My musical upbringing was a mix of Britney Spears and Beethoven.
While I had a penchant for all things pop music, my dad was a huge classical fan. I have vivid memories of doing homework in my room or trying to learn the words to a Mandy Moore song as the insurmountable power of Beethoven’s Fifth boomed throughout the house. I can also recall all of the sunny days when my dad was driving me around in his white Chrysler convertible (oh, baby! What a car) with the top down and Vivaldi blasting for all to hear, as he’d move his hands up and down with the accents of the music.
I never really understood my dad’s love for classical music, but it was always something that moved both him and my grandmother. They would often go to the symphony together, and at one point even had season’s tickets to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. It was their thing.
I was in Grade 11 when my dad’s mom—the only grandparent I ever met—died. And I can’t remember the exact timing, but it seemed like soon after that the house fell into a sort of silence. I’m not sure if my dad did this on purpose or not, but he stopped playing classical music like he used to. There was still a lot of music in the house, but instead of instrumental period pieces it was Lionel Ritchie or Fleetwood Mac or The Beatles. All solid choices, but not the same.
This past December was his 60th birthday, so I wanted to get him something extra special. I consulted my mom, and we both concluded that my dad hadn’t been to the symphony since my grandma died. That was almost six years ago. So we bought tickets for him and me to go see the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra play Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons when I was home visiting from Toronto. It was something I’d wanted to do with him for a long time; I think it was my silent way of telling him that the music didn’t have to stop.
We went to the show, and it was great. The first piece, Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, was lively and interesting, and my dad was bobbing his head along, laughing at surprising instrumental moments and reading up about the composer in his program. After intermission it was time for the Vivaldi piece, and I was excited to watch him listen to it; this famous piece was one I’d heard in our house for years as a child. Now I was a grown up (kind of), and he used to go to the symphony with his parent and now he got to go with his kid, and oh shit, I’m going to cry. Point is: I was happy we were there together.
Everything started out fine. He’d lean over during particularly familiar parts and say, “Recognize that?” and I’d nod and smile and feel five-years-old again. And without really realizing it, I started getting really into the music. Like, wow, a live orchestra—without dancers on stage, which is what I was used to seeing—is really beautiful! I was trying hard to follow along, but at one point I got lost somewhere between Summer and Autumn. I leaned over to ask my dad what season we were in, and that’s when I saw it: he was asleep.
My dad. My dear old, forever inquisitive, lust for life dad was asleep at the symphony.
I quickly turned my attention back to the stage, and didn’t look over at him again until I noticed him stir. He stayed awake for the final season, and I pretended like I’d never seen his mid-orchestral snooze. The piece ended and we both agreed it was beautiful.
When we left, he told me a story about a time when he and my grandma went to the symphony and the performance was so magical that the entire audience leapt to their feet, unsure what just happened but aware that it was special. It was nice to hear him talk about her, and specifically, talk about her in the context of classical music.
I thought about our night at the symphony for some days after, and eventually the whole dad-asleep-thing made me laugh. How hilarious! There I was thinking I’d make some cosmic breakthrough in him and instead he took a nap. It was too good.
A few days later, though, I walked in the door of my parents’ house and my ears were met by the sound of a symphony. I have no idea what piece he was playing, but as soon as I saw my wonderful dad sitting there on the couch, reading a book and listening to classical music, my heart did a backflip. I didn’t say anything to him. I didn’t have to.