Memory song

When Gardner McFall ’74 was 14, her Navy pilot father’s plane went down in the Pacific. Albert Dodge McFall’s body was never found.

The loss has had such a profound impact on her life that it inspired McFall to write a book of poetry about the experience called The Pilot’s Daughter. Now that book is the inspiration for a libretto she has written for the Seattle Opera. The libretto (the text of an opera) is both based on her life and includes real elements taken directly from it.

The opera company, under general director Speight Jenkins, commissioned her to write the libretto for the two-hour American opera Amelia, which has flight as a theme and is believed to be the first opera to deal with the Vietnam War experience.

The opera, which premiered earlier this month, was highlighted by National Public Radio on its evening news program, All Things Considered.

For Gardner McFall, the opera Amelia is the goodbye she never got to say to her father.

“Although my book of poems was an elegy to him, it’s still a book of poems,” McFall says. “And this opera will potentially go out into the world. And anytime his name is sung, his name will be there on the air. And it will live.”

The Wheaton Quarterly profiled McFall in its Fall 2009 issue. Along with the NPR story, the public radio website features the Wheaton alumna reading her poem, Missing.