In reference to Part One, I sent the post to my brother Steve. I hadn’t heard from him for quite some time, and it was wonderful to receive this email in the morning:
This is so nice and yes, it happened exactly as you
I’ve always said there are three phases in my musical
life (which is 99% of my life, or something):
The Grateful Dead
Equally weighted –
And you can quote me on that.
What a pleasant surprise to wake up and see my brother’s email! But he did not say anything about the libretto. This leads to a personal confession.
I have been terrible about devaluing the songs I wrote when I was younger. At one point I wrote a song called “Apologies to Peter Pan.” It was the year 1974, and I was 21 years old. Well, I thought the music was okay, but I didn’t like the lyrics. So, later on in life, in the year 2004 in fact, I stole my own song.
I stole the music of “Apologies to Peter Pan” in order to place that music in a show I was writing, while changing all the words and, in fact, the entire meaning of the song. One person was honest enough to object. He explained that the lyrics were not better than the lyrics of the original song (which I do remember, by the way, in full.)
That person was right. But what he does not know, and what no one knew till now, is the reason why I would do these things: low self esteem.
I simply did not believe, at around 2004 or so, that I was capable of writing a brand new song. I had been involved in the workaday world, zipping from gig to gig on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula – hustling, teaching, doing my gigs, and not really writing much at all. I viewed writing as something I did as a Kid. As an adult, I worked. I taught. I played music. I went to PTA meetings. I taught Vacation Bible School. But did I write any music?
No. Not at all. Why not? I no longer believed that I could.
So instead, I thought: “Well – when I was younger, I wrote all kinds of music. I always remember the music, but not always the lyrics. Why don’t I just take all the old music I wrote, rearrange it, and rewrite the words?
So I stole my own music, in this pathetic and cowardly fashion, until one night, there was a psychic change.
It was the year 2010. I was renting a hotel room at a reduced rate, in exchange for working the front desk. I had time on my hands, and I still made visits to my mentor, Stan Beckler.
I had studied Music Theory and Composition with Stan at the U.O.P. Conservatory of Music in the 70’s. I reconnected with him later in life, and began to pay him visits, during which my orchestrations were analyzed. He was a wonderful man and a brilliant composer whom I admired very much. Then in March of 2010, at the age of 86, Stan died.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. Stan had always wanted me to write a string quartet. But I never did. He had also often suggested I remove the drum parts completely. He appreciated and drew out the classical composer in me. He’d have rather I had not gotten so heavy into the show tunes. But he was never discouraging, always warm and wise. It was hard to get Stan off my mind that night. But I decided to try.
I opened the file of the piece I was writing. It seemed that the song, “Child of No Emotion,” might make a better song with different words, to be called: “Cloaks of Art.” As I began to arrange the music, I decided to begin with a string section. And I tried not to think about this man whom I had loved, who had always been with me, and who now was gone.
Editing the arrangement, I would often stop and start the music over again. My perfectionism was at a staggering peak. I could not get it right, no matter what. But I kept hammering away, till just before dawn. And then — something happened. Something entirely new, unexpected, unprecedented.
As I tried to keep stopping and starting the music, the STOP command ceased to function. I wanted to stop the music. But the music would not stop.
It kept playing, even after I repeatedly pressed the STOP key. So I could no longer mess with it. I was forced to listen to it all. I listened to the strings, and then suddenly I realized:
This is the string quartet that Stan always wanted me to write. And Stan is here right now. He won’t let me keep messing with the music — because he wants to hear the whole thing! His spirit is here, approving of me — telling me my work is complete. I have finally satisfied my mentor. I have written the String Quartet!
I fell down on my knees. I thought about how when the prophet Elijah had died, Elisha was sorrowful. And he asked God to give him a “double portion of Elijah’s spirit.”
I cried out: “Lord, give me a double portion of Stan Beckler’s spirit!”
And I don’t know how to explain it, but never again did I ever feel that I could not write music that was new and fresh. As for “Cloaks of Art?” The string quartet is not very long. Twenty measures or so, before other instruments enter in, and it swells into a more symphonic sound. But it satisfied Stan, and it marked the beginning of a new life of new music, new words. I may not be an “entirely different composer.” But the song I sing in my heart today is an entirely different song.
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