Father and Daughter Share a Musical Connection
by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio
My father is sleeping peacefully in his hospital bed. My chair creaks and he stirs awake, beaming when he sees me. The bare skin on his scalp is red and swollen, signs of the invasive chemo and radiation therapies which have kept him alive. There are clear plastic tubes coming out of his nose and arms for oxygen, drugs and a liquid diet, but he's genuinely content in his powder blue robes and slippers. I see the contents of his CD player and ask, “what's it like to hear it performed for real?”
Dad composed a string quartet six years ago, working into the impossible hours of the night to complete the lengthy four movements. “Seasonal Impressions” was Fred Nachbaur's Four Seasons, a piece he says flowed through him from a higher power rather than being written by him alone. I remember listening at his computer speakers as a virtual quartet performed his most recent additions to the piece.
“It's so beautiful,” I'd say, a violinist ignoring the fact that a computer just cannot properly emulate my instrument's true tone. The beauty of his writing shone through the synthetic bowings and digi-pizzicato.
These listening sessions were enlightening for both of us. The composer received feedback (“violins can't play that low”) and encouragement (“Beethoven would be proud.”) I especially enjoyed the musical sounds of thunder storms, snowflakes falling and even a frog (cello) croaking. My sighs of enjoyment and giggles in the appropriate places let him know he was doing well.
As the piece matured I increasingly realized what a brilliant man my father was. The ability to create a perennial environment with merely pitch and rhythm was amazing to me. Dad not only mastered the theory, he put his heart into the music and I saw a sensitive and emotional side not ever exposed to me before.
His personality was reflected so clearly with each note. I noticed how “Summer” was jolly in places, but mostly set in a minor key, which clearly reflected dad's dislike of the heat and, I suppose, the inevitable return of tourists to his quiet town, Nelson, BC. “Autumn” featured a creepy theme describing goblins and ghosts at Halloween, then musically “quoting” Amazing Grace for Thanksgiving. “Winter” was a mysterious variation on “Silent Night” which gave me goosebumps each time I heard it. Finally, whimsical “Spring” portrayed druids dancing in celebration, which I have taken to be the annual return of the hippies to and tourists to downtown Baker Street after the snow had thawed.
I had my best intentions to assemble a quartet to play dad's piece, but something always came up and it never happened. Dad sent the score to groups around the continent, but it seemed that audiences want to hear works by the “biggies” and not by some unknown in the Kootenays. The music went to sleep in a file cabinet for five years.
When dad discovered he had cancer last February the whole family found ways to comfort him. His wife, Sharon, stayed faithfully by his side for months of hospital time without complaint. Oma and Opa brought him fresh fruit and heartfelt prayers each visit. I gave him an MP3 player to help pass the long hours of waiting for blood work results and grueling therapy. Aunt Gabby hired a string quartet to record dad's piece.
Uncle Pete delivers the much-awaited CD during my visit. We pass the headphones around, taking turns to savour the sweet sounds of his handiwork played by "The Stringbeans" from Edmonton. “The cellist got it right," I say. "It really does sound like a frog!” I leave him to listen to the rest himself. This is the soundtrack for happy dreams as he sleeps and heals.
A cycle has been completed and it's time for my father to become inspired again, for more music to be created. Dad's eyes have that twinkle: he's thinking the same thing I am. I casually mention that my piano friend and I are looking for new material for our tour next April and he takes the hint.
After settling in at home following three straight months in hospital, Fred Nachbaur has started work on a new piece for violin and piano. This time I'll make sure I play it, dad!