You are still here

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My father, Javier, as a young man.

There are some things for which one is never truly prepared, and losing a parent is definitely one of them. December 4, 2016 carved a wound in my heart. It has now slowly started to heal, but it will leave a scar that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It’s been exactly four months since my dear father, Javier, left us. He gave his all to his wife and children and he supported and encouraged me to follow my dreams from an early age. Together with my mother, they nurtured my passion for music, even though they themselves understood little of it, but that didn’t stop them from believing in me when no one else did. He is now in a different place, but he is present in every decision I make and every piece I compose. His words still linger in my mind and, every other minute, I come across a thought that reminds me of him. I find myself at peace knowing that he is now resting, but at times I miss him so dearly that I’m all of a sudden overflowed with emotion. It will take time to overcome this loss, but I find strength in the fact that we didn’t leave anything unsaid or undone. He left after hearing me tell him how much I loved him and after telling me how much he loved me. That was our last phone conversation, physically miles away from each other, but united in spirit. We, now, are more united than ever.

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Dad and I on my birthday, just a few years ago 😉

When I was five years old my sister Jessica started taking piano lessons. I would come downstairs and unceremoniously interrupt her during her lessons by pressing the high keys. Neither her nor her teacher were particularly amused, so my mom would have to come and take me away so I could let my sister concentrate. One day my mom asked me if I also wanted to take lessons and I said “yes”. That’s how it all started. It didn’t take too long until I was hooked, although at first I must admit I didn’t feel that music was how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. No. I was more fascinated by space or robots. Music was just a great distraction and my parents thought it was a good hobby for me to have. Everything changed when my family and I moved to Miami in 1990 and I had a dream of myself playing in a great, open space. The amazing thing, though, was not the dream itself, but the fact that after waking up, I remembered what I had been playing in it! This little spark ignited my love for composition.

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Celebrating with Renée Fleming after the premiere of Bel Canto.

After we moved back to Peru in 1991, I started to take music more seriously. My dad noticed that so he started a ritual whose value I didn’t come to understand until much later in life. Every day after dinner he would ask me to play for him. My mom and sister would also sit briefly, but my dad would stay with me for anything between a half hour to two hours, and sometimes well into the night, depending on how tired he was or whether I was already done with homework. Sometimes I would complain because there were days when I simply didn’t want to play, but he would insist and he would not get bored of listening to the same pieces over and over again. At first I started playing Bach’s inventions in 2 and 3 voices, then I began studying the Mozart sonatas, and it was only later that I ventured into some of Beethoven’s sonatas. My knowledge of music back then was very limited, and so was his, but that wouldn’t stop us from having vivid discussions about everything ranging from counterpoint, harmony and style. Sometimes we would listen to cassette recordings together, and I remember once falling so madly in love with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, that I tried –unsuccessfully- to learn it. The only movement I managed to play somewhat decently was the slow movement, which my dad loved, dearly admiring Mozart’s craft and sensitivity when dealing with delicate passages. I remember him taking me to listen to the National Symphony Orchestra as having endless post-concert discussions about how good or bad a performance had been. I remember him listening to my compositions and giving me criticism. Can you imagine?! Of course back then I thought I knew everything, so I would relish in dismantling my dad’s layman comments with technicalities, but the following day I would feel horribly embarrassed because I would realize that he had been right all along and that I had just been too proud to admit it. So I would go back, rewrite a passage, and show it to him after admitting defeat. Sometimes I would later regret this because he would feel so emboldened that he would come up with some outlandish suggestions that had no musical equivalent, making us both laugh at the inadequacy of his metaphors. As time passed, my knowledge of music increased and he found it more and more difficult to communicate with me, the musician, so he started to bring things to his area of expertise: architecture, and in doing so he inadvertently gave me one of my most solid foundations as a composer. He would talk about arches, symmetry, pillars, urban planning, and foundations; he would describe the way in which Frank Lloyd-Wright’s Fallingwater integrated with its surroundings, the difference between French and English gardens, and Oscar Niemeyer’s sensuous curvy designs. He would bring his full arsenal of knowledge to explain how Beethoven’s masterful symphonic conception compared to Le Corbusier’s principles of urban planning, and how Bach’s complex counterpoint reminded him of Churrigueresque façades. He would bring up Michael Angelo’s sculptures and compare them to Mozart’s divine gift and apparent ease, but he would also remind me that it took Michael Angelo ten years to finish painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. Apparently, I still had a lot of work to do.

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Our last family picture, taken in October of 2016.

There was rarely a concert in which I was involved that my dad wouldn’t attend, and he was a busy man. When we faced financial challenges together as a family, he would still make sure that I had a piano and that I continued my education at my private school. He encouraged me to take part in competitions, but never against my will. His conversations with Miguel Harth-Bedoya led me to join the library of the newly founded Lima Philharmonic Orchestra and he was the one who brought me a brochure from the Finnish Embassy when I first mentioned my interest in Finland. He sold every property he had so he could finance the first few years of my education at the Sibelius Academy and he continued to help me until I gained financial independence. Only now I can clearly see what a blessing being born to my parents has been, and I regret once thinking that I would have had an earlier start had my parents been musicians. Until his very last days he would follow my every step, checking my Facebook fan page regularly and looking for updates on my website. He listened to each and every one of my pieces and cried of joy when, less than two months before his passing, he listened to a recording of my first symphony. He had his flaws -as we all do- and after I came out as gay, our communication deteriorated. But he was a father with an immense heart, and he loved me very much, and it was precisely that love that helped him conquer his own prejudices. He came to my wedding in May of 2015, as well as my mom and sister and, by then, he had already learned to love my husband Heleno.

I often think how much I’m going to miss him and his opinions. If I continue to be blessed with life, I will go on to write may more symphonies, operas and chamber works, but he won’t be here to listen to them. A part of me, however, knows that he will be listening and that his voice will be ever present. In a sense, everything and nothing has changed. Yes, he is no longer a phone call away, but he is so present in my every thought that nothing, not even his physical absence can truly separate us. Before letting him go however, there was one last thing I had to do for him; something I am sure he would appreciate.

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How I love to remember him: with a big smile on his face.

Back in May of 2016 the Sphinx Organization commissioned me a concerto grosso for violin, cello and strings for their 20th anniversary. I wasn’t able to get to work right away because I had other pending commissions, so I promised I to get to work on it during the latter part of the year. When I was finally ready to start working on it, my dad’s illness took a turn for the worse, eventually leading to his passing. All of a sudden, the figure of the Sphinx, which was to be my original inspiration, gained a completely different meaning and I started to focus on it as the guardian of the gates to the afterlife. I wasn’t going to write a sad piece though, because a 20th anniversary is something to be celebrated not mourned, so instead of dwelling on my pain, I decided to transform it into joy, and the piece became a companion work for the soul’s transition into the afterlife. Guardian of the Horizon is divided into three movements, starting with a Riddle, which needs to be solved or else the Sphinx won’t let the soul in, then Crossing the Threshold, and finally walking Into the Effulgent Light. The piece will be premiered in September by the Sphinx Virtuosi and I am more than sure that my father will be in attendance. Long after every member of the audience has left, well into the night, and hours after the lights have been turned off, he will still be seating right next to me, pointing out how a certain passage could be improved or perhaps making one of his inescapable architectural comparisons, but more than anything, always telling me how much he loves my music and how much he loves me. Dad, I am no longer a child and I have achieved some success in life, but I couldn’t have done it without you. You are not gone; you are still here. You will not be forgotten. I will always cherish your example as a father, husband, and son, and I will always seek for your advice when in doubt. You will always live in my heart and in the hearts of those who love you. I hope to make you proud because I am -and will always be- incredibly proud to call you my father.

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First page from the score of Guardian of the Horizon.

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About composerjimmylopez

My name is Jimmy Lopez and I am a composer. I was born in Lima, Peru 37 years ago and I have lived in several places including Helsinki, Paris and now Berkeley, California. The decision to open a blog stems out of a personal need to voice my views on the situation of the contemporary composer in our world today. Through my words, I hope to spark constructive discussion on issues relevant to the aforementioned topic. I invite you to participate by expressing your thoughts and opinions and to visit my website, at www.jimmylopez.com Welcome!
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