I’ve Gotta Be Me

This is the most personal narrative I’ve ever written. I’ll still write my comic opera and release my Sullivan and Glenn Miller albums, and do other wonderful things, but from time to time, I must take the following piece of writing into consideration. Every word is true. March 14, 2018, 9:52 AM.

I’m never angry “with” anybody, but “at” situations. These “allusions of grandeur” – that is, classical music as a mental pacifier from anger – begin for me in early morning (if I should rise early enough), and ideally, should only return to conclude each night. Since 2012, I’ve had to retreat mentally into classical music, just to keep from lashing out. As a listener, it’s wonderful, great when I’m not performing or rehearsing. Most of us watch movies, read or listen to great stories; my natural language is pure sound: symphonies, concertos, background scores (“incidental music” for spoken stage plays), instrumental dance tunes (waltzes, marches, and the rest).

This morning, I decided to figure out what started my recent anger in the first place. It then dawned on me: 9/11. Never mind being angry at rejection or cynicism in general – I’m angriest at the very idea that something like this would happen in the first place…aren’t we all? When 9/11 happened, my teachers transformed from polite, encouraging optimists to dramatic, somber, cynical pessimists. On the surface, their outlook eventually returned to normal, but in reality, of course, was never quite the same. After that fateful day, the one thing I’ve wanted to do more frequently, that is, travel, became an unpleasant, nightmarish chore, and we’re still trying to fathom why it happened in the first place.

All my teachers sat in a circle on the floor of the classroom, with all 25 students surrounding them, myself included (obviously). I had absolutely nothing original to say, and if I could live that moment all over again, I would simply say, “I have nothing original to add…I just love hearing your voices…they sooth my soul.” My visual impairment teacher, Paula Charnesky, tried to set me down and explain to me the somber nature of that day, but I was so speechless that my mind retreated to “paradise” (Music Land, my private world), and has been there ever since, unwilling to confront the “bad” side of humanity. Ever since that day, I’ve tried to live every day like it was my last, to no avail, and this has made me the angriest of all.

If each day was my last day, I would spend it doing quiet things, which shows you what kind of a person I really am: despite my love of grand orchestral utterances, I’m certainly not a loud rock star, and I’m okay with that. I’m a loving, caring individual, and I’d like to thank my mother for raising me that way. I’d probably just want to spend my last afternoon doing things I used to do with my dad in Arizona. I enjoyed throwing rocks in the river and hearing them splash, or feeling a pinecone for a while and then dropping it on the ground – you know, those simple things. I’m not a “nature” person, but it’s those simple moments that say much more than any rousing British march or inspirational hymn or up-tempo dance tune ever could. Thank you, Dad.

I want to be remembered as a kind human being (music is simply my way of conquering the world with kindness), and I want to share these simple moments with the world. Is that too much to ask? More than ever before, especially now, they make me appreciate the time we’re given. I want to hold onto these moments when life seems chaotic. Taken in sequence, these would probably be my final moments in life, not so much in importance, but the agenda of my last day: first would be an Uncle Pat jam, or at least listening to that kind of music, and others, from late morning to about 3:00 or 4:00 PM; second would be the short outdoor moments described above, from about 4:00 to 6:00 PM; and third, after a feast of a dinner and dessert (leaving room to sing, of course), a few moments with each of my muses (they know who they are), or, again, at least listening to music associated with each of them; These are my three Disney wishes: a jam session, short outdoor moments, and moments with muses, bookended by my civilized classical music escape. Those very titles make up an album each devoted to that particular piece. “Jam Session” will be an attempt to integrate jazz fusion into the symphonic repertoire, as George Gershwin did with “Rhapsody in Blue” (there might already be a piece like this – if so, I just want to add to the mix). “Moments with Muses” will be my impressions of all the important people in my life as a collection of chamber music pieces evoking each person through appropriate style and instrumentation. Finally, “Outdoor Suite” will attempt to summarize those short outdoor moments with accessible instrumental pieces – no intellectual depth here, just timeless, accessible, pleasant orchestral music that will work in any context. If I’m going to be remembered for anything, these are the albums for which I’d like to be remembered most, and the original compositions I’d feel most comfortable sharing with the world. They would be my lasting tribute to the goodness in the world that I’ve always believed would, to quote Gilbert’s words in The Mikado, “rise triumphant over all … We do not heed your dismal sound / For joy reigns everywhere around” – I want these to be my last words, and I want them to be on my grave, as I believe in them now more than ever before, and I strive to live them out every day, starting today. For all of Gilbert’s unpleasantness, he managed to write many wonderful lines worth taking to heart. From now on, joy reigns supreme for me – not 24/7, of course, and not always in a loud, brassy way: I realize joy can also be quiet, as when I first heard my Arizona neighbor Carrie Reay, truly a ray of light, sing and play piano so beautifully. Hearing Maureen McGovern’s voice brought the sensation of Carrie’s versatile, extraordinary voice and beautiful, collaborative soul right back, specifically Ms. McGovern’s guest contributions on “Take My Hand: Songs from the Hundred Acre Wood” and Erich Kunzel’s “Amen! A Gospel Celebration” – a truly inspirational sound, especially with the lush addition of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Much later, when a lovely singer named Pam sang hymns as I accompanied on piano for a friend’s celebration of life, I was brought back to the pleasing vocal aesthetics of Carrie Reay and Maureen McGovern for the first time since childhood; those moments with Pam turned my life around in the best way. I realized within myself for the first time that though I enjoy applause, that’s not why I enjoy performing. Performing is a deeply personal, contemplative, private thing for me, not a rousing, public display (though those are awesome). I’d never felt as secure, safe, quietly joyful, as when Pam said so reassuringly, in response as to how I should play “Amazing Grace,” “I’ll go where you go” – yes, she’s that beautiful: she sings like I play, and those memories and impressions of her quiet joy continuously sooth and uplift my soul. Ah – “quiet joy” – now there’s a thought…are you listening, Carrie? Maureen? Pam? I’d like to write a ballad with all three of you in mind.

I’ve always had this idea, but was never able to articulate it until now: while music can be a daunting art form, I’ve always used it as a medicine. Here’s my tip: study music as an art form, but for practical use in life, it should be thought of as a medicine. This isn’t actually my idea. It comes from a book by Norman Cousins I used as my book report for Health 165 (nutrition) at Palomar College, one of the last classes I took. In classical music written for orchestras, listeners are commanded to react whenever the brass and percussion issue their proclamation, or whenever strings and woodwinds soar, or whenever the whole orchestra dances its way into the listeners’ collective hearts. This sound has nothing on solo or chamber music, which is best used as background for quiet contemplation, also valid. As for jazz, pop, musical theater, country, reggae, world music, R&B, hip-hop, Gospel etc?Let them exist. Change may be the only thing that’s constant, but I’ve always thought there’s a place in the world for everything. If that’s true, why can’t we enjoy all things equally? Shouldn’t we all be well-rounded? I suppose, amending what Gilbert said in Patience, “[well-rounded] for breakfast, [well-rounded] for dinner, [well-rounded] for tea?  Under those circumstances, even [being well-rounded] would become monotonous.” Let the specialists live out their passion: I’m an eclectic, and proud of it.