My father, Orlando Otey, passed away yesterday morning and I thought I would share some thoughts I have of him with you. He was a man of great emotion, as evidenced by the way he played the piano. He was gentle, but could have loud outbursts of anger when something provoked him. Those times were few and far between as I remember, although my mother may say differently. He was also a man of great compassion, but he didn’t really feel comfortable showing emotion and would remain quiet if there were things that were extremely upsetting going on.
When I was in high school, I wrote a poem, which I had a friend who knows calligraphy write up on a large poster. I had included a picture of him conducting at the Wilmington Music School and decorated it with some press-on designs. I think I may have had it framed, or maybe he did, but he displayed it in his studio ever since I gave it to him. That meant a lot to me, even though I never really said anything. It hangs there still. Without looking at it, I don’t remember the words, but it was about his music, which was the one thing that really defined him.
I never felt I really knew my father; his nuances, his likes and dislikes, but I guess it wasn’t important to either of us. He was my father, and I his daughter. That was all that was really necessary. I knew him enough to know his views on things were drastically opposed to mine and rather than fight about the reason for the world’s problems, political issues, women’s rights, or social injustices, it was more important for me to have him believe that his views were shared.
Only one view we really did share, and that was his love for God. His was a spiritual person who dedicated his life and his love of music to the Lord whom he thanked each day for the talent he was given. A talent that transcends all others and one that will be missed by anyone who ever heard him play. Under his fingers, the piano keys became a life on their own coaxed by his feel for the music. Whether it was Chopin or Otey, Scarlatti or Bach, the notes emanated from the keyboard with a tone unmatched by others. Others could play the same composition, but it never really sounded the same. I was constantly amazed by his ability.
The one thing about his music that astonished me the most was his ability to take three notes and turn them into a composition in any style in an instant. He would joke and say that Steve Allan, a comedian and musician in the 60s, did it with four. People would try to make it difficult for him and chose three notes that were wildly apart from each other. But he was never stumped. He always just created something right there on the spot.
But overall I learned a sense of determination from my father. Maybe it was stubbornness, but he was constantly pushing forwarded, willing himself to live. That’s probably what kept him going this last few months. He was just too stubborn to die. I keep joking with him that he had more lives than a cat. My step mother would call my brother and me and say he was near death and we would all rush to his bedside only to have him rally the next day. He may have been slightly dramatic about it and it may have taken a long time, but he never gave up and kept on going until it was right for him. Peace be with you now, Papi.