Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Real Music of Remembrance

Last evening, Ilkka and I had the pleasure of performing Mozart's Requiem at St. James Cathedral for All Soul's Day. We always look forward to this event, as the beauty of the cathedral pared with Mozart's sublime music offers an opportunity to reflect upon the lives of the deceased in a powerfully spiritual way. It is gratifying to watch the multitude of people as they enter the sanctuary. No matter what age or social strata, all seek refuge and transcendence in Mozart's Mass for the Dead. In his homily, Father Michael Ryan acknowledged Mozart as the greatest preacher, and the Requiem as Celebration.

Prayer of St. Francis
Before the service, Ilkka and I went downstairs to warm up, as the musicians are encouraged to arrive early. One half hour prior to the event, St. James is always packed; many people are left to stand for the entire service. We set our violin cases down on a chair. Ilkka reached into his coat pocket for a handkerchief to wipe his violin, but out fell a prayer card in loving memory of Robert H. Knopp, M.D.—his funeral having been months ago at St. James. We took the unexpected appearance of this card as an affirmation of Bob's presence with us.

Bob Knopp enriched the lives of so many people; it is no wonder that this guest book is filled with heartfelt words of affection, deep respect, and gratitude. Bob listened to people in a special way. I remember the thrill of playing Northwest Chamber Orchestra concerts when he and his wife Judy were in the audience. They treated the players as family and hosted numerous parties and receptions at their elegant home near Lake Washington. The musicians and guest artists had tremendous respect for Bob's accomplishments, as he was an internationally acclaimed research physician at both the University of Washington and Harborview Medical Center. But we also knew that having been a pianist and trombone player, he was a discerning listener; a musician's musician; a person who didn't just listen to notes but got inside the music.

 I remember the legendary pianist, Arthur Rubinstein, admitting in an interview that he felt the need to find one person in the audience to play for; one individual among the crowd of listeners who could inspire him to perform his best. I suppose in Rubinstein's case, he meant a gorgeous young female. But I can recall scanning  Kane Hall to locate where Bob Knopp was seated, so that I could play for him. Because I felt that he understood and appreciated the subtlest shadings in musical interpretation.

I felt honored when I was asked to teach violin to Eleanor Knopp, Bob and Judy's youngest daughter. I don't mind sharing with my readers how intimidated I initially felt whenever Bob would attend those lessons in my home, for I knew that he was a much sought after and renowned professor. Could I possibly measure up to his stratospheric standard? But I was quickly made to feel at ease the moment I heard his boisterous laugh on my staircase. Teaching and learning for Bob and his family offered a limitless supply of joy; lessons were seen as an opportunity for personal growth and enrichment. He was always engaged at our lessons, taking notes, asking probing questions which, now that I think back, brought my own teaching objectives more into focus. If a lesson went particularly well, Bob would sit down on our piano bench and offer up Bach-Gounod's "Ave Maria" to accompany Eleanor. Although he made fun of his own playing; "I haven't practiced enough," he'd lament; to these eyes and ears, father and daughter played like angels.

Speaking with the Knopps' eldest daughter, Elizabeth, last night after the service, I learned that Bob gave every patient his home and cell phone number, and insisted they were to call any time for help, advice or just reassurance. That's how Bob Knopp was; the rarest of souls. Is it any wonder that one person signed the guest book with these words: He had more compassion in one little finger than most other doctors. And musical fingers, too.

In photo left to right: on top Bob and Judy; bottom Terese and Irv Eisenberg, Eleanor, me and Ilkka

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