Music'al Notes

Four Weddings and a Funeral

The bride and groom walked down the aisle to the wedding canopy while the whole orchestra played the wedding march. That is the whole Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

In the late 1930s my mother-in-law was engaged to a musician. Just before World War Two, she fled to Israel and subsequently married someone else. Her ex-fiancé, Leo, who later arrived in Israel, was a violinist but when the nascent Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was forming, there was a shortage of double bass players and a surfeit of violinists, so he decided to learn the double bass and join the orchestra. Subsequently, his son, Gaby, became a double bass player, joined the orchestra and for a while Leo and Gaby were the oldest and youngest members.

My wife and I moved to Israel in the early 1970s and through my mother-in-law, met Gaby. He is a delightful man, fluent in many languages and a wonderful bass player.

His wedding was in an outdoor catering hall in Ramat Aviv, a suburb of Tel Aviv. We didn’t know what to expect but to our great delight, Zubin Mehta, the conductor and his wife and the whole orchestra were in attendance. Notably, the brass section were mostly non-Israelis. Music was everywhere, making the affair lavish and very jolly. For me, mingling with such musicians was humbling.

At some point individual orchestra members did party tricks with their instruments. Most memorable was the concertmaster who stuck his violin upside down, slid the neck between his knees and played a ditty with his bow.

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“Look at that!” squealed the woman on the beach pointing. Her husband, engrossed in The New York Times, slowly regarded the scene. Nonplussed, he returned to his newspaper.

For quite a few years my wife Rita was member of an LGBTQ chorus on Long Island. They mainly chose songs from the Great American Songbook. Their performances were always fun and over the years, the quality of the chorus steadily improved. The choirmaster, Cindy, announced that she was marrying the love of her life, Carrie, and we would be invited to the wedding.

The wedding took place on the beach in Bayville, Long Island. This beach is particularly beautiful. It faces Old Greenwich, Connecticut, and on this evening, the sky was clear, the temperature was perfect and the water was calm and deep blue. A platform had been installed with chairs facing the water. The beach was quite busy with a few bathers sitting nearby. As the sun was setting, the ceremony began. Cindy’s brother, who has a beautiful voice, started singing and then Carrie appeared in a white suit. Shortly after that, Cindy appeared in a matching outfit. This was the “aha” moment that caused the woman to squeal.

This was our first gay wedding and I was curious about the ending of the ceremony when the official says, “I now pronounce you…?”

The answer was, “Married.”

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My friend Heinz Lichtenegger, owner of Audio Tuning and Pro-Ject married his wife a few years ago. Jozefina, his bride, is 20 years his junior and is a Slovakian beauty. The wedding was held in a small church near Bad Pirawarth, about 20 miles from Vienna. All his friends from the small villages that surround the area were there. This region, Niederösterreich, is famous for its Grüner Veltliner wine which, if well made, is delightful. Interestingly as you drive around this beautiful countryside on the edge of the Czech Republic, you often come across oil pumps similar to the ones you see dotted around Los Angeles. One of the many reasons Hitler invaded Austria in 1938, in the so-called Anschluss, was to acquire the oil deposits there.

The reception was held in a castle not too far away. Heinz has always had good taste and the food and wine at the affair was of the highest standard. One of the many purveyors was a schnapps maker. His fruit brandies – blackberry, raspberry, pear, plums, blueberries and many more – were so delightful and intense that instead of drinking them right away, I spent a long time just sniffing these delightful liqueurs. This thrilled the owner so much that he kept plying me with more samples.

Many people there were from the Hi-Fi Industry. At one point I sat next to a German distributor who had been actively wooing me for many years. At that time, I was very happy with my German distributor and had no intention of changing. He approached me and said, “Roy, I would like to settle this situation between us, I think we have to achieve a final solution.”

“What?” I yelled, genuinely shocked at this turn of phrase which was used by the Nazis.

He looked at me incredulously and quietly asked, “Are you Jewish?”

“Yes,” I retorted.

At some point, the music started and everyone got up to dance. The tune was the Blue Danube Waltz and to my surprise, everyone started to waltz. In school in Scotland I learned Highland dancing so I guess in Austria, everyone learns to waltz.

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My nephew Mischa married his wife in Sonoma, California. For the occasion, my sister Joy and her family had flown in from Israel. My wife and I, my daughter and her boyfriend, my son, and grandson all came and we booked into an Airbnb on the edge of town. It was a lovely sprawling house with a great kitchen. This allowed us to cook feasts from the produce in northern California, which is spectacular. We weren’t too far from the town of Santa Rosa so I made a pilgrimage to the Russian River Brewing Company to sample and then bring home a couple of growlers of Pliny the Elder beer. (This is one of the most storied beers in the US and in my opinion, the effect of drinking a few pints is similar to the high you would get on Quaaludes.)

The outdoor ritual was held in the bride’s father’s home a lavish house set upon acres of land. The sun was just setting as the ceremony began when Riute, a lifelong friend of Mischa, sang the blessings. Riute is a trained opera singer and hearing these ancient prayers sung by a professional was moving even to an old atheist like myself.

The ceremony over, the food arrived. Like everything else the quality of the buffet was impeccable. The star of the evening was quail the size of pigeons. Our host explained that these birds were grown exclusively for the French Laundry in Yountville, one of the top restaurants in the US. That weekend the restaurant was unable to offer them. I don’t know what our host paid but it must have been a lot to finesse them from Thomas Keller, the owner. There was a magic to that evening, something to do with the light, the vows, the garden and the camaraderie of the guests.

The evening ended around a campfire as we listened to music and watched the children play in the dusk.

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They met in the forests of Poland.

She and her first husband were fleeing the Nazis and even though they were holding hands, the trees separated them and she never saw him again. She was found by some partisans and joined them. They were fighting the Nazis and her second husband to be was one of them. They survived the war, got married and moved to Australia. Years later they joined their youngest daughter in Israel, bought a house and spent part of the year there. And now, after surviving the holocaust, he was dead, a victim of liver cancer.

My wife and I were visiting Israel shortly after he sickened and managed to see him before he passed away. His daughter, Sally, along with her husband became two of our closest friends when we lived in Israel in the early seventies. Although they moved back to Australia for most of the time we lived there, we maintained a closeness that exists to this day.

In Israel, funerals are held immediately but this one was delayed for a few days because Sally’s sister had to fly in from Australia. There was always tension between Sally and her sister. While she was in transit, the family prepared an obituary to be inserted in The Jerusalem Post, the English language daily. We contributed a little to the text and Sally’s husband made sure that all family members were mentioned. The next morning the newspaper arrived and due to an error, Sally’s sister’s name was omitted. They decided not to show her the paper but, of course, while sitting shiva after the funeral, a ‘friend’ pointed this out and this caused a whole new set of problems.

Caskets are not used in Israel. The body is wrapped in a shroud and buried directly into the ground. As Sally’s father was being interred, his wife, in a fit of melodrama, tried to walk into the grave. Her daughters held her back until the end of the service.

As she was leaving the cemetery, she turned to her daughters, smiled and said, “I was good, wasn’t I?”

 

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Yeugene.