November 30, 2014

Operatically Thankful

Thanksgiving has come and gone. My wife and I are spending the holiday weekend at a rented beach house on Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, very near Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers conquered flight.

The traditional feast has become a bit more complicated since Celiac Disease has left my wife unable to tolerate gluten. No yummy rolls for her. She has to make her own pan of stuffing and her own pie. Just one of the countless adjustments one has to make in the face of getting older. In my case, my serving of pumpkin pie was the first dessert other than fresh fruit I've had in six months, ever since the results of a blood-sugar test came back with a grim warniing.

But this post is not for carping about life's limitations and adveresities (well, so far it has been, but never mind...); nope: it's for doing what everybody does this time of year.

Being thankful.

And since this an opera blog, I'll center on the blessings that have come my way since 2004, when I joined the staff of Virginia Opera.

  • I AM THANKFUL to still be employed in the face of financial stress for performing arts organizations in general and my company specifically. When the recession hit in 2008, donors went away in large numbers, ticket sales declined, and hard times arrived. Today, the staff employs fewer full-timers and budgets have been trimmed. The thing is, my position was created when I was hired; they did without a Community Outreach Musical Director for the first 30 years of their existence. That means they could do so again. When others have been laid off, I'm beyond grateful that I continue to be part of the family.
  • I AM THANKFUL that they took a chance on me in the first place. Let me tell you, friends, it's no picnic to find yourself unemployed at age 50. To those dire circumstances, I'll add that nerve damage to my left hand left me unable to function as a pianist or piano teacher -- me, with a doctorate in piano performance. I hadn't taught at the college level in 10 years; the future looked... scary. Then along came this job, in many ways the job of my dreams.
  • I AM THANKFUL for the opportunities to compose that have come my way. In January of 2000 I decided to try my hand at composing words and music for an opera. No one asked me to; I did it purely for my own pleasure, in addition to seeing if I had any aptitude for it. I chose Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing". Since 2007 I've composed five operas plus a couple of "pastiche operas" using standard operatic excerpts. All have been performed successfully. I've been asked to create at least two, and possibly three new works for the 2015-2016 touring season. If you had told me I'd have become a successful composer back in the 1990's I'd have laughed in your face.
  • I AM THANKFUL that Lori Lewis asked me to write words and music for my one-character monodrama Katie Luther: the Opera in 2012. It now appears a realistic goal that this piece, which has already been heard in Albuqurque, St. Louis, Baltimore and Newport News, will be performed in Martin Luther's home of Wittenberg as part of the 2017 festivals celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Are you kidding me? I have yet to make a penny from this opera, but it is my best work and I'm proud of it.
  • I AM THANKFUL that Katie Luther received a good review from critic John Campbell in the online journal Artsong Update. You can read the review at this link, but scroll down the page as a symphony review appears at the top of the page.
  • I AM THANKFUL that, as I look back on my musical career, quite a number of experiences that seemed like a lark at the time actually were training ground for my current position. Singing baritone roles for the Opera Theater at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond; being a guest artist for the Operafestival di Roma where, besides performing principal roles, I had a turn as chorus master and stage director for a student program of scenes; and others as well. 
  • I AM THANKFUL for the platforms my job has afforded me: regular broadcasts on two public radio stations; authoring a book (which people bought); teasching opera appreciation classes for eight colleges and universities around the region; and this blog, which has seen readers from every corner of the world.
I could go on, but let's face it: you stopped reading after the first couple of paragraphs at the top, didn't you? Didn't you?!?!?

Oh well - I'm thankful you read that much, actualy! Cheers! So long from Kitty Hawk!

The first manned flight. That's me on the right. I was so thin back then!

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