A Father's Music


My father, Dr. David John Seel, is known as a medical missionary and cancer surgeon. But his legacy is perhaps most easily remembered by the musical soundtrack of his life. He was raised in a strict Germanic Presbyterian family. However, this was tempered by his Latin American upbring in Chile and Columbia. He studied violin in Bogata from the first chair in the Bogata Symphony Orchestra throughout his high school years. His music was thus infused by a heavily Romantic bent. He was a scientist and surgeon but framed through an artist's sensibility. Many of the great scientist and doctors were also musicians. One thinks of Albert Einstein (violin) and Albert Schweitzer (organ). My father was an artist doctor, not a doctor artist. Surgery was for him an artist's pallet.


It was a routine in our family growing up in Korea for one of the children to choose a classical record to play during dinner. Most of the records were of famous violinist. A special favorite composer of my parents was Jean Sibelius. My mother was a timpanist and Sibelius brought both the violin and kettledrum together.


Scandinavian romantic music played a central role in their musical preferences. Either during their courtship or honeymoon they attended a performance of the operetta Song of Norway, which is adapted from the music of Edvard Grieg. Many years later, it was a bucket list priority to visit his home, Troldhaugen, in Bergen, Norway. I remember the red composer's hut where Grieg composed his music overlooking the lake.


It is not surprising that late in my father's life, he would be attracted to a violin piece by Norwegian composer and violinist Christian Sinding (1856-1941). Sinding is often compared to Edvard Grieg and is regarded as his successor. Sinding's best known for his piano music. But my father found a piece on back side of a Jascha Heifetz record that captured my father's melancholy romantic sensibility,

. Sinding was a violinist and biographers have noted how violinists are often attracted to his work as he is able to bring out the full richness of the instrument. Late in my father's life, this piece was his standard favorite, which he would play for his children and grandchildren as they sprawled across the living room floor. Like my father, Sinding suffered from dementia at the end of his life. This is the score of my father's later years—soaring, melancholy, and romantic. This is music that points to the infinite world of love, beauty, meaning, and spirit.