textured voices and the bustling pageantry, and when I tucked her into bed that night she was humming Bizet’s beloved aria Habanera.

She was thrilled—yet also irritated because she didn’t get to see the full performance and missed an entire act. She felt cheated.

Ever since my daughter has been asking me to take her to a “real” opera, and last weekend her dream finally came true.

Amy took her now 9-year-old daughter to the War Memorial Opera House for their first Saturday night opera performance.

As her mother, I was a little nervous. Could my energetic and callow child sit through two-and-a-half hours of Verdi’s Rigoletto?

My mom gut told me that opera was right up her alley. My daughter likes tea parties, hoop skirts and books that take place in the 1800s. Her favorite movie is “Singing in the Rain.”

I like tea parties and hoop skirts too! ; )

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Amy describes her ticket purchase & decision-making process:  I bought the cheapest seats. $27. In the very back of the balcony. Far to the side. (Just in case they had to leave in the first act.)

“I’m bringing my daughter,” I told her hesitantly.

“How old is she?”

“9?”

There was a pause. I considered backing out. I recalled the tantrum my daughter had thrown last week. She’s only  a child. Nine is too young, I thought.

She jumped into the silence with a reassuring, “That’s a good age to start!”

(Note to anyone who is inspired to go the opera from this story: We bought our tickets on the morning of the performance.)

She goes on to provide a lively anecdote of the entire evening’s experience – from choosing what to wear and finding a nice place to eat, to the captivating performance in the Opera House.  Amy reminisces on her own cultural upbringing and her daughter’s reactions to Rigoletto:

I’d never been to the opera until Saturday night. My parents never listened to opera. Because of my daughter’s interest in opera, I borrowed a Madame Butterfly CD from the public library and we listened to it in the car a few times. This is all new to me and I’m officially an opera ignoramus.

But I will tell you that my daughter was mesmerized by the performance about a court jester named Rigoletto, whose daughter, Gilda, falls in love with a flirtatious, noncommittal Duke. She sat silently and only let out a faint “ewww!” when Gilda kissed the Duke. After the embrace, the lovesick woman lay on the ground singing, fluctuating her voice, sending out beautiful, pure sounds that fluttered about the opera house like butterflies.

When it was all over she clapped wildly and kept looking over at me and saying, “That was so good.”

Most patrons were delighted to see this happy, young face in the audience.  Bringing her nine-year-old to the opera did not meet everyone’s approval, however.  She experienced some less-than-favorable reactions from a few impatient and surly individuals.  Despite these unreasonable and unfortunate encounters, Amy Graff and her daughter continued to have a great time.  I commend both of them for their sense of curiosity and exploration, their willingness to be open-minded and accepting of cultural arts, and their overall optimism and inclusive attitudes.

the opera needs her (I agree!). She’s enthusiastic and in love and after the show was done, she asked when we’d return. She’s got me thinking about investing in season tickets (in the back balcony, of course) and I’d be surprised if she doesn’t turn into a regular opera patron.

We sat among a sea of empty seats, and my daughter was quite disturbed by the vacancies and troubled that the show wasn’t sold-out.

Mommy, why aren’t there more people here?” she asked. “If I could, I would come every night.”

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I started going to the opera and to symphony orchestra performances when I was about her daughter’s age.  The continued exposure over time not only introduced me to an entire world of fantasies, dramas, adventures, love songs, and lessons in history, science, and art, I became more aware of international cultures and developed a passion for music.  Now I am pursuing arts management in Washington, D.C., with plans to continue playing and teaching flute and piano.  I couldn’t be happier and I couldn’t agree with Amy more.  I think it’s so important that children are exposed to cultural arts events, for the reasons I have already mentioned and so many more.

Were you introduced to the arts as a child?  What community events do enjoy participating in?