Monday, January 25, 2016

Dancing with Catherine, Again

I remember sitting in a classroom at Rutgers University, in a class with my teaching hero and most inspiring professor, Robert Ryan, an expert on and a deep lover of British Romanticism. Sadly, this is not a reference to his brilliant teaching, but to a simple statement that he made, in passing, one day, that has stuck with me ever since. He simply said, "I have been teaching for twenty-five years, and..."

I remember thinking: "Imagine, having done something for as long as I have been alive..." I was in my twenties. I had been in existence for less time than Dr. Ryan had been teaching at the college level. It seemed impossible. It far away.

With the release of my recent collection of piano music, American Sketches [No, I am not ashamed to promote it, even when promotion is not the purpose of a blog post! CD version is available HERE.] I mentioned that it is comprised of music written over the last three decades.

What the hell happened?

The oldest piece was written at Penn State in 1987. I remember lamenting my state; a young man -- as I saw it -- who wanted to be a composer but who was being forced to get a non-musical degree by his musician parents. I'd walk, at night, through "the quad" of the Mont Alto campus under outrageously beautiful night skies so full of stars it looked like a movie effect.

Not even sure who took this, but there I am,
bottom right, blue shirt
with white sleeves, Mont Alto, 1987...distant
and still so close, thanks to that piece of music,
written only months before this.
On some nights, I would walk into the old, empty Science Building, and the auditorium would be silent and the piano would be free: a beautiful Bosendorfer grand piano. Other nights, some other misplaced artist would be at the piano. On those nights, I would stomp angrily back to my room. But on the nights I got the piano, I'd sit there for hours, enjoying the solitude and enjoying the atmosphere of the old theater, writing piano piece after piano piece. That's when "Dancing with Catherine" was written.

It almost didn't make it onto the CD. In my mind, I had labeled it as immature -- a piece from my late teens that I had outgrown, harmonically and compositionally. But my wife remembers it from our early days -- when I would play it for her. I was twenty-four, then; she was nineteen. She has always loved it and she convinced me to put it on the CD. So, I did include it, smack up against one of my newest and most ambitious pieces, the "mini-symphony," "The Widow's Walk." I like it there. I like the contrast; I like the truth of it. (A composer simply cannot lie when he writes music; to write instrumental music is to open the living room curtains wide...)

I like that the early me and the current me are contrasted; innocence and experience, if you will. But what really moves me when I hear it is the "time machine" aspect of it: there, in "Dancing with Catherine," is an exact record of my nineteen-year-old mind; its feelings and thoughts; its frustrations and ambitions; its dreams... It is a record of uncountable truths.

...thirty years ago. Astounding.

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