The most important concert

I never had the joy of having a ‘typical’ grandparent until I became a part of my husband’s family. Both my mother’s parents died early, she was only 24 and my older siblings barely remember her. My father’s mother went through a lot in her life and combined with her frail health condition, she wasn’t able to act like a stereotypical grandmother* .
However, my in-law grandmother really plays the part, in the sense that they stuff you with food, ask questions about every aspect of your life and offer lots of unasked for but valuable advice. She is the kind of person who really grows onto you and it’s never a pain to visit her because you know that that afternoon will be memorable.
My grandfather was a musician and a theologician, until he had several strokes that left him almost unable to communicate or play his instrument. I never knew the kind of person he was before the strokes, but even now his very strong and loving personality remains. He hated the home he lived in, they put on the TV all day and had them listen to Dutch popular music, while my grandfather had always loved classical music. We’d given him an ipod with classical music but he was dependent on the nurses to turn it on for him, so he rarely got to listen to his preferred music genre.
So of course, I really wanted to play the harp for him, but I didn’t want to just play some celtic tunes on my bardic but I wanted to play the Handel concerto. That is the most classical piece I know and I felt that only that would be worthy enough for such a first-class musician as he had been. On a 27-string harp the Handel is quite a challenge. I’ve tried it for fun but there are some spots where you can’t change the octave and it just doesn’t sound right. Bringing my 34-string harp wasn’t an option because we don’t have a car, so I resigned to the fact that it would be quite some time before I could let my grandfather hear what the harp sounds like.
A few weeks ago, we were planning to visit my grandparents in their new home, but I also had to take my bardic harp along for a band practice session in another city later that day. I hadn’t planned on ‘giving a performance’ but of course I couldn’t let that thing sit in its case…
All the things they say about playing for people are true. It isn’t about playing the correct notes, it isn’t about complex music, but it is about touching people, telling a story and forging a connection. I first played some celtic tunes to warm up, then I made a go for the 27-string version of the Handel. While it was certainly interesting, it didn’t really go as intended. Sometimes I had to stop and go back, sometimes I sort of hesitated. I hoped he’d show recognition the piece of music or maybe show that he liked it. No response, even though he was sitting a few feet across.
So I started improvising a bit over the idea of the Baroque flamenco, the menuet part, then some flamenco-inspired thing – and I don’t know what happened but I noticed that my grandfather had noticed the music and was listening very intently. I was suddenly very aware of his breathing and his awareness. I continued to play, most of this piece works rather well on a 27-stringed harp – and I could still feel the tension, his attention.
The baroque flamenco has a cadenza, where you really build up suspense by tapping on the harp sound board – and then you play a few notes in the high register, still keeping the tension –
Anyway, it worked. I finished the piece and I looked at him and he looked at me and I knew I had accomplished my goal, connecting through music. While it was very profound and moving for me, it wasn’t like there was a huge silence, the moment lasted maybe a few minutes.
This is what making music is all about, and apparently, you can’t force it, it just happens when you least expect it. Sometimes I am really intimidated by all the fabulous professional harpists with their superior tone control, they really can tell a story with their music – but some aspects of this are also available to amateurs, as I discovered that day. Actually, in hindsight, I think that this experience really has a lot in common with what I experience with a patient a while ago! I never felt like I was a very spiritual person, but the spirituality seems to find me

* Regarding my paternal grandmother: I’ll cover this in a blogpost in a while, I discovered that she indeed deeply cared about her grandkids, even though she did not always show it to us in an obvious way.

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2 Comments on “The most important concert”

  1. Eliza says:

    Indeed, the most important thing to remember about music is that it connects people.

  2. Bringing the joy of music and the sense of connection to your grandfather trumps any and all wrong notes or hesitations. You played music from the heart, which is the most beautiful of anything we can hope to ever play.


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