A Role Revised

For anyone who may have been following my recent journey, I must say that as I attended church for the first time today as a mere parishioner, and not a paid employee, I was blessed far beyond my expectations.

It was refreshing not to have to be worried about what was supposed to come next in the order of worship, but only to sit in the pews and soak it all in.  I found myself focusing on the language in the prayer of confession, the hymns, the sermon, and all other aspects of the service.   When I still had the job, all I could do was nervously worry about what was going to come next.   Would I wind up in the wrong key?  Would I play too fast, too slow, too loud, or too soft?   Was I about to be heavily criticized for my failings after it was all done?  Or, even if they were to compliment me, were they complimenting me for the wrong reasons?  In short:

Did I come across more like a musical theatre or pop-contemporary accompanist, or worse yet, a lounge lizard, in the sacred context?

lounge lizardMy God – my anxiety increases as I even indulge the memory.  Be that as it may.  The “good news” is that I was very blessed to be a simple participant.  I also was freed up to attend a book study before the service, where only six people were present.  Moreover, I can go to another book study on Wednesday evenings when the Choir would have rehearsed.

I’m a little concerned about the substantial decrease in my monthly cash flow — but not too much.  It seems to me that I was living high on the hog to begin with.   I’m used to living on almost nothing at all.  Suddenly having even a little money left over after paying the rent was almost too much for me.  Ah – but I hyperbolize.  As someone said this morning, there is probably a better job in store for me.   All I need do is look.

So, I just wanted to submit a brief blog to share the glad tidings.   I’ll now return to my Writer’s Guild meeting.  Ta ta for now.

Forward Motion

Things have actually progressed remarkably smoothly since my last update.  There has not been a moment throughout the past week when I have felt that “life” was getting in the way of my artistic progress.   To the contrary, I finished scoring all the parts for the other players tonight, and we’ve arranged a time and place to practice this Sunday for the upcoming show the following Saturday.   One more practice after that, and I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.

As I might have mentioned, I agreed to continue to accompany the Wednesday evening Taize services on a volunteer basis, while no longer being on salary at my church.  I understand that the woman who is replacing me for the next two months is very capable, and I’m looking forward to sitting in the pews on Sunday, soaking in the sermon and all aspects of the service, and no longer having to concern myself with the strange conflicts that would rear their heads whenever I tried to play piano or organ properly for the occasion.

It would seem that my background in Musical Theatre somehow interfered with my ability to grasp the worshipful context.  Although I identify as a Christian, it was unusually difficult for me to shake the idea that my playing was a “performance” rather than an “offering” or a “presentation” before God.  I would constantly refer to the chancel as the “stage,” to the prelude as an “overture,” and to the postlude as “exit music.”  I am certain that a period of observation, without mandatory participation, will help me to shed these conflicts.   It’s entirely possible that when the four months are over, and both of my replacements have served their terms, I might regain some kind of paid position with the music ministry.  But I’m neither banking on it, nor shunning the prospect.   To paraphrase John the Baptist: “God must increase, and I must decrease.”

Along with this transformation, my zeal for the production possibilities of my own musical has skyrocketed.  Of the five originals that we will be performing on Saturday the 6th, three of them will be from Eden in Babylon.   If you want to look at the lyrics I will be singing, here are the links thereof:

Heart Song

Ode to the Universe

The Very Same World

I’ve decided on four theatre companies where I have worked in the past, or where I know people with whom I’ve worked, where I will submit the musical immediately upon completing my demo.  Then I think I’ll relax and see what we can do about producing the show on a regional level here in the Palouse Empire, where I have chanced upon a community of like-minded Artists who believe in me.   I’ve been here only nine months as of yesterday, and I never cease to marvel at the miracle of it all.

I didn’t have to let an entire lifetime go by without seeing the city where I was born — where I had only lived for the first year of my life.   When I first saw this city, I saw that it seemed custom-designed for me — right to the point of their being a running shoe store conveniently placed on the lower floor of the very apartment building in which I live:

friendship square

There also turned out to be a Conservatory of Music that I didn’t even know about in this town, sponsoring an annual jazz festival.  Moreover, Idaho Repertory Theatre was founded in this city in the year I was born.  And when I went to see the house where I was born, the cross street as I approached said: “Home Street.”

Sure beats being hit on the head with guns by gangbangers and having four laptops full of costly music production software stolen in a three-year period of time! I still have the same laptop I had when I moved here — in fact, I even have a back-up, in case this one should fail me.  Once again — there is a God.

Resignation and Debut

On Monday I resigned my position as pianist and organist of a local Presbyterian church.  They haven’t found someone to replace me permanently yet, but they have two people who can cover the stretch of time between now and the end of summer.  I also told them I desired to remain a member of the church, but not an employee.  They then agreed that this is their desire, as well.

The main reason for my resignation was that the stress of the job reached the point of interfering completely with my day-to-day spirituality.  Being a church job, this is rather ironic.  But that’s why I decided to continue on with the church.  I found the church itself to be a great contributor to my spirituality – just not the job itself.

Here is the text of my letter of resignation, submitted by email to the entire congregation:

My physical health is good, and I am generally in good spirits, but there are some issues with my mental health that are hard to grasp and have me occasionally feeling very disoriented. These are aggravated by stress. I cannot explain why this is, but somehow the simple piano-organ position that I had expected to be very easy for me and full of joy has become associated with an unbearable level of anxiety that, when it reaches a peak, causes me to make irrational decisions that have enduring consequences. If you can fashion a prayer around these words, please deliver your words to the One who has power to heal.

Also, while I regret that I was too ill to fulfill the Holy Week services, Norman has advised me that they went very well with the substitute. I will not be in church this Sunday, but I hope that thereafter you will all accept me as a member in good standing of First Presbyterian Church but not a part of the music ministry. While I occasionally enjoy playing the piano and recognize it as a gift from God, I have decided that things like reading music, following conductors, turning pages, piano-conducting, etc. are basically in the category of health risks at this time. I will eventually find some kind of piano lounge where I can play at random while daydreaming, make a little more money, and live a bit more comfortably here. So I hope you all will take this in the spirit in which it is intended. First Presbyterian Church of Moscow is the greatest church that I have ever happened upon in all of my lifelong church-hopping, and I will hop no further, so help me, God.

Thank you all for showing me true Christian love. I need that more than I need a job, at this time.

Grace and Peace,

Andy

As a start to a new day-to-day foundation for spirituality, I picked up a hard copy of a book today called The Celebration of Discipline, by a theologian named Richard J. Foster.  I think that to become a little more routinized and regularized (but not “regulated,” mind you) might help with my musical work as well.  I agreed with Pastor Norman that I would still play the Wednesday evening Taize services on a volunteer basis.  Otherwise, I am mainly focused on putting my show together for my debut as a singer-songwriter in this area:

One World Cafe Downtown Moscow

Andy Pope and Friends, Saturday May 6, 7pm, One World Cafe, 533 S. Main Street Moscow Idaho. Be There.

Even the demo is on the back burner for now (although I have rounded up most of the singers).  Today I found all the band members for the show two weeks from tomorrow, so I’m diving wholeheartedly into creating a set list and writing out parts.  I’ve got an Ibenez custom hollow body, a Yamaha electronic keyboard, and a good percussionist on the Cajon who also plays fiddle and mandolin.  My bassist is from Lionel Hampton, and I’ll be using the house sound system for my singing.  If you’re for any reason in the neighborhood, feel free to cruise by.  I mean – don’t bust your back or break any laws, but you know where I’ll be.

There is a God

The piano-vocal score to my song “The Very Same World” is finished now.  If anyone wants to take a look at it, you can click on the title below.   (It will lead to an 11-page pdf file.)

The Very Same World

from the new musical Eden in Babylon
Words and Music by Andy Pope
Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope

I’d hoped to get three of these finished and then approach a certain professor from the nearby School of Music.  A number of people told me that he would be the logical person to talk to, if I wanted to find singers to help me out with my musical demo.   But a couple things arose to deter me, much as I so desperately desired to proceed unhindered.  First of all, I got behind schedule.  I had been hoping to have two of them done by Friday, and the third by next Friday.  Instead, I only have one of them done — and it’s already Monday.   Secondly, I was somewhat intimidated by the man’s awe-inspiring credentials.  This played into my natural shyness, and I began to doubt my fortitude.

But then, a mysterious turn of events took place.  As it happens, the professor is actually coming to meet me.  You see, the departing Minister of Music at my church has to leave during Holy Week due to the poor health of her husband.  It turns out that she knows this professor, and so she called him to take over our rehearsal on Wednesday night, as well as the Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.   So by this Wednesday, I will be following his conducting on the piano as I accompany our church choir.  Naturally, I used this as a deadline to finish the score to The Very Same World I printed it out today, and after I make minor corrections, I can simply show it to him.  So my shyness and timidity are no longer an issue.  

I also just happened to  meet three decent singers who have expressed an interest in working with me on this project.  One of them, a mezzo-soprano whom I ran into at the local pub, looked over my score briefly, then said she would reply to my call if I “posted a notice.”  Being the new kid on the block here, I haven’t exactly found out where to post this notice.  She said it with such authority, I did not want to admit my naivete.   But then, I met two young men at a cafe who were working on theory assignments on music paper, so I invited them to come look at my score.  Turned out one of them was a baritone, and we exchanged contact information.  They also advised me that anyone can audit the Jazz Choir that meets in the afternoons throughout the week, and that I could pick up a bass part and sing with them.  I don’t have to be a University student to participate.  Finally, there’s this fellow Josh who works at the Bagel Shop downstairs from me, who has a degree in Acting and has sung professionally in musicals.  He seems eager to help me out with this as well.   So perhaps I already have two or three singers.  I only need two or three more.

All of this points to an eerie phenomenon that might best be explained once it’s understood that I have only lived in this particular city for eight months.  I came here from the San Francisco Bay Area, largely because the rising cost of living was getting to me on numerous levels.   Six years ago, I lived in a situation that was almost identical to my present digs, as far as basic specs were concerned, and it rented for $900/mo.  What do I pay here in Northern Idaho for the same set-up?   You guessed it.  $275/mo.   So I finally came up here on a lark, answering a Craigslist ad, looking for a mere hole-in-the-wall where I could plug in my laptop, unhassled by numerous disconcerting factors: high crime rate, distrust among neighbors, frequent homelessness, and so forth.

friendship squareI moved into small studio in an old-style apartment building, where there are business on the first floor, and residences on the higher floors.  What I did not expect was for there to be a running store in my very building.  Being a runner, this intrigued me.  I then noticed yoga centers and bike shops.  A health-and-wellness emphasis, I thought.  Very good.   I then learned about the School of Music, and that the State Repertory Theatre was founded here as well – in the year I was born, incidentally.  As you soon will find, that’s quite germane.

The second week I was here, I applied for a part-time church position, was hired, and still hold that job today.   Before I knew it, I was surrounded by Artists and Writers of all kinds.  And as for music?  I’m doing gigs all up and down the main drag.   And culture?  I heard more decent music my first five days in this small college community than I heard in Berkeley, California, in five years.

There is more to this story, so I might as well tell it.

Why did I choose Moscow, Idaho?   Out of all the small out-of-the-way villages where I could have sought affordable housing, why Moscow?   Because I was born here.  I lived here the first year of my life when my dad was teaching ROTC at the University.  Then his Navy career took us all over the country as well as to other parts of the world.  I didn’t want my whole life to go by without seeing what Moscow, Idaho was like.  When I came here, I was astounded.  This city seemed to be custom-designed for me.

BerkeleyIn the first four months I was here, I sequenced all the music I wrote internally after four of my laptops were successively stolen in Berkeley, and I could not afford to replace them.   In the next three months, I sat down and finished a draft of the musical I had been struggling, through adverse circumstances in California, for five years.  Now I’m working on the piano-vocal score to that musical.  I have the same laptop now that I bought shortly before I left Berkeley.   Had I stayed in Berkeley, I would never have been able to retain a laptop that long.  It would have been stolen by now.   In fact, considering the huge upsurge in violence that has taken place on the Berkeley streets since the election of our current clueless leader, I can’t help but wonder if I would even still be alive today, had I stayed in this unfavorable town. 

This is why my faith has increased as much as it has.   I was so angry and discouraged when I was homeless on the Berkeley streets, that I shouted out to God:

“WHY am I always forced to be hanging around thieves and hustlers and pimps and hookers and panhandlers and criminals and murderers?   WHY does nobody care about my Music or my Art?  WHY am I not hanging around Actors and Directors and Musicians and Writers and Artists??”

The question “Why?” is often moot.  But if the desperation in that oft-repeated query could be interpreted as an entreaty to an unseen God, then the proof of the answer to that twisted prayer is in the very experience I own today.  It happened in less than forty-eight hours.   I hopped on a Greyhound, alighted randomly upon this little town in Idaho, answered an ad for a studio, and three days later signed a one-year lease.   I’m where I am supposed to be.  There is a God.

Starving Artists

Just to keep you guys in the loop, I’m a bit behind on my goal stated earlier.  I’d wanted to get two of my songs done by tomorrow, and then take them down to the open mike at the Green Frog.  It’s looking as though only one of them will be done.  I’m basically done with “The Very Same World.”  It’s all scored.  I just have to format it.

It may seem that I set my goals too high.  Often this is the case.  But in this case, something happened that interfered with the progress.  I lost a good five days.  It’s not so important what happened.  The important thing is that I’m back on track.

Also, it’s important for me to remember that, no matter how reasonable my goals may seem to be in the ideal state, there’s this annoying nuisance called “life” that will occasionally get in the way of those goals.  Suffice it to say that life was in the way for about five days, and that it’s no longer in the way.

Starving_Artist_by_EbonyLaceI also take solace in the fact that I’m not the only starving artist in this world.  I do what I can to put food on the table and pay my rent.  But I have to admit it can be depressing when it all hits you at once.   You work hard on a project for a five years and you can’t even come up with $85 to register it with the United States Copyright Office.  You can’t buy a couple books you were eager to buy — including and especially the book called The War of Art.   It was recommended to me by this writer, and I’ve been dying to read it.  I’ve even recommended it to my daughter and to other writers.  I can’t buy a couple other books I wanted, just because life once again got in the way.

Does it sound like the Poor Boy is whining?   Well – get a load of this:

You can’t find your headphones you lost two weeks ago.   Your mouse broke and you hassled yourself for days over whether it was worth $15 to buy another one, or whether you were going to continue to stress your nerves to shreds trying to use the touch pad.  As if that wasn’t enough, you spilled coffee all over your computer keyboard.  Now you’re using an external keyboard that’s about five times as loud in public places, and getting dirty looks because you learned how to type on an Olivetti manual typewriter back in 1966 and never did quite get the hang of these modern keyboards.   All this is aggravating your class issues, and to make matters worse, people who have never been poor start laying loads of unsolicited advice on you, as if they have any idea how to maneuver the various details of abject poverty.  You seethe internally.  Your anger toward people in the privileged classes only increases, at a time when you’re trying to learn how to love them. 

As I write these words though, I curse myself inwardly.  What can I do in the month of April to keep life from getting in the way?   Here I sit in the local pub once again, indulging in a cup of coffee and a muffin.  How many external cups of coffee, how many scones and muffins, do I have each month?   But then again, if I stay inside my room and write, I run dry.   I need to see people – outside of church and work — I need to see smiling faces during the course of the day.  I can just hole myself up in my room all month.

Not to mention, I’m an Old Guy.  I worked hard all my life.  True – I made the unwise error of never saving up for any kind of retirement – I just worked, worked, worked until I had a total nervous breakdown.   Then they put me on this awful thing we have in America called Social Security Disability Income, which primarily robs people of their self-esteem.

But it put food on the table before I got around to realizing I could probably still work, despite what “they” said.  Anyway, if nothing else, during the ten years that I have been on disability, one thing I have done is what I always wanted to do — and what I never found the time to do, when I was working full time.   I’m only working part-time now, but at least I’m holding down my job.   Why I ever allowed the United States Government to be the entity deciding whether or not I was able to work is beyond me.  IF only I had known then what I know now!

Nobody can call me lazy.  One thing I have done in the past ten years — is write.  And I’ll keep writing.   I’ll see my Day if I keep at it.  But it never ceases to annoy me how the wealthy in this world have everything, and yet don’t know what to do with it.  I’m a guy who has nothing — but at least I know what to do with it.

I almost wish it were the other way around.   Ah well — back to work.