Monday, October 08, 2012


Veikko and Ilkka Talvi, 40 & 3

It was exactly a year ago when my wife’s cell phone rang in the morning and I answered it, not something I would normally do. The message was somber: my brother had just received a call that our dad had taken his afternoon nap and didn’t wake up. It had been a good morning. No suffering; his time had finally arrived. In the Finnish way of counting days it was 9.10.11., a perfect date to remember.

I used up over a quarter of frequent flier million miles on Delta and flew the long distance to my father’s funeral, coming back in three days. Less than four months earlier I had visited him for his 100th birthday. At that age every day is a gift and I was well prepared for my dad’s death as it had to happen sooner or later. What I didn’t foresee was the emptiness his passing left behind. I realized that not only my parent but also my best pal was gone. All of a sudden I felt my own age and mortality which now had to be accepted differently from before.

Our relationship had been quite different from what my two siblings experienced. They had started seeing him regularly only in his final years; the closeness I always had wasn’t necessarily how they remembered him. It is very difficult for a parent to show the same affection and interest to all children equally. However, I gratefully accepted what Dad had decided to give me. Recently in an email my brother lamented the fact that our father had to reach his 90s before he could talk about the horrors of the wars between Finland and the Soviet Union. Reluctantly I replied that I had heard all the details already as a child and umpteen times since then. No, he probably wasn’t a model parent to my brother or sister but to me he was everything one could wish for in a dad.

Music must have played a large part in his interest in his youngest. I had just turned five and while he and my mom were taking a walk in the cool late autumn weather, his violin came out of its case and when they walked in, I proudly declared “see what I can do” and played a melody in higher positions as the full-size instrument was too big for me to play in first. I read any text fluently, also music having studied the piano since three, and I did have perfect pitch. My dad started laughing and he seemed to be trembling. The next day a small violin and a teacher candidate appeared but I refused both. There was a three-quarter size instrument for a little while but I didn’t like its sound, so basically I learned to stretch and taught myself on a full size violin. Dad was almost always present when I practiced and from early on we played duets every night. I joined the quite excellent orchestra he conducted before my sixth birthday, playing in the second violins, second stand. It took quite a while before my feet were able to touch the floor but it didn’t matter as making music with my father conducting was the ultimate fun activity.

So, lets fast forward. After starting family number one, teaching at the Sibelius Academy at the age of 20 and performing all over, it was time to leave Finland. After a year in Sweden, my family with two children in tow, ended up in Los Angeles, a city I already knew. The studio work seemed very strange at first as did the free-lance scene in general. Money was plentiful although I missed the regular vacations of Europeans. My mom came for a visit and wasn’t very impressed; a couple years later my parents traveled together and America was seen more favorably. I took my dad to the beach in Santa Barbara. Tide was coming in rapidly and my father’s shoes got wet. He laughed: “I came to greet the ocean but the ocean greeted me first”. I was given permission to bring him to a studio session at 20th Century Fox where we were scoring a major movie. He also attended a few concerts, both by my L.A. Chamber Orchestra and Henri Temianka’s California Chamber Symphony. The latter had Ricci performing Kreisler’s fake Vivaldi concerto as soloist and my old man was sweating as the little Paganini expert wasn’t having one of his best nights. My dad’s ear was as phenomenal as ever in his final years. Of the first ensemble where I played as principal second at that time, he warned me about its conductor: “He is not musical and he likes himself too much”. I should have listened to his words more carefully and perhaps turned down the job offer here in Seattle a couple years later. However, once I remarried and we moved here, both my parents fell in love with the beauty of this heavenly corner of the Earth. They would visit at least once a year and we would return to Finland every summer. After my mom was stricken with Alzheimer’s, my dad would visit her in the hospital every day but still take time off for long trips here. A few years later, my mom passed away. I returned for her funeral and then brought my dad back with me for over a month. He clearly felt at home with us; the two little granddaughters absolutely adored him, as did the two older ones who would try to see him regularly, too.

Isä-Veikko or Pappa, as the younger ones called him, attended numerous concerts here. He was critical; again I heard the same comments. At the time my wife had her highly successful chamber music series and those seemed to please him a lot, with the exception of one where a recent L.A. transplant had been invited to perform. “She plays just like a student”, he remarked. What could I say as there was no fooling the old connoisseur of music. I took my dad to an opera, not his favorite art form, and after hours of sitting there he was more than ready to come home. The Nutcracker at the ballet was more successful, especially with Sendak’s designs. We would take trips to Canada and see the tulips in Skagit Valley. We traveled a lot and he felt that this area was close to Paradise and it reminded him of nature back home but with high mountains, like Finland's neighbor Norway.

I could write a thick book about this dear man and yet only scratch the surface. It is wonderful that we can live in two different realities, neither of which is more true than the other. My dad and I get to meet often at night and have our adventures together, play cards and then duets the next minute. After a wonderful night the morning may feel empty but a new opportunity for a revisit is close and even in this state of mind we call wakefulness our memories can be incredibly strong.

It is time to let the depression go. Both my parents are with me and my father will make sure I shall continue to play in tune. He had a beautiful sound on the violin and I can’t disappoint him.

My dad as centenarian, the last time I saw him.