Thank You for the Music (A Father’s Day Orchestration)

I’m sitting here tonight doing what I do nearly every night—listening to symphonic music on my Walkman while I write. And as I was writing and listening, I grew aware of my highly trained ear and its evolution. At the moment, it’s the soundtrack to the Sci-Fi* channel’s Children of Dune, the first cut, “Summon the Worms.” The piece begins softly with mournful strings and then begins to build until the strings and brass play point and counterpoint back and forth on the same theme. And then it bursts wide open with the tympani leading the rest of the orchestra into the billowing centerpiece. I play it over and over again because it, quite simply, makes my body tingle.

When I was in elementary school, my father would sometimes take me to his weekly orchestra rehearsals. He belonged to the local community orchestra which put on maybe three or four concerts a year. I would sit at the back of the rehearsal hall at the local high school with him and rejoice in the music that surrounded me. He played percussion. If it wasn’t brass, strings or woodwinds, he was your guy (except for piano and harp, of course).

The Pomona Valley Symphony Orchestra in rehearsal  circa 1958

My very favorite instrument he played was the tympani—the big copper kettledrums. I loved, and still love, that deep-throated pounding sound, almost like the beating of a heart. You have to tune those, you know. There are usually two or more in the orchestra, and they’re tuned to different notes. Each time before my dad would perform, he’d spend many minutes with his ear within millimeters of the drumhead tapping it lightly with the padded tympani mallet, and as he did so, he would turn one tuning screw a skosh clockwise or counterclockwise to get the desired pitch. (The drums typically have a range of a perfect fifth, according to Wikipedia.) And then he’d repeat the process with the other one. He loved those drums, but they didn’t belong to him. The school district owned them.

The orchestra from my father’s point of view

Dad would also let me sit with him during performances. That’s when all the hard work week after week came together in a perfect whole. I would sit on a chair just like his chair—an angelic-looking little blond girl—and watch and listen as the orchestra gave life to black dots on paper. I learned to play the piano starting in first grade, moved on to accordion and then violin along the way, but I believe that the greatest music education I ever got was sitting in that orchestra absorbing the contribution of every instrument alone and then together. I can tear “Summon the Worms” apart and appreciate its soaring due to the time I spent sitting at the back of that orchestra.

My father, my younger sister and
myself in a publicity photo for the orchestra.

So, to my father who’s been gone for nearly six years now, I say thank you. Thank you, Daddy, for the music, all the music. My life would falter were it not for my love of music. And while rock-and-roll is great and I love it dearly, it’s the magic of an orchestra that never fails to take me places I’ve never been before.

*That’s what the SyFy network was called when the miniseries first aired.

Worthy Women of Courage

I’m pissed.  A few days ago I wrote a lovely piece about my father I intended to upload this weekend.  I’ll still upload it, but I’m pissed and I need to tell you why.  Several months ago I allied myself with a group on the internet and Facebook called Ordain Women (OW).  I’ve written about this before and about my concerns if the general authorities of the Mormon church decide to come down hard on these women.

The war has begun.  On June 8, 2014, Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, received an “invitation” to answer charges of apostasy (see NYT article here).  Likely the evidence will include the belief on the part of the church that Ordain Women and its members and supporters are directly questioning the authority of the “divinely” inspired leadership of the church.  The fact that these women always speak softly, dress in their Sunday best whenever they perform some sort of public action and only ask that said leadership ask God the question “Has the time come for women to be ordained?” means nothing to these men in charge.  They see these women as questioning the laws of God.  The LAWS of GAWD, for heaven’s sake.  (And remember that this is a church that was founded on the principle of “ask and it shall be answered.”)

Silent vigils are planned for the day and time this “disciplinary council” is scheduled to meet (June 22, 7 p.m. ET).  Sister Kelly, who, as an attorney, knows how to answers these fools and refute their charges, will not be present.  Knowing that Ms. Kelly has just moved from Virginia to Utah, her “former” bishop has ordered the meeting to take place in Virginia in a ward (a small community of church members) to which Ms. Kelly no longer belongs and to which she will be unable to travel (especially at the tail end of a weekend).  She will be allowed to send a written statement, but no phone or internet will be allowed.  Either show up or shut up.

To the wonderful women of OW who are reeling from this betrayal, I say, be strong.  Be not afraid.  I don’t believe in God as you perceive him, but I believe that there’s something out there which, when petitioned, will send you the strength and courage you require.  The bigwigs of Mormondom may have fired the first salvo and the wounds may feel deadly, but the recognition you seek as human beings of equal value to me is a worthy cause.  I know that often one of you will quote a line or two from “Come, Come Ye Saints,” but I choose to end with words from the Finale of Les Miserables.

“Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!”