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I want to let you all know that I’ve got a playlist now on SoundCloud that will automatically pull up the interactive score to the musical I’ve been working on. Feedback is welcome — I’m not exactly sure how viable the instrumentation is. If I want to easily translate it to a live pit orchestra with “real” musicians, this arrangement probably is not optimum. It does have an interesting, ethereal sound to it, however.
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“The Age of Nevermore” is the second number in Eden in Babylon (the musical I have written about youth homelessness in urban America.)
Andy Pope · The Age of Nevermore
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Q. What’s going on inside?
A. Decision making.
Q. And what are you using to make your decisions?
A. What kind of a question is that?
Q. What do you mean?
A. Well uh — using as in what? Am I using a slide rule? Am I using a compass?
Q. No no no – I mean, are you using your sound reason to make decisions? Or are you using your fickle and volatile emotions?
A. How dare you accuse me of making my decisions based on emotions!
Q. Methinks he doth protest too much? Ya think?
A. All right, smartypants. I’ll admit I’m a bit of an emotional guy. In fact, the subject came up last night in counseling. I do seem to have made a few decisions based on strong emotions lately.
Q. Such as?
A. I gotta tell you – I was so jazzed about rehearsal on Tuesday, it just went so great — when I came back home, I was sky high with elation.
Q. Don’t tell me – you then made a decision based on elation?
Q. Did you go out and celebrate? Did you party?
Q. Then how did you feel?
A. Even more elated.
Q. But why?
A. Because I didn’t think I could do it!
Q. Why wouldn’t you have been able to do it?
A. Well, I hadn’t really worked with the software before, and I hadn’t used Finale much at all since 2016.
Q. What happened in 2016?
A. You already know. I emerged from years of homelessness in the Bay Area with a bunch of tunes in my head, found a coffeehouse and with a nice little round table, sat down, and sequenced most of the music that had been whirling around between my ears.
Q. So you did it then. Why did you not think you could do it now?
A. I dunno. Low self-esteem maybe. Lack of confidence.
Q. But you did do it?
Q. And this led to further elation?
A. I believe it’s called over-elation.
Q. Ah. Then did you make a decision based on over-elation at that time?
A. Not so much a decision — more like an expectation.
Q. What kind of expectation?
A. Well, I was really rockin’ on that song, man. In a way, it kinda was like a party. I was snappin’ my fingers, boppin’ my head, and rockin’ out to the beat. A friend of mine was also rockin’ too, a gal named Kathy – ordinarily a very quiet and studious person. As I was working on it, I sent her updates. She kept writing back and saying: “Yeah! Makes me want to get up and dance!” So I was further spurred on by her enthusiasm, and —
Q. Cut! You haven’t answered the question!
A. Sorry, I was getting around to that. My expectation was that, since me & Kathy had rocked out to it, everybody else would too.
Q. And they didn’t?
A. Only on WordPress. Nobody anywhere else ever said anything about it, so I may assume they did not listen to it. Either that, or they listened, but didn’t rock out. :(
Q. How did that make you feel?
A. Ultimately, thankful for WordPress. But at first, I was pretty disgruntled. And maybe a little angry. More than a little, perhaps, at moments . . .
A. All right, so I was mad for twelve hours straight. Pacing the floor all night, messaging people, talking out loud, trying to figure it all out, and not getting a wink of sleep till five in the morning.
Q. How do you account for this?
A. First off, the expectation that people would groove on it like me and Kathy did was pretty unrealistic. Most people didn’t even know I was working on it. Secondly, why should they listen to my music at all? Especially these days — people naturally have a lot of other things on their minds. But thirdly, and most importantly, I believe that when I found myself disgruntled, it was the natural reaction to the over-elation. Law of gravity. What goes up must come down.
Q. And where are you now? Up or down?
A. Neither. I’m in the Middle.
Q. What are you going to do from there?
A. What do you think I am going to do? I’m going to start working on the second song in the show!
Q. Do you think you can do it in three days?
A. I tell you what — why don’t you check back on Friday and find out for yourself?
The Questioner is silent.
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Q. Where would you like to be?
Q. Are you ever done?
A. Sure I am! Why do you even ask such an insulting question? I’m so tired of all these ridiculously uninformed assumptions that people make about Art and Artists, and the Arts, and all that.
Q. Art? Artists? The Arts? What assumption are you talking about?
A. The assumption that just because I’m an Artist, then I therefore must be some kind of incorrigible perfectionist who is never satisfied with his work.
Q. Why do you sound so defensive?
A. Because I’m frustrated. I want to be done, I tell you! Done!!
Q. Done with what?
A. With what do you think? What is this entire blog about? What am I always driving at? I’ve been working on this big huge piece for — gosh, it seems like decades now.
Q. You mean your musical?
A. Is the sky blue?
Q. But weren’t you finished with that? What happened on July 4, 2018? On Independence Day?
A. On July 4, 2018, I finished the script. It was actually the third draft. And yes, I did feel liberated on Independence Day. Liberated from the burden of having to keep hammering away at the script.
Q. Are you suggesting that there is some other aspect to this musical that you have not yet finished? The score, for example?
A. You’re getting warm. It’s kinda like, I wrote most of the music “in my head” — I mean, occasionally tapping my fingers on my desktop as though it were a piano keyboard. But mostly just trying to envision internally what it would actually sound like once I got around to writing out the parts.
Q. And you’ve not gotten around to writing out the parts yet?
A. Not exactly. I figured I’d start with the Vocal Score. Currently, there are 16 main numbers in the show. I have thus far scored 13 of the 16 to my satisfaction. The 14th has been scored, too – though not to my complete satisfaction. Nos. 15 & 16 remain.
Q. Well then, doesn’t it seem that you’ve come a long way?
A. Not long enough! Once the Vocal Score is scored, I need to write out instrumental parts. The bass parts. Guitar parts. Keyboard-synthesizer. And drums.
Q. Won’t that be the fun part?
A. Maybe. Not looking forward to writing out a whole piano score. But I suppose it has to be done.
Q. What’s your timeline?
A. Interesting question. I almost would decline to answer it. Anyone who knows me knows that I abhor working for deadlines. I often boldly claim that the only true deadline is death. So what makes you think there’s a timeline?
Q. Well – you won’t live forever, will you?
A. Perhaps not. But there’s something a bit insidious about your line of reasoning. It seems like you’re fishing for something. Come on, Questioner! Out with it!
Q. Out with what?
A. The cat! Let ‘er out of the bag!
Q. What cat? What bag??
A. Never mind. I’d rather do it myself. As you are well aware, there are looming production possibilities not too far around the corner. If even one of these possibilities comes to fruition, then there will need to be a full musical score. People other than me will need to sing the parts. People other than myself will need to play the instruments. And at least one of these possibilities is looming for “mid-to-late Summer.” We’re talking 2019! I gotta get a move on.
Q. How possible is this possibility?
A. It’s a virtual certainty. I’ve received a definite offer. I just haven’t said YES yet.
Q. Why not?
A. Because there may be a greater offer pending, and if I said YES to the lesser offer, I might miss out. I can’t have both.
Q. Why not?
A. Time constraints. It’s also looming for the summer, just with a different company, a different venue. Can’t have both at once.
Q. So you need to finish all the musical parts by Summer 2019?
A. That would stand to reason.
Q. You think you can make it?
A. Yes — as long as I get through this one very difficult hurdle.
Q. What hurdle is that?
A. Long story.
The Answerer takes a deep breath.
A. Long, long ago, in the year 1974, I sat down at a piano at Struve-Titus Hall on the campus of the University of California at Davis. Laboriously, in the spirit of Keith Emerson, I wrote a highly ELP-influenced piece entitled “Winston Greene.”
Q. Winston Greene? Isn’t that the name of your protagonist?
A. It is indeed. The main character in Eden in Babylon is a fellow who goes by the name of Winston Greene.
Q. So what is the connection between the song you wrote in 1974 and the character of this musical that you have written 45 years later?
A. My answer will only make sense if you happen to be an Artist of my type.
Q. Are there any Artists of your type?
A. That’s a good question. I’m not sure I know the answer, to be honest with you. What I have done — as an Artist — just seems totally weird. To even relate the information strikes me as some kind of confession. I need for some kind of High Priest of the Arts to absolve me of my Artistic transgression.
Q. How, then, can I be of help?
A. I’m not sure, Father Q. Just hear me out. And maybe go easy on the interrogation. Just let me speak. You will let me speak, won’t you?
Q. Why not?
A. Whew. For a while there, I was afraid you were going to just keep interrupting me all the time. Now I warn you, this story is long.
In 1974 I created a character in my head, and I called him Winston Greene. I wrote a song about him, describing his departure from civilized society, his prodigality, and his failure to return to the normative world. I even had him die in the song. The song was very well-received. So I played it at every opportunity, until I got tired of it.
Q. Why did you get tired of it?
A. Because my style evolved past it. My current style doesn’t resemble it much at all. So I lost interest in it. But — I did not lose interest in the character, the persona of Winston Greene. I continued to toy with “Winston” – until gradually, it appeared I ought to make him the protagonist of a specific, larger work — albeit 45 years later. But then, I must confess, I did a very strange thing.
Q. What was that?
A. I decided that the song, “Winston Greene,” needed to be worked into the show, with the lyrics adjusted accordingly, in order to serve as the penultimate number — Musical No. 15 – of the 16 numbers in the show. I decided that in this case, the death of Winston Greene would only be — a rumor. He would actually reappear, in the flesh, almost as though there had been a resurrection. And yet, the death itself would be a deception. This was my way of exonerating myself for having — having —
Q. Having what? Having what??
A. Having killed Winston Greene. Yes — I so identified with Winston, when I wrote the earlier piece back in ’74, I could not let him die within me, even after he had already died in the song.
Q. Is this why you let the song itself die?
A. Exactly! But I only realized that just now, at this very moment! The song, “Winston Greene,” in which the man “Winston Greene” dies, is a song I need to kill –– in order that Winston Greene himself might live. So he continued to live on in my heart, and the song that told of his death was banned from existence. There would be no record of Winston having died.
Q. Fascinating! Is this why you wanted to change the lyrics?
A. Yes! The lyrics would no longer relate to Winson’s alleged death, but to his endurance, his survival, and his will to live.
Q. Then isn’t your problem solved?
A. How do you figure that?
Q. Can’t you just use the same old music, but with the newer, happier lyrics?
A. I suppose I could. If I want the penultimate number in my musical to sound like something I wrote when I was 22 years old listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and not like something I wrote when I wrote the rest of the score to Eden in Babylon, some forty years later.
Q. So you are planning to write a whole new song, at this late stage? Won’t this mean rewriting the last Scene entirely?
A. Not entirely – but to a significant degree. I read through the last Scene last night, and actually found that it flowed quite nicely — up until the point where the rogue song rears its ugly head. But you see, I don’t have to write a new song. Only new words. I can use a song that I wrote during the same time period when I wrote the rest of the music to Eden in Babylon. A song that I wrote that I have not yet written words for. I only have music for it. You may find that music — in raw form — right here.
Q. Why do I feel like you’re leaving something out?
A. I don’t know.
Q. Can you guess?
A. Sure, but it’s only a guess. Knowing you, I doubt you have me figured for the kinda guy who would cast aside years of sentiment related to his mysterious ELP-inspired tune called “Winston Greene” and then ditch the whole prestigious product for a much more innocuous replacement that doesn’t reflect nearly the professional prowess of the previous project.
Q. So what else is going on? What is your underlying sorrow? Why must you return this song, recently so rigorously resurrected, to its grisly, grimy grave?
A. You wax a bit too alliterate for my tastes.
A. Never mind. I must return the song to the tomb from which, like Lazarus, it has been summoned by its Creator. The reason for this is very emotional and deep. And it will reveal my vulnerability, as well as a large part of my sorrow.
Q. Your sorrow?
A. Yes — my sorrow. For I grieve the loss of old friends. People who were meaningful to me. Three in particular, though their names need not be mentioned. Three men whom I loved, and who happened to love the song “Winston Greene.”
Q. These men have died?
A. Not that I’m aware of. I suppose they still live.
Q. Yet you have lost them in some way?
A. Yes. They do not speak to me. I have lost their friendship. I mourn that loss. And yet they are the only ones remaining who would have had any fond emotional or sentimental attachment to that particular piece of music. In other words, I must confesss that I put the song in the show for them.
Q. For them? For these three men who no longer speak to you??
A. Sadly, I confess, it’s true. I had this vision that if I used the song “Winston Greene” in a dramatic way toward the end the show, it would move them, and soften their hearts toward me, and I would regain their friendship at last.
Q. Let me get this straight. You were willing to throw a lousy song that you wrote when you were 22 years old into your new musical only because it might win your three friends back?
A. I was. I do confess it.
Q. WHAT KIND OF AN ARTIST ARE YOU? THIS IS TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE!!
A. I feel like you’re about to assign me three Hail Mary’s and an Act of Contrition.
Q. That aside, what do you think are the chances that any of these three guys will come and see your musical this summer?
A. Slim to none. They want nothing to do with me, apparently. Why should they want to see my musical?
Q. Sir! Why even entertain the notion?? Are these three fellows that important to you?
A. This is where the sorrow comes in. They obviously were, at one time. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I mean, I’m sure they’re very fine fellows in their own rites, but why did I place such a high regard on their loyalty?
A. I did use that word, yes.
Q. You feel that they have betrayed you?
A. Not exactly. But they’re not loyal to me anymore. And all I want to regain is — their loyalty.
Q. What is so important about loyalty? I mean, in this context? Aren’t there thousands of people from whom you will hopefully be gleaning box office receipts far more important than these three men whom you knew in the 70’s? Why can’t you just forget about these guys?
A. That is indeed the $64,000 question. They’ve evidently forgotten about me.
Q. Have they?
A. Maybe not.
Q. But even if not, why is it so important to regain their friendship?
A. Well, it isn’t. And that’s why I’m removing the number. I’ve decided that now. The other song is much more akin to the style of the present day. And a composer whom I respect told me that it’s the best piece of mine whom he personally has heard. So — once I get my lyrics together, I’m on my way.
Q. Why does something seem unfinished here?
A. Because, like I said at the beginning, I’m not done. And I want to be done.
Q. Why do I feel like I haven’t gotten the full story here?
A. Probably because I’m leaving something out.
Q. What could that possibly be?
A. What if — and this is a pretty big “if” — what if the music that I wrote in 1974 just happens to be better and more appropriate for the final Scene of the show than the music I wrote in 2016? I mean, despite everything. What if, painful though it might be, the right thing for me to do is to include this song anyway? What if that choice is the right Artistic choice, irrespective of the sentiment, the glitter rock, the former fans, and the bygone era?
Q. How can you know for sure?
A. I can’t. That’s why I linked you to both songs. The version of “Winston Greene” was done in 2010 using general midi software associated with my Finale notation program at the time. It excels beyond the earlier, more primitive style — though perhaps not by much. The version of “Sirens of Hope” was done using the Garritan Personal Orchestra in 2016, almost immediately after I got off the streets and was able to start sequencing my compositions again. So – listen to them both. You tell me which one you like better.
Q. Why should my opinion matter?
A. Why should mine matter more?
Q. Aren’t you the Artist? The Creator, as it were?
A. I am. But I can hardly be expected to be objective at this stage.
Q. Is something clouding your vision?
A. I’d say, so yes.
Q. What is it? Why aren’t you seeing straight?
A. It’s hard to see clearly when there are so many tears in my eyes.
Q. Why are you crying, Andy? Is it because of the loss of your friends?
A. They were never my true friends. So there is no true loss.
Q. Then why are you in tears?
A. Because Winston Greene might die. It happens every time I get to this part in the show. It happened when I wrote the first rough draft, and again when I wrote the second, and the third. And now, writing out the Vocal Score, it’s happening even moreso. Winston Greene cannot die. Winston Greene must live.
The Questioner is silent.
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A little bit goes a long, long way.
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.)
I 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.
Practical realities have often managed to elude me, especially when I find myself feeling pressured or in haste. I’d rather do the thing immediately and do it poorly, just to get it out of the way, than exercise the patience and prodigy required to do it later — after sufficient preparation — and do it well.
Case in point. I mentioned in this entry that I’d realized the next logical step in the process of preparing my musical for production. So, I boldly walked into the School of Music to inquire randomly as to the availability of certain singers who would learn some of my music and assist me in recording a demo that I can present to prospective producers.
I carried no score with me. I didn’t even have a printed out copy of my script. I brought no items with me that could prove myself in any sense. Fortunately for me, it turned out to be Spring Break, and nobody was in the building. The office was closed and dark. I prepared myself to leave, when unexpectedly a man stepped out of the dark office.
Introducing and explaining myself briefly, I found the man to be very cordial. He pointed me to the particular professor to whom I should address my inquiry. I looked into the professor’s credits, was mildly intimidated, took note of his office hours, and determined I would return when school was in session.
Good thing I didn’t. It suddenly just struck me – wouldn’t it be far better if I showed up with a hard copy of the script and at least three of the songs printed out? That would show him not only that I’m serious, but he’d have a chance to check out the manner in which the piano-vocal score had been prepared. He’d realize at that moment that I know what I’m doing – at least in terms of creating a legible, functional musical score is concerned. So that would help, right there. Anybody can say they wrote a musical. To show up with neatly written music for the singers to sing would work much more to my advantage.
What I’m hoping is that some students needing a Senior Project might eagerly learn my music for a grade. This was in fact suggested in a blogger’s comment a while back. It’s crossed my mind since then that singing students in search of a good grade might actually do an even better job than more-or-less mercenary professional singers I might have hired who would be more likely to do it just for money. While it is totally against my nature to present myself as someone whose music might be worth a non-paid rehearsal or two, I think that to carry the actual music with me will no doubt work in my favor.
So – time to score about three songs. That’s about the minimum, I think, to demonstrate the score. If they ask where the rest of the score is, I can tell them I’ll come up with it if I know for sure they’re interested. Who knows? Maybe I could get a mild commission to notate the rest of the score. After all, it’s no small task. The last time I wrote a musical score without commission, it’s done nothing but sit on my shelf for the past ten years. Check it out:
(Complete Musical Score)
Copyright © 2008 by Andrew Michael Pope
All Rights Reserved
Whether you know much about music or not, anybody can see that it obviously took a bit of effort to produce that 242-page piano-vocal score. It’s not the kind of task I’m eager to repeat unless there’s a good reason for going about it. In fact, even trying to score three of those numbers could throw me back into serious isolation. I don’t want to go there.
Well – the wheels still spin. Necessity is the mother of invention. Perhaps there is an easier, softer way . . .