Opera – My Very Own Prelude
I grew up with music all around me. I took music lessons as a child and continued into my early teens, but then my brother became ill with Leukemia. My brother’s illness became an all-consuming devastating process, draining the family resources and taxing everyone’s time as he was shuttled back and forth to the Hospital, countless Doctor appointments, and various Treatment Centers. There was simply no money left after all this for music lessons. Most music schools would have accepted this news and parted ways with student and his family. In my case however, there was a wonderful man who took pity on my family’s plight. Rudy was his name. He owned the music school and studio rooms that sat over a small department store downtown, and he made a proposition to my parents they couldn’t refuse.
Rudy approached my father, concerned I would have too much idle time on my hands while my parents were tending to my brother’s needs. He suggested I spend a lot of this time at his studio whenever they were busy with my brother or if I just needed a place to hang out after school. He would accept no money. All he asked of my father was to let him know the schedule as much as possible. All he asked of me was to study and complete my homework first, and to behave in the studio when done while others were getting lessons. If I wanted, I could practice or play around on any of the pianos as they were available, but there was no obligation to do so. As long as I listened and behaved, the place was completely available for me to lounge around as I pleased. I look back now and realize it is oftentimes difficult to recognize a profound act of someone else while it is in the moment, especially when it comes disguised as a simple gesture of kindness and patience. It took me years to truly comprehend the magnitude of this simple gesture and the effect it would later have on me. Rudy would indeed have an enormous impact in my life, but at the time, neither of us would know exactly how as he diligently planted seeds in me that would remain dormant for quite a while in such a turbulent time in my life.
For several years, first when my brother became ill, and for quite some time after he passed, I would spend countless hours of countless days of countless weeks doing my homework in any number of rooms with the sound of pianos, flutes, violins, violas, cellos, clarinets and other instruments filling the air in quietly muted tones floating through the closed doors of various lesson rooms and from his main studio whenever larger assemblies of bands would practice. Despite the chaos of activity and sounds, it was, for me, an incredibly relaxing and comforting atmosphere. To this day, I still will listen to classical music (often with headphones) playing softly in the background whenever I have a lot of reading or work to do. It is very much like a security blanket for me, giving me comfort and actually helping me focus.
What I remember most however, were those special times I got to spend with him after all the lessons were done for the night and before my father would come to pick me up. As Rudy would wander around closing up the studio, he would check in to see if I needed any help with my homework and tell me I could join him in his office when I was done with homework to wait for my father to pick me up. Rudy was an older gentleman, a widower whose two children were grown, married, had children of their own, living in other states. His passion of course was all things musical. But his special passion, a passion that burned within him was opera.
In those hours after the school closed its doors, Rudy would retire to his office and play any number of records selected from a vast collection of 78’s and LP’s scattered on the many shelves of his credenza, intermingled with musical scores and books. Occasionally he would listen to a symphony or concerto, but almost always it was opera. Let me be honest. I was not initially taken with it – my initial impressions were tilted to strange. I certainly didn’t understand it nor did I get what all the fuss was about. Still the musical melodies were gorgeous at times, even if I had no idea what was being sung. After all my homework was done, I’d wander in his office, plop down into his beat up old sofa, and eventually muster up the courage to ask him what in the heck was all the singing about; what did it all mean?
People who are passionate about a topic are without a doubt the most enthusiastic teachers, always eager to share their knowledge freely. Rudy was no exception. His eyes would light up and twinkle as he wandered over to the phonograph in order to lift up the needle and pause the music while he spoke, setting a scene, weaving together story of people, images, time, explaining the verses, their meaning and translations, and describing all the emotions of the scene. After a wonderfully rich set-up, he would turn back to the phonograph, gently placing the needle on the record, and ask me to close my eyes and simply listen; let my mind imagine and re-create what we discussed as the music played. This new-found knowledge and set-up made for a powerful experience; the seeds of my own passion were being sown, one musical passage at a time.
Week after week, he would tirelessly explain, and we would listen to countless passages of opera. He had this gift of knowing how to paint a scene, giving you all the essential information without spoiling it musically. You craved to listen to the musical passage after he set it up; it was never unnecessary or anti-climactic. As I reflect on him now, I realize he had many, many gifts, but this one, instilling a desire to hear more was indeed a rare one, difficult to achieve.
In a perfect world, people would recognize a gift and its significance at the very moment it is given. In a perfect world, people would stay close to each and every friend who is generous, kind, thoughtful, and caring; they would not take such acts for granted. I am not a perfect person nor was mine a perfect world. I soon graduated high school, left for college, graduated, moved away, got married, and had children. Basically I was busy getting on with this thing called life. Oh so busy it seemed, at least at the time.
I remember well the day my parents called to tell me they heard news that Rudy had passed.
Rudy, dear Rudy. I had always meant to drop by the studio and say hello. I had always meant to let you know how my studies in college were going. I had always meant to catch up with you and show off my new family. I had always meant to keep track of your retirement and the closing of your school. I had always meant to get your new address and ask you how you were enjoying your retirement. I had always meant to let you know how much I appreciated your selfless act to shield me from my own misery and sadness of dealing with a dying brother smack dab in the middle of my formative teen years. I had always meant to let you know how much you really shaped an integral part of my persona. I had always meant to let you know that I too have become passionate about opera, all because of you. It is with great anguish and shame in my heart that I sit and ponder how I managed to fail so completely to do all these things I had meant to do while you were still alive. Thankfully, my parents are better people than I.
I cannot dwell in misery for long, as it is not in my character. I will resolve however to take a big piece of you with me as I move forward in my own life, sharing my love and passion for opera with others. With the magic of the Internet and links to music, I plan to explore an opera experience with others and to do it Rudy style. I will draw on our many experiences together, with the hope I can manage to inspire and delight others to enjoy and have a passion for this great art form. It is the only way I know to relive those moments, if only in my mind, and to hopefully pass on a small bit of your legacy to others.
I know Verdi was your personal favorite, and have selected the following passage as my much-too-late farewell tribute to you. It is merely a prelude, absent the voices but a powerful way to set the scene. Very much like Alfredo and Giorgio Germont, I shall weep for the loss of someone who lived a life so full of compassion, who was free in spirit and selfless to the very end, all as I reflect on my own shortcomings.
Addio Maestro. Addio Caro Rudy.