If you played a musical instrument as a child did you ever have to perform for relatives at family gatherings?

I did and I always hated it.

When I was a junior or senior in high school and the request came yet again to perform for my grandparents, who were visiting that weekend, I rolled my eyes.

I played violin and my brother, who was in junior high at the time, was a cellist.

So I grumpily flipped through my black orchestra folder and plucked out the sheet music for Cavatina by Joachim Raff simply because that was one of the pieces my school orchestra was working on at the time.

My brother hadn’t played this music before and I doubt we rehearsed it together ahead of time.

In my self-absorbed teen state I probably hoped we wouldn’t play it well and that it would bring an end to these requests for command performances for relatives.

As we sat down to play I announced in a matter-of-fact way to the relatives that this piece was from an opera and that the singer sings this song right after learning he will die soon.

So we started playing and a short way into the piece my grandfather started crying.

He was not a man given to tears. He was a gruff man much of the time and I was often afraid of him.

Even in my self-absorbed teen state his tears made a huge impression on me.

I later learned that not long before this performance, my grandfather had been diagnosed with a medical condition for which he declined treatment. It would have required major surgery and he didn’t want to go through that and risk post-surgical complications or dying during surgery.

So he knew he was a walking time bomb. He was obviously contemplating these things as we were playing this piece because he, like the opera character this song was about, knew he didn’t have much time left.

I saved the sheet music and have always cherished the memory. My brother and I discussed the memory over the phone the other day and we went searching and found a video of this song online:

I hadn’t heard this song since performing it in high school and I wept all the way through it because it brought back the memory of my grandfather’s tears so strongly.

I’m not sure there’s anything more powerful than a song in the ability to bring back a memory. I cherish that kind of memory more than the stuff that gets handed down after someone dies, like china, jewelry or even cool basement bar items such as windup coasters (like my grandfather had).

My grandfather’s time bomb went off a few years after we performed for him. It just so happens that my brother was the one with him during his final conscious moments. As they sat on my grandfather’s couch watching a sporting event together on his 82nd birthday, my grandfather slipped peacefully away.

I don’t think my grandfather could have scripted a better death for himself.

And I can’t help but hope that we’ll have the opportunity to play Cavatina for him again someday, somehow…

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Filed under: ReflectionsStories/Storytelling

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