Turns Toward Dawn

This has been a very strange and telling phase in my life.  While I’ve not seen myself make much headway in the areas where I have typically been placing my focus, I have noticed that progress appears to be taking place on a completely different level.   This is the second time in recent months when the desired progress toward the production of my new musical appears to be at a standstill, but yet an unexpectedly bright happenstance is seen taking place on an entirely different plane.

The first time was during August through October, when I saw five of my short pieces on the homeless phenomenon in America become published in Street Spirit, a Berkeley-based periodical dealing with such issues, distributed throughout the East Bay Area and in Santa Cruz.   (A sixth article, by the way, was published in the November issue, which unfortunately has not yet made it online.   The article is called The Class Gap, and is based on my blog post The Voices That Count.  The link on the title is to a pdf of the full page devoted to my story.)  The sudden opportunity for publication in the hitherto unexplored periodical coincided with a dry spell in my own efforts to persist in pushing my musical toward production.

Similarly, in the past two weeks, I really haven’t progressed at the desired rate with my usual push to produce the show.   But I have seen the community here come to embrace my piano playing on the local level, which is something for which I have been silently longing.  First, on Wednesday the 29th, I had the opportunity to play for the annual holiday dinner hosted by the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute.

There were probably close to a hundred people there. All nice people. I played jazz standards like I used to play when I had a regular piano job in the 90’s in the Bay Area.  I got paid for the gig in cash, and made decent tips, too.  I felt so good about it all, and was so appreciated, that it made me want to do it all the time. Imagine if only I could make that kind of money on a regular basis! I wouldn’t have to do anything else in life, other than rejoice and relax, I suppose. I mean, I’m sure that binding obligations would arise as usual, life being life. But it would sure solve a lot of problems.

The most flattering part of the night was when a critic named Donna from the Tuesday Night Critics Group showed up. She put a tip in my jar and said: “I’m the one who emailed you raving about your new musical.” Then I remembered that I’d met her briefly when I had shown up for critique one night. She went so far as to read the entire show and write to me in detail. It was funny too, because she had an idea for a device in the last Scene that I had to admit was a good one, and I wound up using it in the second draft that I finished on November 8th. She hasn’t read that version yet, but I assured her it was in there.

Then, last Tuesday, December 5th, I played the piano for the Community Event of Remembrance, when every year people in the community gather to commemorate those who have passed away in our lives throughout the past year. Usually the music is provided by whoever does the stuff at funerals, but for some reason they had to back out at the last minute. So I was called.

I believe I did a good job, despite myself. I think I selected appropriate music for the prelude and postlude, as well as an interim processional when everyone was approaching the tree to be given an ornament representing the one who had died in their life.  There was a tenor from the Evangelical Free Church who directed the hymns and sang special music at the piano. I was otherwise at the Baldwin grand piano, and messages were delivered by the priest from St. Mary’s, the pastor from the United Church, and my own pastor.  It seemed very well-coordinated, despite little rehearsal.  Moreover, it was a very meaningful event, where people were in no way disingenuous or full of affectation, but extremely real and genuine, authentic, and without hypocrisy of any sort.  Afterwards, I received a number of very kind compliments.  People seemed genuinely moved by my presentation, which was a little odd, considering how detached I felt from it all. But it was definitely an honor to have been given the opportunity, and it was good that I rose to the occasion.

Otherwise, I’m on the new computer now. I found one like it on Amazon — it lists for $875. It’s a pretty amazing machine, came with 8gb installed RAM and an Intel i7 processor, 2.8ghz. It’s a real blessing. Having a new computer is kind of like having the new apartment. It gives me a chance to start afresh, and not make the same mistakes I made last time. It’s also about as much better of a computer than my last one as this apartment is a better apartment than my last. So there’s a positive sense of moving up in the world.

One of the first things I did with the new machine was upload this you tube of my playing piano at Moscow First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday the 30th.  It came out surprisingly well, especially considering it was recorded using my pastor’s iPhone.  But in a way, that gives it a raw, uncut quality that I believe informs its artistry.  It’s amazing what kind of effect a fine piano can have on one’s musicianship.

 

Well, I need to get to church and sing with the Choir.   I wanted to make sure I got this stuff to you beforehand.   I did – so now I can relax!   Hoping you all have a blessed Sunday.  Take care, and God bless.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

Use Fire

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Yes.  It took me a while, but I figured it out.

Q. So why have you summoned me?

A. Because I am miserable.

Q. Why are you miserable?

A. What a stupid question.  Isn’t it obvious?

Q. I don’t know.  Is it?

A. Of course it is!  I can’t seem to get back to where I was before March 4th of this year.  Try as I may, everything I do turns to dirt.

Q. What happened on March 4th?

A. I finished the script to my musical, Eden in Babylon.  

Q. Isn’t that a good thing?  

A. In and of itself, yes — a very good thing.  I had been blocked up for over three years, over something stupid.   Something a friend of mine did — or a former friend — or someone whom I thought was a friend.   It’s hard to explain, but once I got past the block, I finished the script with a vengeance.

Q. A vengeance?  Against whom?

A. Against the guy I just told you about — the guy whom I thought was my friend — who ripped it apart – ripped it to shreds, assassinating my character in the process.  I finished it, not despite his scathing condemnation — but because of it.  I wanted to show him what I was made of.  And then —

Q. And then?  

A. I dedicated the musical to him.

Q. (trying not to laugh) How masochistic can you possibly be?

A. It wasn’t masochism!  More like — manipulation.  I thought that, somehow, if I dedicated the script to him, it would soften his heart toward me.   He would relax about it all, and then sit down with a glass of wine on a Sunday evening, and read the script more closely, with caring, savoring every word.  He would be willing to believe that it just might be a good thing after all — since I had (after all) dedicated it to his very self.  Finally, with an approving smile on his face, he would at last come to appreciate what I was trying to do with it — before just assaulting my integrity and writing me off, along with my hard-earned labor of love, as though I were just — just — scum.  

Q. Scum?

scumbagA. You heard me — scum!   I keep thinking about all these rich people I went to high school with.  They think I’m scum because I wound up on the streets — or maybe I was scum beforehand, because my parents were poor.  I don’t know — if I hadn’t have been a piano player, they’d have never given me the time of day.  And now, even with the piano playing, it’s not powerful enough to negate that image — the image of the guy begging for change on the streets — even though I never really begged, but — 

Q. But wait – what does it matter what they think?

A. What do you mean, what does it matter?  Of course it matters!  I’m trying to produce a musical — not just trying to be some random guy who’s into not caring what anybody thinks of him, as though that’s what he needs to maintain his mental health, or some other boring, irrelevant proposition.  Of course I care what people think.  I need an audience — I want them to think well of me, or at least — of my work.  

Q. But what does it matter what he thinks?

A. Lifelong friend?  Theatre Arts professor – reputable?   Certainly, his opinion counts.

Q. But does it count enough for you to have let it condemn you?  Snag you for three years?  And then want to dedicate the show to him?   Have you even heard from him since you did so?

A. No — he won’t talk to me.   He hasn’t talked to me since shortly after he condemned me.

Q. Why would that be?

A. I guess because — well — I sort of accused him of not having carefully read the script.  I said something snide, like – maybe he gave me twenty-five minutes at the most on a busy day, feeling pressured.  I might have pressured him.  I was stuck at page 58 — eager to get feedback, to be encouraged . . .  to move forward . . .

Q. Wait wait — you think he didn’t read the script very carefully?

A. No – not at all.  He might not even have read any of it.  His comments were all the kinds of things he could have said had he only skimmed it briefly.  All except for the big one, where he insinuated that I was some kind of over-the-top political activist, or grandiose sociopath, or whatever it he perceived my main character to be.

Q. Now Andy — let’s get down to it.  Do you think that he even read your script?

A. No, I do not.  He did not read the script.

Q. Then wouldn’t that explain his silence toward you?

A. How so?

Q. Could it not be that he simply is shying away from you because he doesn’t want to fess up to the fact that he dissed you so flagrantly?

A. Cowardice.  It’s occurred to me.  But I am not one to complain about cowardice.  I myself am just about the wimpiest bloke on the block.  I struggle to promote myself; I faint at the slightest trace of adversity.  I can’t even get a gig playing the piano anymore, I’m so timid about letting them know my interest.   I’m just not courageous, like I used to be.  

Q. Like you used to be?  When?

A. When I first decided to live outdoors – to be homeless by choice — in Berkeley, in April of 2011, six years ago.  I was brave then.  I spoke my mind.  I was inspired.  I didn’t just cave in to the Mainstream.   

Q. And you have been “caving in to the Mainstream” lately?

A. Yes.  I’m becoming passive, like most people in the Mainstream.  I’m starting to just “go with the flow” — even if the flow is decidedly downstream.  I do nothing to attack or challenge my circumstances.  I don’t fight like I used to.  I just – shrug my shoulders, and let it all happen, even as I descend deeper and deeper into hell.

Q. And this descent all began on March 4th?

A. Yes.  I had reached the highest height.  I had finally finished Eden in Babylon – or, a first rough draft, at the very least — after all those years of blockage and despair, feeling mocked by friends and family, and by prospective producers everywhere — I had reached the pinnacle —

Q. And then you fell down?

A. I fell off.  I plummeted down to the dunes.  I sank in the quicksand.   I still sink, ever lower, even to the heart of the earth.

if_all_else_fails____by_picolo_kun-d9p190aQ. Do you know the story of Icarus?

A. I do.  I even wrote a song about him, years ago.

Q. Have you heard of the Icarus Project?

A. I have.  I believe I receive their newsletter.  I pay them no mind though.  They all seem crazy to me.

Q. But don’t they have something in common with you?

A. Well – looking into them a bit more closely, they do appear to be more-or-less like myself.  They’re activists.  They would like to see transformative change in society.  Many are Artists.   Many have Bipolar Disorder.  

Q. Do you have Bipolar Disorder?

A. Ha!  They say that I do.

Q. Do you believe them?

A. When I’m not too busy being offended by them, yes, I do find a shred of truth in their undying diagnoses and psychobabble.

Q. Then why not revisit the Icarus Project?  

A. You bore me.  I would have liked your suggestion to have more to do with my regaining the courage I lack.  The courage with which I once gave up everything I had — and chose to be homeless in Berkeley.

Q. Will you regain courage by returning to the streets of Berkeley?

A. Probably not.  Especially since I’d be escaping all the things I’m afraid of at Friendship Square.

Q. What are you really afraid of, Andy?

Short pause.

A. Myself.  I’m afraid of — my own self.  Afraid of where my mind might take me.  Indeed, where it has already taken me.  Whenever I am not consumed in a creation about which I am passionate, my mind takes me to deeper forms of darkness than I’d thought imaginable.   It’s the difference between day and night with me.   Day — and night.

Q. And now?

A. Deepest, darkest night.  It’s unfathomable — I can scarcely even see where I’m going.  It pains me.   For seven months, from when I first moved here at the end of July, till the beginning of March, I was shining as bright as the day.   Since then – my God, it’s been almost six months now — it has been nothing but the dreaded, dead of night.

Q. When will it end?

A. Will it ever?

Q, Won’t it?

A. I suppose a new day will dawn.

Q. Doesn’t it always?

A. Has so far.  But all my efforts at seeing the light of day have failed me.

Q. And when all else fails?

Long pause.

A. Use fire.  Flame the fan of the sun yet to rise.  Light the heart of the night with fire.

Use Fire!

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

The Summons

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Kind of.  More-or-less.

Q. Does this make you uncomfortable?

A. Occasionally.

Q. Why?

A. Because the Bible says: “The question is in the mind of the man; the answer comes from the Lord.”  Proverbs 16:1.  Just read it this morning – this being the 16th day of the month.  But what we’re doing, you and I — it seems the other way around.

Q. Then why have you summoned me?

A. Because it works.  I really try not to summon you too often.  It’s a last ditch effort.  A gesture of desperation.  But – it does work.

Q. So what’s on your mind?

A. My incompetence.

Q. What makes you incompetent?

A. I can’t do it.  I can’t even begin to create a simple piano-vocal score.  I stare at the page, knowing it should be easy to open up the script to the proper place on one window, find the cue I need to input, input it onto Scroll View on the Finale template in another window; convert it to Page View, and see if it all looks groovy.  Yet I stare at both windows mindlessly, aimlessly drawing a blank, and feel guiltier and more helpless every damned day.

Q. Might not this simply be another Writer’s Block?

A. If it is, then I’m sure not blocked up about any other writing project I’ve got going on.  It’s just that those projects are not what I am supposed to be doing.  I’m supposed to be notating this grueling, arduous, tedious piano-vocal score that will take me five months to complete even if I do get on the ball with it.

Q. What makes you think you’re supposed to be doing it?

A. I’m supposed to be doing it because nobody will ever produce the show without a written piano-conductor score.

Q. Why not?

A. Because nobody will ever be able to play the piano part, except for me.

Q. Then why don’t you just produce it yourself, and play the piano yourself?

A. Because I don’t have enough money to do so.  I can’t even rent out the theater less than two blocks from my house.  You can’t do anything without money in this world. It sucks.  Talented people go to their graves with their dreams unfulfilled, while people who are rich by inheritance use their money to screw around with high-class call girls.

Q. Is that really always true?

A. No, it is not.

Q. Then why are you so hung up on the theme?

A.  I don’t know.  I’ve got some kind of chip on my shoulder.  I get tired of being lectured by rich people, because they have no idea what it’s like to be poor.  Nor do they have any comprehension that I would never want to be rich; never want ot be like them.  I only want enough money to produce my show.  And still – this piano part – I say I can play it, but that’s a crock.  I can’t even play it.  It would take a pianist much better than me to play it.  So the score needs to be notated, whether I were to self-produce the show or not.

Q. Then what’s keeping you?

A. The block.

Q. What is the essence of the block?

A. I’m not sure.  Somewhere between lack of confidence and laziness, or some combination of both.

Q. Are you lazy?

A. Um — no one who truly knows me would characterize me a such.

Q. Do you lack confidence?

A. Yes.  I’ve watched over three months go by without me being able to get started on this simple task.  How can I not lack confidence?

Q. Is there a way you can proceed without confidence?

A. I hadn’t thought about that.  Perhaps so.

Q. How so?

A. Maybe if I — if I pray – if I trust God — if I ask God to just get me through this block on His power, being as my own power is insufficient.

Q. But would that prayer be sufficient?

A. Only if He answers it.

Q. Why would he not answer it?

A. If it is not within His will.

Q. Why would it not be within His will?

A. If my creation of this p-v score is actually not what I am supposed to be doing.

Q. How will you ever know?

A. If I try.  If I pray.  If I pray, and then open up the windows, and see if the prayer has been answered.

Q. Then why don’t you?

A. I will.

Q. Will you?

A. Yes, I will.

Q. Honestly?  How many times in the past three months have you said you would get cracking on this, and yet not budged an inch?

A. Innumerable times.

Q. Then why should this time be any different?

A. Because it has to be.

Q. But what if you don’t even pray?  What if you’re scared to?

A. If I don’t pray, then somebody else will.  But I will pray.

Q. How do you know you will?

A. Because I just did.  And I ask other believers to pray for me as well.

The Questioner is silent.

 

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!

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.

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.

Labor of Love

In case anyone’s wondered, I’m still in the land of the living, and I have not yet dropped off the face of the planet.  I realized earlier today that it’s been nine days since I’ve posted.   I was planning to delay this post until I had completed the piano-vocal score to the third musical number in Eden in Babylon, the song called The Very Same World.  But then I realized that even the completion of that score will only reflect a far greater pleasure — one that has already made itself manifest in my experience, and quite unexpectedly, at that.

Remember how I said I wasn’t looking forward to having to create an entire piano-vocal score for a musical so huge?  I alluded to the tedious ardor of having to put The Burden of Eden together nine years ago, and not having attempted a score of that magnitude since.  But to my pleasant surprise, I have found that I am actually enjoying the process of creating this score.  I’ve been working on “Same World” since Monday, and I honestly believe I will have it finished tomorrow, which is Friday.  (Or later on today, to be more accurate, since I am up after one in the morning as we speak.)

Steinway-Model-D-Grand-Piano-52626-Brazilian-Rosewood-1I think part of the difference lies in the software I’m using now, as opposed to back then.  In those days I only had a general midi replica of a piano sound.  Now I’m using a sampled Steinway grand.  Believe me, it makes a huge difference.  I’m also undergoing the intriguing challenge of trying to create a piano part the way that I myself would play these tunes on the piano.  This challenge is made even more challenging by the fact that I have never played any of these songs on the piano.  I don’t own a piano; and I wrote them, like I write all my music, “in my head.”

But hearing the sound of that Steinway, I’m eager to at least try to play them on the church piano, which is a Baldwin grand.  Once I have the music written out, it will be much easier to do so.  All I’ll have to do is change hats and read it – as though it were somebody else’s music, and not my own.  I honestly think this process will fascinate me enough, that the tedium I’d earlier dreaded will no longer be a legitimate threat.  More likely, this current fascination will morph into a gigantic labor of love.

So, I’m in the final formatting stages of “Same World” tonight.  Our church secretary said I could sent the pdf file to her, and she would print it out for me in the morning.  Then I’m going to examine the hard copy, pencil in any adjustments, and print out a final version.   My goal is to have both “Same World” and Heart Song scored by next Friday, so I can take them down to the Open Mike, where I just might meet some interested singers for the project.

Many other nice things have been happening lately, and my goal to get this musical produced seems a bit more attainable now.   The plans I’m devising to go about this are a bit less vague and a bit more fully baked than they were the last time you saw me.  But I’ll save the details for a near-future entry.  I want to take another look at the “Same World” score before I ponder the unappealing notion known as “sleep.”  I’ve long been of the camp that contends something like sleep, in situations like these, to be for the faint of heart.   Food also seems to be quite unnecessary.   My theory, as expressed in this post, is this:

What physical nutrition I lack is made up for in the spiritual nutrition with which this music is feeding my soul.

No wonder they bipolarized me!  But would I have it any other way?  Probably not.   They can bipolarize me till the cows come home.  When I take care of my soul, the rest of me takes care of itself.

A New Season

I’m over at the North Berkeley Senior Center, where they have a nice Yamaha U-2 console piano, one of my favorite non-grand pianos.  I don’t quite understand why two of the other pianists here prefer the Baldwin.  To me, it plays like an old Hamilton workhorse.  The keys can’t take normal rough pressure in the least; they keep breaking on me.  Well, this one hasn’t yet – but I feel it’s about to.  And the other pianists caution me to go easy on the keys.  It’s true that the nice nuances of its action come at a much softer range; but still, where is the tone?  The Yamaha, notwithstanding that for me, its action is far more subtle, precise, and superior, sounds like a damned Steinway in places.  It’s just a sensational piano – like the C-3 baby grand that I played for all those years at Gulliver’s.

I played a couple of my very newer tunes, then for some reason drifted into my standard New-Age improvisations around “Feed the Birds.” After that, I more-or-less dared to play three songs from The Word from Beyond that I really have only hitherto played in my head, those being “Adytum,” “Another Round of Fear,” and “Rosy.”  title: These songs reflect a spirit more consonant with the current phase in my life than the earlier music from Eden in Babylon, which was mostly written between 2010 and 2012.  Although by and larger their tone is more romantic and passionate than my earlier work, the most recent song that I’ve written, “The Very Same World,” has a very upbeat, optimistic feel to it, almost bubblegum in places.  As I played it, two of the guys working at the front desk tuned into it, and seemed to perk up a bit.  When I was done, they both asked me: “What was that last song you played?”  So  I explained everything, and linked them to this web site.  

It’s not that I don’t want to finish the very nearly completed script of Eden in Babylon, and finally tie it all together.  It’s just that I see no reason to rush into it, even after five years, and plow away at it as though there were a deadline, thus compromising its integrity at some point.  There’s a right script out there in the Universe, and it will get dropped down upon me at just the right time–just like everything else, in Art, and in life.