That’s His Whole Problem!

I’ve been under the weather lately, and I’ve taken to composing music to pass the time.  As I broke out my music notation software for the first time in quite a while, I noticed an assortment of unpleasant feelings associated with the task.   For some reason, I keep thinking that it is wrong for me to be writing music.

Wrong to write music?   Ah, but this makes no sense.   Where does that come from? Arguably, my father, though I’m sure the poor bloke was only trying to protect me from myself.   He would see the delirious obsession overtake me, quite like his own very similar obsession, and he feared for where it might lead. 

Wrong to write music – what do you make of it?   I can somewhat understand the inherent dangers in the “new toy effect” of this amazing music notation software — especially since I first acquired the new toy over ten years ago, and one would think its fascination would have faded by now.  Ah, but no – there is an almost addictive, compulsive quality to the way that I attack the Finale commands with such fervor, almost like playing a video game, or taking a ride in an amusement park.  Too much fun is involved, and escapism.  How can it possibly be good for me?

Escapism . . . I tend to escape the doldrums of life — by writing music.  In fact, I even escape the demands of the music world itself.  After all, I’m supposed to be finding other musicians to play my stuff, aren’t I?   Other musicians are supposed to play my notes; other singers are supposed to sing my words.  Instead, I belabor for hours over this feigned representation of my music, produced by the artificial, heartless software.  I pretend that there’s an improvised saxophone solo between Measures 33 and 48.  But let’s face it, every note of that “improvisation” has been painstakingly fabricated by the workings of my own tomfoolery, trying my best to mislead the listener into believing that there’s actually a sax being played there, rather than a sophisticated electronic fake.

Don’t I have more important things to do?  Aren’t I behind on my blogs?   I’m supposed to be writing about Homelessness, aren’t I?  What’s music got to do with that?

Well, that’s just it.  It’s got everything  to do with that.  And everything to do with this sense of wrongness that engulfs me whenever I try to write music these days.   It recalls a former time, not too long past, when the average person in my life believed that my relationship to Music was the biggest problem I had in life.

whole problem

It was widely thought, seemingly by everybody else but me, that it was a huge problem, this obsession I had with composing music.  It was a conspicuous problem — a visible problem, something that could not escape public notice.   In a way, it was like Homelessness itself.   There was no way I could hide my homelessness effectively from everybody in the city of Berkeley.   No matter how nice I tried to act, how good I tried to look, the cat was out of the bag.  Everybody knew I was homeless.   Everybody knew I was “just one of the local wing nuts.”   So my obsession with composing music, whether I used the software, or whether I only walked about town singing “bop bop bop” and playing drums on my pants legs, was all part of that huge visibility.   I couldn’t hide being homeless; and I couldn’t hide writing music.  So to my observers, they only seemed like two sides of the same coin.

“That’s his whole problem right there! Look at him writing music all day long, while he’s homeless.  No wonder he never gets off the streets!  How disgusting.”

I remember how depressed I would become whenever I encountered this objection.  Even at church, or at the recovery fellowship I attended, there was this idea that “music was more important to him than God.”  And it disturbed me.   I kept wanting to defend myself.  I honestly did not think it was true.  I just happened to be a deeply driven, tightly wound, highly charged composer, who just happened to keep getting all these musical ideas, that he felt a deep need to pursue.  What’s that got to do with God?  Other than that it was His gift?  How would eliminating this huge part of me possibly help me, either to figure out how not to be homeless anymore, or to be a better Christian, or achieve more sobriety, or recovery — why would eliminating music be so essential to my health and well-being?  Wasn’t Music what was keeping me halfway sane throughout all of this insanity?

I still feel the depression of all that.  I start to relive it, even now, while trying to write music again, after all this time.

But it wasn’t like that when I first got to Moscow, Idaho, almost two years ago to this day.  By that time, I had so much music accumulated in my mind, stuff that I had written without the software, that I’d kept track of in my head — I basically couldn’t wait to get it all notated, now that I finally had a computer, and a place to live.   

When I sat in a cafe writing music, I couldn’t help but notice that the reaction of passersby was much different than I’d become accustomed to.   Nobody scowled at me.  Nobody looked over and thought: “There’s his whole problem right there.”

Why not?  Because there was no huge visible problem that people were hung up on trying to determine the cause of.   There was not this thing called Homelessness hanging over me everywhere I went, seeming to demand an explanation.   

My friend Danielle put it nicely once, with this analogy.  “You see a fat guy eating a doughnut,” she said, “and everybody says: ‘that’s his whole problem right there.’   But you see a skinny guy eating a doughnut — the very same doughnut — and nobody squawks.”

“So what’s that got to do with me?” I asked, naturally.

“The fat guy has a visible problem.  He’s fat.  Everybody can see it.  So they look for the probable cause.  As soon as he sinks his teeth into that doughnut, they think they know the answer.  Genetics, upbringing, age, alcoholism — any other factor is thrown by the wayside.  That there doughnut is his whole problem.

“Same thing with you.  You’re homeless.  You’re conspicuous.  Everybody knows you’re homeless, and they wonder why.  As soon as they see you writing music — and all the time, by the way, you must admit it — any time of the day or night, anywhere, for hours on end — they say: ‘That’s it!   That’s his whole problem!’  Socio-economic factors, mental health, company downsizing, landlord owner move in evictions — none of those more disturbing, complex factors need come into play.”

“That is very disturbing,” I agreed.

“Quite so,” she nodded.  “But now?” Now you’re not homeless.  You don’t this big visible problem that everybody’s trying to figure.   Now you can write as much music as you want, and nobody’s going to fault you for it.”

Needless to say, I was quite relieved.   Now if only I could turn back the hands of time, and get them all to see that it was never my “problem” to begin with . . .

Or was it?

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Anything Helps – God Bless!


Tuesday Tune-Up

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Not exactly.  But I don’t think it’s relevant.

Q. So why have you summoned me?

A. Tune-up.

Q. Squeaky wheels, eh?

A. They’re the ones that get the oil.

Q. Are they?

A. I’m honestly not sure.  I’ve tried to believe that.  I’ve read the Parable of the Unjust Judge enough times to have figured it out.   Or the Parable of the Nagging Widow, or whatever they call it, depending on the emphasis.

Q. Do you empathize with the Judge, or with the Widow?

A. I said “emphasis” not “empathize.”  I don’t empathize with either of them.

Q. Then why are you trying to act like one of them?

A. Because I’ve been led to believe that it will work.

Q. What will work?   Nagging?

gavelA. Yes — or so I’m led to believe.  You know the story.  The widow appears before the Judge with some certain request that he at first denies her.   But she just keeps appearing, and showing up in Court, and reiterating her request ad nauseum, until eventually the Judge breaks down and grants her the request, just to get her off his back.

Q. And so you figure that if you nag everybody enough, they’ll eventually break down?

A. More-or-less.  That’s what I’ve been figuring, but it obviously doesn’t work.  I am either never going to get the money to do this demo recording, or I’m going to have to go about it some other way — because no matter how many times I plead, I still see the same hundred bucks in there that I saw a long time ago.   Sure it was encouraging when it first showed up — way back when — but it’s pretty damned discouraging to keep checking the fund site, only to find that nothing has changed.  I finished the musical almost a year ago and have been trying to move onto the next stage since then! It’s frustrating!!!

People set up “go-fund-me’s” for all kinds of things these days, and get the money.  Some of the causes aren’t even worthwhile, if you ask me — yet they still manage to come up with the bucks.  Here I wrote this entire musical, I’m only trying to get basic money together for the next step in the process, and nobody will help me.   Nobody.

Q. But some people have helped you on occasion, haven’t they?

A. Yeah, but they’ve helped me — not my project.   I keep telling people; I don’t need personal help anymore; I’m meeting my own personal needs, thank you.  I’m not sleeping in a gutter anymore; I’m not panhandling – I’m not begging for change on the streets.  I’ve tried to go about this whole thing decently and honestly, but where has it gotten me?

I set up a separate fund for this thing — or rather my friend Danielle did — and we still can’t get any money together.  I’ve been as honest as I can be; and that doesn’t seem to help.   What am I supposed to do?  Turn around and start feeding people a load of bullshit in order to try to get this show on the road?   That would fly in the face of everything I stand for; everything the musical is all about.

Q. Andy, have you ever considered that maybe this isn’t the time to produce your musical?

A. Painfully, yes.  Of course I have.   I’m a  Christian, and I figure God is closing the doors until a time of His choosing, not mine. 

Q. And do you not see His many blessings in other areas of your life?

A. Sure I do!  At times, I am even grateful for them.  But that doesn’t automatically put an end to my frustration.  I spent five years trying to get this script and score finished – through seemingly insurmountable obstacles – in order for it to come to this.   It makes me feel as though I wasted my time on some pipe dream.

Q. Where is your faith?

A. That’s the $64,000 question.   And I’m only asking for 1% that amount.   So – I’ll try this one more time, but honestly, that’s about all I can take of this.   All these stupid donate buttons go against my grain.  Not to mention, they soil the picture of this blog.  I’m about the least materialistic guy on the planet, and they stick out like a sore thumb. I don’t need the gavel of an Unjust Judge to validate my mediocrity.  I’m bigger than that.  I’m better than that!   I’m an Artist!!   I’m an Artist — and I hate money.  I hate what it does to me, and I don’t like seeing what it does in others.  I’m an Artist. Somebody else manage my damn money!! I’m an Artist! I want out.

The Questioner is silent.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

Gratitude List 673

1. I slept for nine hours, between about 9 pm and six in the morning.  It was just showing 5:59 am as I got up.  So I got more sleep than usual, and I feel very rested in comparison with days prior.
2. Sky’s about to almost get light already.  Yes – much more rested.
3. Second cup of unusually strong Folger’s coffee – the last in the batch, on yesterday’s filter (which was the last filter.)  
asus4. People like the youtube, and we might make another one this morning.
5. Taize was strong last night, and powerful.  
6. New computer is great so far, and fast.  Started up quickly from nothing this morning.  It shows the familiar Windows 10 prompts and snags, but not for periods of gross delay.  
7. People have been letting me play the piano lately, and it’s a good feeling.  It increases my sense of belonging in the community, especially when my playing is so genuinely appreciated.  
8. Choir was good last night, and Susan was very helpful in taking us through the two new pieces.  The “Midwinter” arrangement recalls Dvorak (New World Symphony, the “Going Home” theme), and is also reminiscent of Copeland in places.  It is also quite unlike my own, which is derived from Jane Siberry on her Sushan the Palace album.  I’ve noticed that everyone claims Gustav Holst as the composer of all these widely divergent themes, of which I’ve heard many more than just the two now cited. I can and will investigate.  This is an example of why Jim the Janitor believes that we none of us should ever be bored.  Always something to challenge the inquisitive nature, cf. Genesis Three.  
9. Nice lentil soup last night, and bread.
10. I have so much more energy this morning than usual.  I want to go out, but at 22F degrees and high humidity I wonder if I will need my spikes?  I can wait a while.  Making sure all my former folders and their files are fully loaded onto the new system is a home-bound task, involving both computers, patience, and presence.  I have my work cut out for me, and God is good.   

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Anything Helps – God Bless!


Gratitude List 661

1. Slept well, from about 9 – 4:30, seven and a half hours or so.

2. Should have a good run this morning.

3. Did a six mile walk yesterday.

4. Got the check for the November article in Street Spirit.

5. Terry published “The Voices That Count” (changed the title to “The Class Gap”). This was the one I was hoping he would publish.

6. Got a really nice note from Sally, which I put up on my wall:

Hi dear Andy,
Enclosed is a check to pay you for your wonderful November article.
Thank you again for your deep concern for justice and compassion.
It’s awesome having you as a contributor to Street Spirit.
Love and blessings,

7. I keep noticing how many things are so much easier now that I live indoors, and especially inside this spacious apartment, replete with commodity and accoutrement. I can take my own shower, I never lose my glasses any more, and everything is just where I want it.

8. Just downed a first cup of coffee and am feeling rested and alert. Coffee tastes great this morning — I think I’m finally getting the hang of the coffee maker, and what exactly to do with the grounds.

9. If I get that city job, I can buy a new computer after the first two weeks paychecks. Then, even if they were to let go of me after two weeks or so, I would still have acquired a computer out of the deal. (Not that I’m only in it for the computer, mind you.)

10. I get to sing with the Choir tomorrow. We’re going to do “For the Beauty of the Earth.” Also, I’ve begun working on “Oracle” — that being the next logical song to do with the new 15-system template — and the computer hasn’t freaked out yet. I noticed that some of the lyrics, written hastily toward the End of Act One, are inconsistent with the (minor) characters as they had developed. But this is a good thing. I can work from there — backwards and forwards — and the character development will be stronger, less puzzling, and more engaging. Life is Good, and God is Love.

from the new musical Eden in Babylon
Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Michael Pope

All Rights Reserved 

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

The Spool of the Spirit

Haughty eyes and a proud heart — the unplowed field of the wicked — produce sin.
— Proverbs 21:4

It’s been pretty crazy in my world the past few days.    I’m feeling like I owe my readers some kind of explanation.  And, at the same time, I’m feeling that my readers probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

Yesterday I freaked out totally over my aging computer’s refusal to cooperate with what I had judged to be an inspired fifteen-staff template for the accompaniment score to my new musical.  The very concept of this score is something that suddenly dawned on me in a flash, giving it the feel of revelation.  In an instant, a solution to two separate problems was revealed to me — both of them longstanding issues that had kept me at a disturbing standstill with regards to my major project.   For a long time, I had been stymied by a pair of dark realities, acting in concert, one with another.  That dastardly duo of dynamics would probably best be described as such:

(1) My inability to motivate myself to create, not only a gargantuan piano-vocal score (the p-v score to my last musical taking up 242 pages on a single 6.4mb pdf file), but even a much less tedious vocal score, which probably would have consumed 100 pages at the most.  

(2) My inability to create an attractive enough package, in terms of a listenable instrumental recording of my show tunes, to attract competent singers to work with me on a demo recording.

Because I saw myself become extremely frustrated over both these issues shortly after I finished the first draft of my musical on March 4th of this year, I did not want to repeat the experience after finishing a second, more polished draft only a couple of weeks ago.  I would not want the upcoming months to be like the months following the March 4th milestone.  Yet I felt the frustration start to churn inside my belly, causing brutal upset at a time when I had expected to remain inspired! And behind that frustration was confusion.

I was confused which way to turn.  It seemed on the one hand that, if only I had sufficient money, I could attract singers to my demo project, simply by letting them know I had the cash to pay them.  But I wasn’t coming up with such money, and I could not realistically expect to do so.  So I began to contemplate that my appeal would need to pique the interest of these as-yet-unknown singers, without my having money, solely on the basis of the quality of my work.  This of course is a much higher, if not loftier, artistic objective.  So I began to ponder how to pursue it.

Although I was not too astonished that I didn’t want to embark on another 250-page piano-vocal score, it somewhat disturbed me that I was equally unwilling to dive into a mere vocal score. even though this would be a much less arduous task.  At first, I attributed my resistance to sheer laziness.  This disturbed me.  No one likes to think of themselves as a lazy person, and I would hope that my prolific prodigy, at least with respect to my own Art, would already have been adequately proven by now.

I could feel the deep depression seeking to take root in my spirit.  It was an all too familiar, and quite unwelcome, almost terrifying sensation.

But then, at approximately three in the afternoon last Saturday, something wonderful happened.  As I played with the Finale music notation file of my song The Word from Beyond — the central song of the charismatic protagonist Winston Greene — I realized that I could solve both problems at once in a way that would not cost me any money at the start, and yet keep my enthusiasm for my work renewed.   This realization was based on the revelation that a piano-vocal score, much as it would seem a basic requirement to package the show, is simply irrelevant to the kind of show that Eden in Babylon is, in a modern, technology-driven era.

What, after all, would be the purpose of a piano-vocal score?  It would be for a rehearsal pianist to accompany the singers during rehearsals, and a conductor to conduct the orchestra during performances.  But does Eden in Babylon need a rehearsal accompanist?  No, it does not.   And does it need a live orchestra?   No — it doesn’t need that either.  So why bother?

Many shows are rehearsed these days using a rehearsal CD of an accompaniment similar to that which the singers will hear during the actual performance.  Also, many shows are produced using a recording of a live orchestra.  I’ve seen such shows at theatre companies such as the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts.  The singers themselves provide the live element, and usually the audience cannot even tell that the orchestra is “on tape. “

In such performances, the role of the conductor has been altered from that of tradition.  The conductor now conducts the singers on stage, usually wearing a head-set, with which he or she merely listens to the orchestra on a recording.  

As I remembered this modern fact, I saw how it applied nicely to my own new musical, and how I could employ my expertise with Finale music notation software to inform a superior production.  For with Finale, I can replicate the sound of a pit orchestra, using the sounds of the Garritan Personal Orchestra that comes with the software.  With only a few more instruments to the template, and I would have my fifteen piece pit orchestra — without having to hire or pay a single musician.

So I set about to create the fifteen staff template described in the previous entry.   Unfortunately, however, the result of my inspired fury will live in the annals of infamy.

icarus fallingMy archaic computer simply could not handle the stress of the added instrumentation.  As it complained beyond repair, my sense of inspiration plummeted to new depths of despair.  I likened myself to Icarus, who dared fly ever higher and higher, and finally too close to the sun.  As a result, his wings were scorched, and he fell unsupported down to the Earth.  His highfalutin plans now “toast.” 

As my computer collapsed, so did I myself collapse in kind.  For what are our computers, really, but extensions of our own selves?  My self-collapse turned quickly into rage, as my class issues were aroused.   

“A rich man,” I thought, “could very easily replace his broken computer.  But me?  This could set me back for months!”  A bizarre combination of envy and indignation engulfed my spirit.

So I called a sympathetic friend from my church for emotional support.   The upshot was that the fellow gave me far more than mere consolation.  He actually wound up offering to help me with the purchase of a brand new computer!

What an unexpected relief!   For now, the bizarre boulevard on which broken dreams are strewn shall neither sport nor boast my own dreams so abruptly spawned.  For the spool of the Spirit on which such dreams are spun is a spectacle of wonder, cherished like a treasure buried deep within my core heart of hearts, in a place hitherto invisible to others, and now, in a way most mysterious, somehow becoming unearthed.  With the emergence of supportive friends in my life, the energy with which I go about constructing the Template of My Dreams need not be aborted or delayed.   I can move forward still, and mount the music of Eden in Babylon in a manner befitting the marvel that I have inwardly dreamed it to be.

I can easily extract the vocal score from the much larger score that I’ve already endeavored to build.  It will be nothing compared to the larger edifice in which it rests.  If people chide me for going about this the “hard way,” they know nothing of labors of love.  Yes, it will be a lot more work — but it will be a work of wonder that I attack with passion, not a work of drudgery that I avoid with dread.

I can also again rejoice in the miracle that is Moscow, Idaho in my life.  Back in Berkeley, people would understandably look at me and shrug, thinking: 

“Andy sure has a problem!  How can we help him to solve it?” 

They would shake their heads at a loss, and I would shake mine with them.  But here it is a completely new and refreshing dynamic: 

“Andy’s got something to offer! How can we help him to offer it?”

If you can feel the force of such a huge dynamic difference, then you can feel the fact of a former futility transformed to new promise, and purpose, and joy.   I wouldn’t trade my life today for my life of many sorrows past, for all the riches flaunted by every wealthy fool on Earth.    

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Anything Helps – God Bless!