Friday, September 07, 2007

" . . .life in music is a life beautifully spent. . ." - thoughts on Pavarotti

“I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent and this is what I have
devoted my life to”.

Luciano Pavarotti

“Feeling joy doing what you love in the midst of a mortal struggle… It makes me tearfully smile”. Luciano Pavarotti.

Well, everyone who ever heard Luciano Pavarotti and loved his voice have been writing their memories. I'm among them. Saddened by yesterday morning's news it wasn't until I got to Crooks and Liars posting of "Nessun Dorma" that my sadness turn to tears.

I contributed my first memory of seeing Pavarotti both on Crooks and Liars and on Yahoo! Answers. It was on The Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson) Friday, September 14, 1979.

If my memory is correct he came with Richard Thomas (John Boy Walton) .

Richard was a scheduled guest on the Tonight Show that night, but he really wanted to introduce this man, this voice, to the American public. This was so unplanned that I don't think Johnny was even aware of what was going to happen.

Moments after Richard was introduced he introduced Pavarotti, the curtain opened and he [Pavarotti] was standing by a piano. Then he sang, and I became a fan.

This is how I remember. I may be wrong, but I hope not.

Maybe Richard Thomas, or anyone else who saw the show that night can confirm this memory.

Anyway, on Crooks and Liars (as well as other places) others shared their memories:

Timelag said:

This is the man who got me listening to opera, along with many others. As I got more into it, I just assumed I would graduate to other singers and find that he was too “pop” or something. But it never happened, he remained, and remains, my favorite by a long stretch.
RichardinSF said:

It wasn’t until Pavarotti came along that I could understand how people can be brought to tears by opera.
William reported

This news saddened me greatly. I was fortunate enough to have been in the orchestra accompanying Pavarotti during his 2000 tour. At the rehearsal he was happy, funny and more than willing to stand for a photo with me. I feel so privileged to say I performed with him. This icon of a man was just a warm, friendly regular guy… but a man who sang like a god. His performances and humanitarian work exemplify the best of the human spirit.
beckyboo shared:

When our second daughter was a toddler, barely able to speak, she would get a foot stool out and stand in front of the TV. She’d stand on top of it and say, in her toddler voice…” Thes ees Jow–nee Caar sone…and tonigh we have wif us Lutzee-awno Pottee-rrrrottee singy Nesssssi Door No. ” Now she listens to Sublime and Slipknot,(but also B.B. King and Clarence Carter), but she will still get a big smile and say, under her breath, “Lutzee-awno Potte-rrrrottee.” and then hang around and listen.

More shared their memories and thoughts in C&Ls Late Night Music Club with Luciano Pavarotti

99 had an amusing story:

Back when I lived in “civilization”, I had a nextdoor neighbor who would play heavy metal so loudly 24/7 that it shook my house. Finally, I threw my windows open, with my speakers aimed at his house, and turned Luciano loose on him… all the way up to eleven. His house went silent.

Yellowbird actually got to enjoy the company of Pavarotti upclose and personal:

I was one of the lucky people on the planet that actually got to meet him and spend a little time in his company.
It was at an afternoon gathering at a private home in Beverly Hills, California where a group of talented musicians from the local area gathered for a little friendly chamber music. The food on the table and the wine was PAR EXCELLENCE!!!

Luciano did not entertain that afternoon, but rather sat in the audience alongside me and my friends in a group that totaled about 50 people counting the musicians. I believe the lovely woman he was with later became his wife. My sincerest condolence to her for her loss should she read this.

Luciano showed me how to wrap a piece of Brie cheese within a date to cover the sharp taste and after a couple of chews, wash it down with wine. It was delicious and so was his company. He was real. He was warm. He was friendly and big as a mountain. I honestly could feel the power coming from this man. I never forgot that afternoon and I have always cherished Luciano. He was a gift from heaven, whether you believe in the place or not. He was gregarious and generous; a man’s man to the end. There wasn’t a woman who could come near him that wouldn’t take a second, third, fourth, (and more) look. He had that personal magnetism, that charisma that Bill Clinton has. I have seen him in person too. I know.

What can I say about his voice. It sends chills down my spine like few artists can. Not once in a while; but ALWAYS. His sound is so familiar I can pick it out any time any where. Whenever I have heard him sing; I stop whatever I am doing and take in the music. I can’t do anything but stop and listen. I can’t read, write, drive; I can’t do ANYTHING until he stops. It is that stunning to me. I am in love with his voice; his art. He was a master. And that is no exaggeration.

I love him and will miss him always. This piece of music shows the playful, non stuffy aspect of his nature. Luciano was brilliant. He will stand in the annals of human history forever… a great artist… a great man.

Thanks for letting me share. I am very sad at his loss and have been crying since I heard last night. Maybe if I can talk about it I will call in Malloy and share my story.

And Strawberry shared this most powerful memory:

When my first son was born, he was colicky. And I don’t mean, oh the poor thing, he’s just colicky. I mean, oh my God, why does he sound like someone put him in a blender, colicky. I even had a pediatrician specializing in colic, turn to me after observing him for a few minutes and ask “Is he always like this?” Yes, he was always like that. When he wasn’t attached to my boob, he would screech until he collapsed from exhaustion. And one morning about 1AM we were driving him around the neighborhood, trying to get him to sleep, when Pavarotti came on the radio…silence, blissful silence. I love Pavarotti, he saved my young son’s life.

So why am I posting the comments on C&L? Because I want to preserve them and I am not sure how long C&L now holds onto the comment portions. It used to be only a week or two, but then again, that's when they used Haloscan. But it is also as a segway to something I learned today that adds another line or two in the music chapter of my life.

Yesterday I wondered what my life would have been like if I had pursued opera/vocal music. My first vocal teacher, Robert (Bob) Bartalot, wanted me to very much, and was probably more than a little miffed when I left it all together. (Though he hid it well). When, as a teen, I had reached a vocal level beyond what he could teach me, he encouraged me to contact “THE” vocal teacher in Denver at that time, Winne Mague* (or Magoo, I don’t remember) . I know I started on that path, but am not sure what happened then, because I didn’t study with her. I never met with her, it may have been a scheduling thing or a teen thing, I just don’t remember.

When I left Denver to attend college outside the state I made vocal music my minor. But there was a criticism I didn’t expect, I could never “warm” my voice. The clear, bell tone with little or controlled vibrato, a great ear, and almost perfect phonetics of languages I didn’t understand with near ease, things that I was complimented on in Denver, didn’t get me as far here. The “warmth” that I could never bring, along with a mystery decline in my health, was a hard blow and I returned to Denver.

I continued on with a vocal music minor when attending Denver University. When I got totally stumped in music history/theory I called my old vocal teacher, Bob. He spent long nights on the phone helping me out. He more than once, comforted my confusion and feelings of inadequacy by saying that it’s a short coming of vocal music education that we don’t get the same grounding in theory early on that those in instrumental music do.

Anyway, I survived the class with a "C", even though that morning, hours before my finals my (now ex) husband beat me. I was so upset I couldn’t even sing for my vocal final. Consequently, I never “finished” that class. With one, then two children, a failing marriage and incredible stress, I left music.

It wasn’t until into my 30’s, and a little more “life” had happened, that I found the “warmth” to my voice. I heard it! I knew when it arrived! My 2nd (and current husband) heard it too. He very much wanted to go back into vocal music, but he had to settle for hearing me do warm ups and sing arias or pieces of arias.

My father, a church soloist, and frequent karaoke singer, loves to hear my voice, even now, through all these years of non use and little practice. He and my mother (also part of the choir and choral groups) encourage me every chance they get. And since my 45th birthday (September 1) and Luciano Pavarotti’s death, I’ve begun to wonder, “What if I had taken that path?”

Then this morning I read something that sort of gave me pause.

From 5th grade to 8th grade I not only sang but also played the cornet. For lack of a better explanation it’s a trumpet’s younger sibling. I know the exact day I would not continue with the cornet. It was the day my band teacher would not play a line of music for me so I could hear it, but wanted me to do it cold. What neither he or anyone else knew is that although I could read music, I had been doing it since 2nd grade accordion classes (DON'T go there), then on to taking piano starting in 3rd grade, but the musical notes all appeared as a jumble to me.

It only dawned on me later in life that this was due to my dyslexia. I had developed coping mechanisms on my own to become a voracious reader (using my index finger to keep my place, using a straight edge to help me keep my place when reading something that was right and left justified, etc.). What hadn’t followed through in my conscience thought was that I also had done this in music. I used listening to a line, staff, what have you of music as the mechanism by which I sorted out the notes. For example if I’m seeing an “E” coming after a “D,” but the music I’ve heard has the “E” before the “D,” I relied on what I was hearing to straighten out what I was seeing.

This, like the other coping mechanisms I created for myself was not part of my conscious thought. It was something I just did, something taught myself to do to get along in the world, I wasn’t aware that I was doing it.

Ashamed that the conclusion for my need to hear the series of notes might be construed as that I was playing everything by ear and that I really couldn’t read music. I knew I could read music, I just didn’t know how to explain why I needed him to play it first. But that was the day I knew I wouldn’t continue with the cornet.

Vocal music was easier in this regard. I never met a teacher who refused to play the notes first when asked. But this fear may have been the reason I didn’t meet with Winnie, it was hard enough when Bob would say "look at the notes, you can tell from note to note if you are going up or down." How do you say "no I can't" why you really can't explain why?

For the past few hours I have been reading a lot about a man whose voice I loved. On Wikipedia I came across this passage;

“Pavarotti rejected the allegation that he could not read music, although acknowledging he sometimes had difficulty following orchestral parts.”

Since early this morning I have read several versions of the same story of Pavarotti singing Zucchero ‘s, "Miserere." The basic story is:

. . . in attempt to persuade Luciano Pavarotti to record the song [Miserere]. Zucchero recalled: "Andrea was just unbelievable! He had something not one of the other tenors possessed. He had soul." When Pavarotti received the demo, he was extremely impressed with Andrea's voice, "Zucchero!, Who is this guy?" Pavarotti demanded. "Thank You for writing such a wonderful song. Yet you do not need me to sing it - Let Andrea sing Miserere with you, for there is no one finer."

One version I read said that Luciano wanted to hear the song first. That combined with the rumor that he could not read music and my own experience has lead me to wonder whether Luciano Pavarotti had dyslexia. Because it certainly seems like he was using, whether conscious or not, the same coping mechanisms I used.

It would be amazing to think that this was true, and it may be able to prove it at least by 90% using anecdotal evidence. We did this bit of detective work to determine whether my paternal grandfather had dyslexia. We believe he did, which has helped in many ways, none less that to establish how strong it is in our genetic line, my grandfather, my father, me, and two of my sons. My cousin believes that this knowledge would have been useful to her older brother during his lifetime. Now it allows her to put together pieces of why he did what he did and always had troubles in certain areas. She understands him better.

But wow. just wow. It blows my mind to think that he and I may have been doing the same thing in coping with something that in years past got one labeled as "stupid." Years before I was even here he walked away from music, but came back and left us with such beauty. I walked away, never came back to music and am hoping I can leave the world with a quarter as much as he left.

I guess all of us have questions about what would have happened if we had taken another path. I think I’ll start practicing again, if for nothing else than to add some more beauty to my little corner of the world.

see also:
Nessun Dorma, Paris 1998
Pavarotti, "Caruso"
Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti Medley
David Zucchero & Luciano Pavarotti - Miserere
+++ Andrea Bocelli & David Zucchero - Miserere
Darren Hayes & Luciano Pavarotti - O Sole Mio
Darren Hayes & Luciano Pavarotti - Se bastasse una ["If a song would suffice"]
Torino 2006 (what would be his last performance)
Luciano Pavarotti's Offical website

The Met is running a tribute broadcast “L’Elsir d’Amore" on WNET
this Sunday at noon, hopefully PBS stations across the country will pick it up.

And on Sirius radio at 9pm
The Met

Thanks to CappuccettoRosso for the quotes.

*= Winnie married a long time family friend of my parents.