Podcast 22: My father’s Six Day War

In today’s podcast, I interview my father, Phil Prever, about living through the Six Day War fifty years ago.

He and my mother and my two oldest sisters in Jerusalem in 1967. He was half a block from the border with Jordan when the radio suddenly started repeating, “The window is open. The window is open.” Half the people in the office abruptly got up and left. He realized it was code, and the war had begun.

Hear the interview to find out what my parents were doing in Israel in the first place,
what was the one Hebrew word he learned right away,
what made him realize the war had broken out, and what it was like as it happened,
what “The window is open” means,
whether he thinks there were actually angels fighting with the Israeli pilots
and what was the city like after the fighting was over.

Here is a recording of the song he mentions, “Jerusalem of Gold, written in 1967 and played everywhere on the radio after the war was over:

Days with my father

When I was growing up, everybody else’s father would happily (or so I thought) camp overnight outside K-mart to make sure their kids got one of the few remaining Cabbage Patch Kids in town. They would give them the best presents: Game Boys, Simon Says games, and of course the Barbie Dream House, with elevator and real bubbling hot tub. We never got any of these things.

Instead, my father gave us experiences. It took me a while to realize this was a conscious decision; and it took me even longer to realize what a great one it was. He would spend days and weeks planning out trips, making reservations, calling ahead to make sure everything was what he thought it would be, and of course parking in a safe place and then heading out first by himself to “reconnoiter.”

We would set out on long, long excursions with nothing but a few metal canteens of water and several packets of sugar wafer cookies. But when we got there, it was always something amazing.  And, unlike all those cruddy toys I wanted so much, they are something I still have, in my memory. In no particular order, here are a few of the gifts my father gave us:

PIC Alpine Slides
PIC St. Gaudens

PIC Polar Caves
PIC Fenway Park
PIC Queechee Gorge
PIC Peaks Island Ferry

PIC Hamlet
PIC Isabella Stewart Gardner
PIC Rollins Chapel concert
PIC The Cloisters

PIC Hood Museum
PIC Museum of Modern Art
PIC Mt. Ascutney

PIC Metropolitan Opera

PIC Fairbanks Museum
PIC Midsummer Night’s Dream

PIC Coney Island Nathan’s
PIC Covered bridge
PIC Big Apple Circus
PIC Hopkin’s Center Symphony
PIC Lake Sunappee seaplane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy father’s day, Abba! Thanks for all the days.

Espressivo

(photo source)

Glenn Gould is the second person I ever heard who plays Bach properly.  The first one is my father, who is not a very good pianist.

My father has the ear of a great musician.  He takes orchestral scores to bed as a little night reading.  Haydn eludes me, but his music brings my father to tears.  Once, when he was striving to explain sonata form, I coolly answered that I’d rather let the music just wash over me, instead of wrecking the mood by overthinking it.  By the look he gave me, I think he heard me say something like,  “I prefer to let small children be mutilated by elephants, rather than harsh my buzz.”

The radio always played classical music as I was growing up, and the awkward, melancholy voice of Peter Fox Smith was the sound of Saturday afternoon at our house.  We didn’t learn table manners or social skills, but we knew how to behave at a concert, and sneered mercilessly at the dolts who clapped between movements.

We drove 45 minutes in a snowstorm to hear Sally Pinkas play (stopping only when we skidded and rear-ended another driver, who turned out to be the local choir director), and once hauled the old red minivan four hours to watch The Marriage of Figaro at the Met.  We pulled over to the shoulder at the outskirts of the city, hung sheets on the car windows, and changed into our fanciest dresses (and were appalled to see other opera lovers show up in jeans).

But the best music lesson I had was at night, when the sounds of my father’s upright piano floated up through the floorboards of our bedroom.  He often played Bach at night.  He would play the same fugues and partitas over and over again, and he never got any better at them — his fingers just wouldn’t perform what his mind was hearing.  So what I heard as I fell asleep was a halting, passionate, pleadingly tender rendition of these gorgeous melodies — all largo, grave, and always con espressivo — never in the prestissimo that Bach directed.

I remember first learning that some people are emotionally repelled by the music of Bach, and hear nothing but a dazzlingly intricate array of sound, mathematical, impersonal, elegant and impenetrible.  I was dumbfounded.  My father, with his meager technical skills, laid Bach out bare.  Again and again, struggling to pefect an unusual chord, he would string it out, one note at a time, five or six or seven times in a row.  Occasionally, to our glee, he would call out, “Yahhhhh . . . ” in the note he was trying to find – as if his lost fingers would hearken to him and realize which piano key they were aching for.

So to me, Bach sounds like struggle,  longing, and tireless devotion.  That is still how I hear Bach, even when some hotshot virtuoso zips over the keyboard in the time key that Bach called for.   When I discovered that Glenn Gould is known for slowing Bach down, for drawing out the tempo and turning those breakneck intricacies into vulnerable or exultant songs of the human heart, then it sounded like the real Bach to me.  In fact, Bach sounds like Music to me — like the heart, the tendons, the  inner workings of music.  My other cherished composers – Brahms, Schubert, Mahler – wouldn’t have anything to say if Bach hadn’t said it first, somehow cocooned in a code of speed and density.

I am grateful to Glenn Gould for revealing the heartbreaking beauty of Bach, and I’m grateful to my father for revealing his unburnished talent to his family.  From him came music.  A clever teacher can produce clever students; but, in music as in all other things, only love begets love.