Tuesday, March 26, 2019

My Dad and Beethoven Have Been Good to Me

The image on the cover of this "high fidelity" 33.3 rpm vinyl record is one of the oldest images in my memory.

When I was very little (about four years old) my father and I used to listen to this record and few others he had of Beethoven, as well as Brahms, Dvorak, and others.

This is an early childhood memory, so I can't say how many times we actually listened to it.

But it was one of those archetypal childhood moments that made a lasting impression on me: this experience of being with my Dad listening to this music.

In that memory, both of us were "air conducting" along with the great Arturo Toscanini (who shows us how it's done on the cover of this brilliant recording of a performance at Carnegie Hall in 1951).

For more than fifty years of my life, My Dad and Beethoven have been there for me.

Today all of that came full circle.

I was at Dad's bedside. He was breathing slowly and sometimes opening his eyes. He is no longer responsive, or at least we can't really be sure whether or not he is trying to communicate; he can't speak, his eyes don't move even when they're open, nor does he make any other bodily gestures. But I think he can still hear. Whatever happens, I will never say that he's "gone" as long as he lives in his body, however precariously, with whatever fragility. His remaining with us in these last days is still precious.

He's getting a big boost of supplemental oxygen from a non-invasive tube under his nose. But the ongoing systemic complications of recent illnesses along with the accelerated ravages of dementia exacerbated by encephalopathy are bringing to a close his nearly-84-years-long pilgrimage in this life.

Dad is as comfortable as he can be, and does not appear to be in pain. He is being exceptionally well cared for by the staff at this beautiful home, and by the medical team that gently intervenes when necessary.

We spend as much time as we can with him. John Paul was here in the afternoon and he and I talked with each other and with "Papa" about John Paul's approaching graduation and other things. The "three generations of Janaro men" had some time together.

When I was with him for a stretch by myself, I decided to play some music.

It wasn't hard to find Toscanini conducting Beethoven's 7th Symphony on YouTube. So we listened to it together.

I have listened countless times in my life to this glorious piece of music, as interpreted by a multitude of conductors and orchestras. The music has many facets. But then and there, with my Dad, the brisk, bright, vigorous clarity of Toscanini's interpretation seemed to reawaken that rapport over shared music from my childhood.

I didn't see any dramatic signs from him (or any signs at all) that he was also remembering those days, but I wasn't expecting to.

It was just being with my Dad, and Beethoven, one more time.