When we moved to Seattle in 1983, dreams in our pockets and maybe some quarters and dimes, we obviously had priorities. A place to live. Jobs. Trying not to smother a young marriage in its crib with the trauma and drama of moving far away from family two months after our wedding. Priorities.
Eventually, though, my wife would need a vocal coach. Dreams in pockets, etc. And during her second Seattle production, just playing a small part in a production of “The King and I,” she got a name.
It turned out that we would move, following learning of our impending parenthood, to an apartment just two blocks from this teacher’s studio. Her name was Roberta, and it was a long relationship. My wife presided over the funeral service of Roberta’s lovely husband, Woody. Beth grew up as a presence in that studio during her mother’s lessons, and eventually had a few of her own with Roberta.
What I remember sharply, though, is the day, very early on, when Roberta came by our place to pick up JK for something. A concert or recital or something; who remembers? I just know that she drove a red Corvette, and we marveled at her youth and energy. She was, like, at least 60.
And she’d see her pupil do some amazing things over the years, trust me. Amazing.
Roberta is still with us, but you can do the math. Macular degeneration, some dementia, and just being 90-plus has left her, as I understand, well cared for and of course loved, and apparently comfortable. Her pictures surround my wife’s piano where she does her own vocal coaching now, the decades aligned in frames.
You could also do some math, if you’ve paid attention, or enough to guess, but no guessing needed. My wife is 60 years old. Nearly 61. She weaned herself off a successful career to go to seminary, and began teaching. She eventually stopped performing much at all, certainly not professionally, for a couple of seasons with a women’s choir just to do that but mostly no.
I could, I suppose, go into some speculation (with some knowledge) about how it feels to have empty pockets, to wring out that metaphor. How one spends a life on stage, a star, a standing-O kind of career that she deliberately kept small and local, only venturing (I think) to Nevada and Canada outside of the greater Seattle area. She did some commercials. Lots of operas and cabaret shows and musicals and recitals with symphonies. It was the Julie Kae Show, and then it stopped. She made the decision, but still.
But still. It would be too easy to project my own empty-pocket feelings here.
I’ll just note that last Sunday afternoon, she performed in a faculty recital at Seattle Pacific University, where she teaches. I’m pretty sure they’ve managed to get the roof back on by now, but she knocked it off.
And while I got decent recordings from my phone, surreptitiously placed on my knee when she sang, I’m waiting for the official recording to come up. Bound to be better. But yeah. There was a missing roof at some point, I’m almost positive.
I listen to my recordings. I listen to my wife intelligently and knowledgably remark on the aging voice, and how much work she still needs to do in order to get back in shape for singing. But singing? I think that might not quite be over yet.
In fact, I don’t hear the aging voice. I hear the 20-something voice, just the way I first heard it, a long time ago and far, far away. So I don’t think this is over.
For any of us, in fact. She’s definitely unique, but then aren’t we all. And with all my musing lately on coming to terms with my own irrelevance and the inevitable march toward senescence, there’s hope to be found in a person I live with. In both of them, really. And maybe, a little, in the mirror.
But mostly I picture that silver-haired 60-year-old in the red ‘vette, opening our young eyes to possibilities, and all these calendar pages have only proven the point. You’re not as old as you feel; we all feel old sometimes. You’re not as old as you act, or else I can think of a lot of people who have questions to answer.
You’re as old as you sing, maybe. And now I know who taught me that.
And who taught her.
(Julie Kae singing in 1987. Not a big difference.)