‘Operation Love’

As Bernie Stopak sings, he smiles.

And when he smiles, well, that means he’s found that connection, that spark, with his audience.

These days, Bernie Stopak smiles often when he sings. He’s having fun, and so are the folks listening to him.

“I like people and I appreciate what they do,” he said. “If I can connect with them back and forth with the music part of it, I’m happy to do that.”

Stopak, a neurosurgeon who moved to Kauai seven months ago, has been performing original compositions written by him and friend Stef Scaggiari. He’s played at senior centers, Wilcox Hospital and the corrections center.

There are have been tears at times, because his words have landed right in the middle of a few hearts.

“It’s really curious, the reaction I seem to be getting. I like it,” he said.

When his music evokes emotion, it’s doing what he hoped. It’s why he produced a CD of his tunes, “Operation Love.”

It’s more than songs, though. It’s a collection of short prose. It’s a story of young love. Of new love. Of struggling to love, and of finding love again and this time, holding on to love.

“It’s a whole storyline,” he said.

Stopak, involved in neurosurgery since 1969, has performed thousands of operations. He’s consulted with thousands of patients. He’s helped people regain their health. He’s given them hope when there was none.

In a way, he hopes to do the same with his music.

The passion and pride he brought to his work in the medical field is the same he’s brought to the entertainment field. Music, he believes, can be soothing and healing.

The man is a singer, a writer, a performer, a crowd-pleaser and a storyteller.

“I have some wonderful stories people are always interested in,” he said.

Those tales come across in his second album as he sings “his personal journey of life and love with mature songs.”

He’ll be performing a concert 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Lihue. The show itself is a little over an hour, so there’s time for interaction later with the crowd.

His music is “optimistic, identifying and appreciating some of the stuff that we’ve been through,” he said.

The 76-year-old is hoping for a good turnout, because he’s been wondering, how does an old guy get any kind of exposure?”

He figured it out.

Write well.

Sing well.

Connect with your audience.

A little self promotion helps.

Curtains up, spotlight is on.

“I’m excited about it and I’ll see what happens,” he said.

His concert won’t be anything too crazy, he says, laughing.

“I’m not going to do a backwards moonwalk on the stage. I’m pretty straightforward,” he said.

During his shows, he likes to ask, how many have been in love?”

Hands go up.

He’ll then ask, how many have struggled with love?

More hands rise.

Those who come to Friday’s show, he said, may identify with issues and love they’ve been through themselves.

“The most rewarding thing with me is that I understand a lot of people,” he said.

“Men have told me, I’m able to express a lot of things that men can’t. That’s one comment that I’ve had,” he said. “I get a big kick out of that, that I’ve touched somebody.”

The CD, Operation Love, takes listener of their own, and it’s why he encourages them to hear to it at one time, one sitting, with their loved one, not in bits and pieces.

“One song leads to the next and the next and the next,” he said.

The first three songs are about falling in love.

The next seven are when everything is perfect.

The next eight are what he called a “series of saloon songs, when things are not so great.”

And the final few speak to two people staying together through thick and thin.

“I narrate the whole thing from beginning to end, so there’s a storyline, with it,” he said.

His dream, he said, is to turn Operation Love into a musical.

A musician, Stopak plays the sax, clarinet and “fools around” with the piano. But Friday, he’s looking forward to this performance as he sings to recorded tracks that offers a chance to chat.

While his medical career dates back more than 50 years, there’s always been music. He worked his way through school playing in bands, and performed at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.

Stopak, a professor of neurosurgery at Georgetown Hospital and native of Washington D.C., moved to Lihue with wife Juliet, a radiation oncologist, and 15-year-old son Gabriel. Gabriel, he said, helped put “Operation Love” together.

As a neurosurgeon, Stopak said he was the one you could count on.

“I took care of everybody, whether they could pay me or they couldn’t pay me,” he said, estimating he performed millions in charity work over his career.

“I feel a contact with my patients,” he said.

He hopes to make that same connection with his music. He believes he is. He sees it in their eyes, like a recent Thursday morning at Wilcox.

“I’m catching different eyes,” he said.

And if he needs a reminder of this, there’s always these words spoken by a friend:  “Keep singing. I want to hear how it ends.”

Bernie Stopak is just getting started.

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