Five usable minutes

There’s a fine line between hobby and obsession.

Yesterday may have been one of the longest days ever. Thinking back over it, I’m not sure I remember when “yesterday” began. The “day” before, my wife and I left our new house in Germany to embark on a four hour train ride north to Düsseldorf, where we met up with her Grandfather, spent the night in the airport hotel, then flew off to New Orleans in a 17 hour ride via London and Chicago (don’t ask).  “Yesterday,” we left Düsseldorf at 2pm local, got to London Heathrow at 2pm local, and got to Chicago at 6pm local. After the layover and a $8 beer at the Cubs Bar and Grill (go Sox), we were in NOLA at 11:30pm local. I was never really good at math, but that seems like a lot of time.

We’re in the states for three weeks. Up to DC this weekend, then back down to LA/MS for some private time and more family.  Sadly, no Boston time. I’ve brought work along. There’s writing to be finished, more to begin, librettos to prepare and revisions to make. There’s emails to write and contacts to establish.

Take today. On “vacation,” jet lagged, and with family, I take a few hours to piece together another five minutes of the Poe opera. This piece has been around, in various forms and formats (7 minute version with guitar, vibes and cello; 15 minute version with piano, 15 minute version with piano, clarinet and cello) for the last four years. I know this because I finished the first version just before my sister died, and that was four years ago today.

I was in England when she died, on tour as a pro section leader with the choir and choristers from Trinity Church Boston. We were in residence at Ely Cathedral, which is an astoundingly beautiful place to be and sing.  Just before the trip, I was in DC visiting family. My sister told me that the massive, possibly last ditch, science fiction-like treatment she had underwent had failed. While she was sleeping, I was in the basement of her house, banging out the last scene of the original version on the beat-up piano that once sat in our parents house, and on which that same sister had given me my first music lessons – white notes and black notes, white keys and black keys.

The current version will span nearly 90 minutes, and much of the original music remains.  It’s complex and moody – very Poe-like – with a cast of crazies accompanied by music that belies their true natures, and a Bellini aria running through the whole thing.

I had a very skewed and temperamental understanding of my sister’s personal involvement in her work (she was a Musical Theatre performer and pedagogue). Now, I’m scratching out every minute and second to write that I can, teaching myself along the way to work without a piano, and finding the gaps in family time to wring out five usable, singable minutes. This weekend, we’ll be staying in her house, with the same piano still in the basement.  Guess where I’ll be.

A fine line indeed.

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