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Saturday Afternoons at the Opera

"A reflection on how my father's taste in music was passed down"
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Published 3 months ago

Author's Notes

"Originally written for my father funeral in November, 2014."
The other day I was doing some work in the kitchen, fixing up the caulking behind the sink. As I often do when I’m doing stuff in that room, I put the radio on to CBC Radio 2. It being a Saturday afternoon, opera poured out into the room. I don’t even know when Saturday Afternoon at the Opera began, but it’s been a fixture on the CBC for, it seems, forever.

Inevitably, my thoughts turned to Dad. Inevitably because he listened to those broadcasts when he could. And I often found myself listening along with him. As difficult and strange as opera may be to some, it is a thing of beauty and drama to those, like Dad and I, who love it.

We watched opera together, too. Not live. My hometown had few, if any, opportunities for that back in those days. But productions from the Metropolitan Opera and others were broadcast on television, mostly on PBS but occasionally on the CBC. I recall watching Puccini’s famed “La Boheme” with him and Mom one time. It was the great Luciano Pavarotti in the male lead, still in his prime, still blasting that powerful tenor through our TV speakers.

And then there was Wagner. I don’t recall if he watched the 1976 production of the Ring Cycle (which is basically Tolkien but darker and with more singing) on PBS with me, but I know he was into the German’s dark, powerful music and drama as much as I was. We did watch the early Wagner opera Tannhauser together one time and he recorded the 1988 Met production of The Ring for me while I was off at university.

It went beyond opera, of course.

There was his love of the organ, which led him to be the lead on the purchase of a new organ for our family church. That was something else I picked up.

And brass and pipe band music. I remember him and Mom sitting on Sunday evenings listening to Men of Brass, a program of band music while doing the find a word puzzle from the local paper’s colour comics.

And Broadway shows.

And symphonies. Twice, Dad and I attended live performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony together, a piece that ranked high for both of us.

Even in the music that I like that maybe wasn’t his type, the taste for powerful, dramatic music shows. Bands like Yes, Pink Floyd, and Arcade Fire figure strongly among my favorite popular music. All are capable of producing music that is dramatic, even symphonic or operatic, in scope and power.

In the words of an Abba song (and, yes, we did like Abba): Thank you for the music.


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