Friday, June 20, 2008

ora pro nobis

At lunch today, while sitting with a colleague in the bright mid-June sunlight at a trendy downtown bistro listening to jazz, I was startled to hear the unmistakable first few notes of the live recording of Jascha Heifetz's performance of Schubert's Ave Maria.  In a flash I lost track of the conversation, my surroundings, everything.  

Schubert's Ave Maria is a musical powerhouse in its own right, but for me there is no more emotionally laden piece of music, and no more powerful rendition than Heifetz's.  Ave Maria was played at my wedding (which was on the Solemnity of the Assumption) and was played at my father's funeral---with only me and one of my sisters there to hear and understand.  It was frequently listened to in our house as we grew up, and is inextricably linked to my conflicted memories of my father.  (or my memories of my conflicted father---either way works.)

My father told the story, true or not--who can know?, that in his early years in radio, as a young white man doing on-air work at an all-black R&B radio station, he would always, without fail, play Ave Maria on the air at noon, for his mother.  As I am named for his mother, maybe he saved this story for me---I wonder if he told others something else?

Regardless, much of my childhood conspired to contribute to this music's power for me.  I went to Catholic School--some of the time at an all-girls school.  One of my sisters crowned Mary one year---a source of reflected glory for me that I can still recall vividly.  "Oh Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today/Queen of the Angels/ Queen of the May."  We brought white peonies to place by her statue in the convent chapel--and you won't be surprised to know that I have planted a white peony in my garden----I didn't plan it, it was a gift from someone who couldn't have known.

My father would occasionally anonymously send me a dozen roses--in grade school, in high school, even in college.  The note was always signed with a Latin phrase from the Hail Mary----there was never any doubt that they were from him.  I said the Rosary faithfully as a child, and can still invoke it in times of great need.  

It was a little much, though, to have all of this flood into my head at lunch.

3 comments:

Andrea said...

Good Lord, what a lunch! Daddy told me the Ave Maria/radio story, too. Perhaps it was true. Or perhaps telling it frequently made it true, in his poor unhappy mind. He never sent me roses, though. Ever. He would occasionally send me a birthday card -on someone else's birthday ;)

Andrea said...

Wait. There's more.

I have white peonies too. They were here when we moved in and I've always felt really strongly that that's part of what made this house mine.

And...there's a West Wing episode in the first season where this piece of music figures prominently. If you haven't seen it, I'll play it for you when you're here.

And... (You thought I might shut up at some point????) how did people know to play this piece of music at daddy's funeral? I guess he probably played it all the time and they just noticed that??

And... the tune of "oh Mary we crown thee with blossoms today" is still perfectly in my head. The smell of those May crowning processions... just the smell of roses can bring about a huge flashback.

Nina said...

They knew to play it at the funeral because I told the hospice people that he might like to listen to it sometimes. Towards the end, he was in a lot of pain, and sometimes music calmed him down a bit.