Monday, June 28, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 3

...continued from the 2nd Installment of THE LOST CHORD, the music appreciation thriller by Dick Strawser.

LauraLynn Sullivan, planning on meeting her brother for their weekly meeting at her lab, has just gotten a surprising phone call as Dr. Dick & Buzz arrive with little time to spare for his pre-concert presentation before the last program of Lincoln Center's 'World Twelve-Tone Series.'

= = = = = = =

Taking a moment to catch her breath after that surprising phone call, LauraLynn walked up to the Lincoln Center security entrance at 62nd Street.

The young guard on duty tonight was one of the friendlier ones, a guy she knew only as Tex. Since he was Brazilian, she'd once asked him how he got the nickname: it wasn't for the Lone Star State, he explained, just an abbreviation of his last name, Texeiras. His first name, Guilherme, he said they couldn't even pronounce, so – 'Tex' it was.

Tonight, he was busy watching something, hurriedly shutting it off when he heard her approaching footsteps echoing on the concrete.

“You didn't have to turn that off on my account,” she smiled. Like everybody else in New York City, if not the country, she figured he would be trying to watch the 6th game of the World Series. If the Yankees won tonight, it would be the end of the series: so far the New York Yankees had three games to the Philadelphia Phillies' two. It bored her to tears, frankly, but there was a certain amount of pride in the fact the Yankees – at least, a team from New York – might win the pennant again this year, their first time since 2000. She was a little ambivalent about it, really, having spent a few years teaching in Philadelphia, a town she knew could probably use the ego-boost a little more than the Big Apple.

“Just warming up for the pre-game show, Dr. Sullivan, nothing exciting yet,” he smiled shyly. Tex liked her and her quiet unpretentiousness. Most of the people he had to deal with were arrogant businessmen or self-centered artist-types who never paid attention to the fact he was anything more than someone to annoy them at the security entrance. She seemed like such a normal person that he was surprised to find out both she and her brother were not only fine pianists but even New York natives.

Like most of the guards, though, he wondered what she was doing working alone down here. And she always went back that hallway, away from any of the theaters' entrances: nothing back there but more hallways, storage rooms and God knows what else. He'd never been back there, himself. Anybody who had said it was spooky, even the guys who worked in the scene shops for the opera house.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Loping along behind Buzz who was valiantly trying to lead the way yet still waiting long enough for me to catch up to him, I noticed the various signs for the exits up to the different theaters that lined the great plaza which was now named for my friends the Robertson & LauraLynn Sullivan Plaza. It would have been great to hang out and “people-watch” by the fountain where I had stood many a night to meet friends before we'd go to a concert or take in an opera or just, sometimes, to sit and enjoy the vibrancy of life – especially the cultural life – of this great city. But there was clearly no time for this now: perhaps after the concert? At this point I was hoping to make it in time to the pre-concert talk without being disheveled and out-of-breath or, for that matter, on the verge of a heart-attack. I hate being out-of-shape...

One of the things I noticed, among the posters for the different concerts – none of which advertised the World Twelve-Tone Series, I noticed – was a brightly printed warning about weekend subway service. It seemed from last weekend until mid-November, the Uptown #1 Trains was going to be skipping the local stops between 50th & 88th Streets: patrons were advised to get off at 72nd Street, then take the Downtown #1. It advised allowing “a few extra minutes for your trip,” but I never thought of “few” meaning possibly 30-45 as it usually did when I got stuck in a subway delay. It was that kind of “few” I wish I had now.

We walked up what felt like an endless flight of steps into the main lobby of Avery Fisher Hall. The sound I heard was unexpected and alarming. Instead of the buzz of people milling around the lobby, I heard - well, nothing! It was uncharacteristically empty for the night of a concert, even one of contemporary music. There was no one at the box office window and only a couple people standing around. Of course, it was an hour before concert time, but still... Was everybody who wasn't here at Yankee Stadium instead? Most fans of difficult 20th Century music were unlikely to be the demographic most courted by the baseball business.

Buzz had been talking incessantly about how the Phillies could still manage to pull off the last two games and win the pennant but I was pointing out without an appearance from Mr. Applegate, their chances against the Yankees seemed slim. Still, he countered, the optimism of thousands of fans must count for something, some kind of karmic credit. Unfortunately, I mentioned reluctantly, how many thousands of Yankee fans were thinking the same thing? I asked him if he had been reading something about the science of noetics, but he said he'd never heard of it – and, while he was at it, he asked who was this Mr. Applegate, any way? – so I let it drop.

It's not that the World Twelve-Tone Series would be without its devotees, Zachary had told me, and this year's festivities seemed particularly powerful, especially given the New York Philharmonic was now under the baton of its new music director and conductor, Alan Gilbert, for whom most of this music was not only familiar but practically child's-play. The Philadelphia Orchestra would have the usual visiting-orchestra disadvantage tonight, playing in an unfamiliar hall, but their conductor, Charles Dutoit, while one of the finest conductors in the world, was listed only as their “Chief Conductor,” not their “Music Director,” as their search for a new director continued interminably. With Dutoit unable to play these concerts, the guest conductor was from Montreal, a virtually unknown young man in his mid-30s (very young compared to most major orchestras' conductors). He had worked with the orchestra a few times before, but Zachary said he was something of a wild-card pinch-hitter (or rather, I guess, a pinch-pitcher).

Even though Neemi Järvi was conducting a program with the Philharmonic the next night that included Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony with Thomas Hampson taking the evening's star-turn, Philadelphia was playing Nielsen's 5th Symphony along with James Ehnes in Samuel Barber's lovely but over-exposed Violin Concerto at the Kimmel Center tomorrow. How much rehearsal time either orchestra could dedicate to this series of one-night stand performances alternating back and forth between New York and Philadelphia was only one of my major questions but Robertson's assistant told me many fans were still enthusiastic about their own orchestra's chances, even if the odds were pretty much to the New York Phil's advantage.

I hurriedly smoothed down my easily rumpled hair, straightened my equally rumpled collar and tugged at my sweater to smooth it down, brushing away some more cat hairs that I still kept finding even five hours after we'd left the house. Buzz hurried ahead of me, disappearing around the corner on the east side of the lobby. Reaching for my notes in the tote-bag, I found myself nodding at the one usher standing near the box office as if we were either old friends or she should know who I was: the guest speaker – a hastily arranged pinch-hitter, himself – for tonight's pre-concert talk.

I looked at my watch - exactly 7:00pm.

When I turned the corner myself, I saw only one person: a clearly befuddled Buzz Blogster who turned to me and said “Are you sure it was supposed to be here at Arpeggio's?”

“I was pretty sure that was what he'd said. And since Daylight Savings ended this past Sunday, it shouldn't be a problem today.” Except, of course, my body felt like it was 9:00, already tired after a nearly sleepless night. My unadjusted body clock always went in the wrong direction and took several days to straighten itself out. But still, my watch said 7:01, now, and all the clocks in the Concourse had had some variation of approximately 7:00, give or take.

The usher walked up behind me. “Are you looking for someone?”

“Actually, I'm looking for a whole lot of someones. Isn't there supposed to be some kind of pre-concert talk and reception here at Arpeggios before the concert tonight?”

“There's a concert tomorrow night with Thomas Hampson and...”

“Yes, yes, I know, Zemlinksy's Lyric Symphony, but tonight, before the last concert in the World Twelve-Tone Series?”

She looked at me with some skepticism.

“It hasn't been canceled, has it? I came all the way from... from Central Pennsylvania” (she would never know where Harrisburg was) “just for this concert. Robertson Sullivan himself asked me this morning to do the pre-concert talk as a last minute replacement.”

Well, actually, his assistant had, but that didn't sound as official.

The sinking feeling that perhaps the concert was at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia began to sweep over me like a surf-boarder's delight. But Zachary Zeitgeist had been very specific about the Lincoln Center parking entrance and, after all, there was the woman who'd met us there as planned – and even recognized me, for that matter. I was, to put it mildly, feeling considerably flummoxed.

“No, there's no pre-concert reception scheduled for Arpeggios tonight,” she said, glancing around after checking her clip-board. “It seems to be closed, tonight, sir.”

I can SEE that...

“Let me check,” she added, trying to sound helpful, “perhaps it's been moved to another room in the building.”

“Is there any way of calling someone to let them know I did make it?” Of course, if she had that information, she'd probably know where the pre-concert reception was, too.

She shuffled off without a word toward the box office and conferred with someone behind the window. I appreciated her attempt at seeming concerned.

Buzz handed me his cell-phone and suggested I call Robertson to let him know.

At this hour, I didn't think he'd be in his office – he'd be wherever the reception is supposed to be – but it was worth a shot. The usher was clearly not making any headway.

Odd, though, the voice that took the call on the second ring – wasn't this supposed to be Robertson's private line? – was Zachary again. Why was he still in the office?

“Robertson Sullivan's office, this is Zachary speaking?”

“Zachary, I'm glad you're still there but this is Dr. Dick and I'm standing in a very empty part of the Avery Fisher Hall Lobby outside Arpeggios and...”

“Oh, I'm so glad you arrived safe and sound, Dr. Dick. What seems to be the problem?” He sounded efficiently officious.

“Well, for one thing, there's no one here. Is Robertson there?”

“I'm sorry, he's tied up at the moment. How may I assist you?”

He sounded genuinely concerned but I was getting increasingly annoyed. At my age, this was not a pretty sight.

As I explained that we had arrived exactly at 7:00 only to find nothing, no one, not even a tray of hors d'oeuvres in view, I could hear rustling in the background, probably Zachary going through papers on his desk, though I thought I also heard cars whizzing past and people talking.

“Now,” he began sounding somewhat distracted, “you talked with Mr. Sullivan about this?”

“No, with you!”

“Ah, yes, I recall that but don't you think that was rather sloppy of you, being a 'research musicologist' and all that, not checking all your facts?”

“Not checking...! What do you mean?” Suddenly, I didn't like his tone, especially the obvious curl in the lip when he sneered through the words “research musicologist.”

“What I mean, Dr. Dick, sir,” all suavity and pretense melting away from the pleasantness you would expect from a sycophantic assistant, “is that Mr. Sullivan has no idea you're in New York tonight,” he said as his voice modulated smoothly from one of ingratiating pleasantness to one downright insidiously evil, “that there is, in fact, no World Twelve-Tone Series Concert tonight at Avery Fisher Hall...”

“What!?” Bummer...

“...in fact, there's no such thing as the World Twelve-Tone Series. You are here simply because I am the one composing this piece and you, sir, are merely one of the players. Good evening, Dr. Dick. I shall be in touch with you – very soon.”

“What the hell is this all about? What do you mean there's no concert tonight? Where the hell is Robertson?” Why the hell am I swearing so much?

“Surely you are familiar with the mysteries of Musica reservata? There is not much time for you to rescue your friend who is not exactly at the 9th Circle, at least not just yet. Let's say he is currently in the state of limbo.”

Limbo? What state would that be in? Ohio?

“What are you talking about?” Musica reservata? Limbo? Not being a Catholic, I wasn't inclined to jump at the first meaning of the word: was Robertson being held against his will or was he just languishing in oblivion? After all, as a composer Robertson Sullivan, successful as he was, was hardly a household name. Being a composer today was, for most of us, a state of perpetual limboness, the main reason, I suspected, that he'd once wanted to find something not only more rewarding but less masochistic to dedicate his life to. And also, I was convinced this guy I was listening to clearly needed some other approach to getting a life.

Well, I thought again, perhaps he did mean Purgatory: after all, there was a small triangle of green grass and trees across the street from Lincoln Center. Peering through the window, I realized this end of Avery Fisher Hall overlooked Dante Park (I thought back to my high school lit classes which also tended to overlook Dante and other early writers like Petrarch and Chaucer). Would I find Robertson sitting on a bench contemplating the poet's statue there?

For a moment, I forgot the guy was still talking. His whisper was somewhere between menacing and being just simply annoying, like a bad actor playing at being a villain in a low-budget action-adventure film.

“I was told by a reliable source that you would be able to identify this ancient portal for me. And I'm sure this source would not dare lie to me.”

Did he just say he was looking for an ancient pot-hole in New York City? The place must be full of them.

“Okay, I clearly don't get it,” I admitted. “What makes you think I would know which is going to be the right one?” Some of them, judging from the reaction of my kidneys after we'd hit them, probably did go at least half way to China.

Right one? How many portals could there possibly be, Dr. Dick?” He sounded mildly intrigued if not a little skeptical.

The phone connection was rapidly disintegrating: perhaps it was Buzz's budget plan – less bars in more places – but now I was thinking maybe this guy'd meant porta-potties instead (and who knew where they'd lead)...

“Don't be so gauche,” he chuckled. “You strike me as being somewhat more adroit than that.”

Just then, he hung up.

“What the hell...?!” I handed the phone back to Buzz as the usher came over to us, motioning for me to keep my voice down so as not to annoy any of the patrons, if there were any. The place was completely empty, now.

“I'm sorry, sir, but not only can we not find any information about your pre-concert talk, we can't even find anything about a concert tonight. The orchestra left after its rehearsal late this afternoon.”

She looked at me half-expectantly: perhaps she was trying to imply, as helpfully as possible, I had the wrong night?

Just at that point, we could see a commotion on the plaza.

Somebody started screaming.

- - - - - - -
To be continued...


= = = = = = = = = = = = =

The Lost Chord, a music appreciation thriller, is a novel by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for another segment on Thursday, July 1st.
©2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 2

The music appreciation thriller, THE LOST CHORD, a novel by Dick Strawser, continues from Installment #1... Dr. Dick is on his way to New York City. A composer who goes by the trendy name of Tr'iTone is getting ready for a big evening, expecting the arrival of someone very important to his plans who should, in fact, just be entering the Lincoln Tunnel.

= = = = = = =

Once past the toll booth, sailing through the Lincoln Tunnel went much smoother than I had expected. There was still time, but the evening rush hour that awaited us at the other end was unpredictable. Fortunately, Buzz enjoyed this kind of challenge which I always dreaded so, luckily for me, he was available to go along and do the driving. Still, he was trying not to grumble much about missing the last game of the World Series, even for a concert of Schoenberg, Elliott Carter, George Perle, Milton Babbitt and Pierre Boulez. It was not likely this last concert of the World Twelve-Tone Series, pitting the New York Philharmonic against the Philadelphia Orchestra, was going to draw any comparably sized crowd to some baseball game, but it was a great opportunity for me to speak to a select group of contributors who, even in this rough economy, continued to support contemporary music. Then there were still those who, in 2009, complained a program of atonal music was soooo last century...

The day had started early on the morning of November 4th. Too early...

Unable to sleep, I had gotten up in the dark hours before dawn, still not quite adjusted to the recent time change, leaving Daylight Savings behind us and moving on to sunsets at 5:00. Wouldn't you know it, I had no sooner gone into the bathroom when, in mid-pee, I heard the phone ring! At this hour of the day, it would have to be a wrong number and since I couldn't hear anything coming in over the answering machine, I assumed it had been a hang-up. Without a second thought, I returned to bed and soon dozed back to sleep, only waking up a few hours later, midmorning.

After putzing around the kitchen half-heartedly scooping cheap instant coffee into a cup of microwaved water, then taking my blood-pressure medicine (it looked like I would need to renew the prescription soon), I put birdseed out on the back porch, then spent a few equally half-hearted minutes on the treadmill watching the juncos and chickadees try to get enough seeds down before the squirrels and chipmunks arrived when I remembered the phone call that had come in hours before. Perhaps I should check the machine after all.

The voice was unfamiliar, soft-toned and deferential. He did not sound like a telemarketer but his English accent also made me think perhaps he had miscalculated the time here on the East Coast.

“So sorry to bother you this early in the morning, but my name is Zachary Zeitgeist and I'm Robertson Sullivan's administrative assistant. He needs to reach you on a matter of utmost urgency so I hope as soon as you receive this message, you'll be able to call him directly?”

The number he left was unfamiliar but then between his march up the corporate ladder and just moving around in the world of arts and education over the years, Robertson was constantly changing phone numbers and addresses. The only constant in all this “vagabondage,” as he jokingly called it, was the family home in Cornwall-on-Hudson, where Sullivans had lived and raised their families and amassed their sizable fortune since before the Civil War.

Checking my e-mail, I was surprised to see two messages from Robertson, again with a certain urgency but no details beyond the same phone number. The first one had been sent at 3am and the second just before 5:30. It was now almost 9:30 when I dialed the number.

But instead of the suavely modulated baritone of my friend Sullivan, the breathy voice I'd heard on the answering machine picked up the phone. When I told Zachary who I was, he sounded greatly relieved and again apologized for the urgency of the call but unfortunately Mr. Sullivan had just stepped out of the office to attend a meeting and wouldn't be back for perhaps another hour.

Still, he proceeded to tell me what the urgency was, rather than waiting to try another call: I knew from past experience how difficult it was to reach Robertson when he was busy (which was most of the time). The problem was simply this: the pre-concert speaker for tonight's program in Avery Fisher Hall, part of the World Twelve-Tone Series concerts, was suddenly “indisposed,” he said with an easily imagined curl in the lip, and he was wondering if I would be available, last-minute and all, to come in and talk about, say, listening to the music of Schoenberg and Elliott Carter – apologizing that, of course, he knew Carter was not technically a serialist but he had no control over the programming.

This was a special presentation for major contributors, many of whom may not always have been devoted fans of such high-fiber music as this: even for new music fans, he thought this series was a pretty tough row to hoe and then giggled demurely at the pun he had probably been using for the last several weeks, hoping it still sounded fresh and spontaneous (it didn't, but I didn't let on). The talk would be held in a specially roped off area just off the side of the Avery Fisher lobby, looking out onto one of the most famous plazas in all of New York City with its newly renovated fountain.

“Have you seen it, yet?”

No, I told him, I had only been in New York once briefly since the renovations began at Lincoln Center and had difficulties working my way around between finding a concert at the Ethics Center, since Alice Tully Hall was closed, and then trying to figure out where the Juilliard bookstore had been relocated, too. But I was looking forward to seeing it again, soon. I just hadn't expected it to be this soon. Having spent so much of my time there in the past, I knew it was a famous place to meet someone before a performance in any of the surrounding theaters and a great place just to people-watch, always fun to do in a busy place like New York City.

He figured if I left Harrisburg before 2:00, I should arrive in reasonable time. Among a few other details, he reminded me of the event's start-time once again and then rung off once I had finally agreed to do it, simply out of gratitude for an old friend. “Fabulous,” he said, then proceeded to tell me how to find the right parking garage entrance under Lincoln Center: someone would be waiting for me there.

Getting a second cup of coffee ready, figuring I'd probably need it, I called Buzz Blogster and got him out of bed. Luckily his last class would be over by 1:00 so he'd be able to pick me up right after that. The day was shaping up to be a busy one, but once the concert started, I knew I could just relax and enjoy it.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

After covering his face with heavy make-up to hide his tattoos, Tr'iTone finished dressing in shabby clothes with an old navy blue bandanna over his bald head, beat-up gloves and a voluminous if well-worn trench coat over his baggy pants and highly stressed black sneakers, looking like an Upper West-Side Down-and-Outer. Before he left the posh surroundings of his home, he took a large fanny pack out of the hall closet and opened it carefully, looking inside to see the precious if horrific article he had earlier placed in it. Holding it up to view his handiwork in the mirror, he smiled, then carefully stuffed it back in the pack, took a deep breath, quickly turned and left.

Right - everything is ready.

It would be enough, he knew, to kick the last phase of his plan into high gear.

And presto agitato, at that! He couldn't help but laugh.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

LauraLynn Sullivan was heading downtown to spend her usual Wednesday evening at the lab – at least, that's how she and her brother referred to it: officially, Robertson had dubbed it “LauraLynn's Little Ol' Lab at Lincoln Center,” utilizing a vacant, out-of-the-way underground storage room that, with all the re-construction work going on the past few years, wasn't likely to be in the way, either.

It was only about ten of 7:00 but sometimes Robertson showed up early for their weekly get-together, hardly a “meeting” that warranted the attention of his busy schedule with the Center but an opportunity for brother and sister to reconnect and in a more leisurely fashion allow her to summarize what she'd been working on or at least thinking about in the past week. He appreciated the opportunity of finding out what she was doing – he found it very exciting – and she appreciated not only his brotherly curiosity but having the opportunity to talk about it with someone she could actually discuss it.

Sometimes they would cancel it if there was a performance that started earlier than 8:00 either of them wanted to attend, but so far there hadn't been any word about that. Tonight, however, she was feeling a little... well, she wasn't sure how to describe it, other than “a little verklempt.”

LauraLynn had often been told she and Rob could have been twins except they were almost ten years apart in age, making her often wonder did that mean he looked younger than he was or she looked older? She was always a bad judge of someone's age just by looking at them. Just as few might mistake Rob for a man of 60, no one would have guessed she was already 50, herself.

Though they had both been talented pianists since their childhood days and he had managed to become a recognized composer and teacher, neither Robertson Hope Sullivan nor LauraLynn Hardy Sullivan chose to make music a full-time profession by the time they'd reached their thirties. Instead, after a period of disenchantment with the every day realities of music, they eventually both chose to pursue other fields, Robertson branching off into a combination of business, arts and philanthropy and she finding a more... well, personal niche.

Her own little known branch of scientific study was called Demiurgics and her books and articles on the subject, unnoticed beyond certain limited academic circles, still managed to turn her into a leading expert in the field, not difficult, she pointed out with a sly wink, since she was also the only expert in the field. The fact that the power of creativity was something that existed potentially in all of us shouldn't have been such a controversial issue but yet the body of research she was trying to create, no pun intended, failed to convince many scientists to take her seriously. And some who tried to often found their thoughts leaning less toward demiurgic thoughts than to demagogic ones.

Still, tonight it wasn't so much her research that was on her mind: it was a different kind of meeting she'd had earlier in the day. And just as she was about to step into the winding pathways of the Lincoln Center Concourse, her cell phone rang. She took a deep breath once she recognized the number and decided to take the call.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Buzz finally drove up to the parking entrance that Zachary Zeitgeist had described to us, though with all the construction going on around the 16 acre site, it took us a few passes before we could find all the right lanes. Well, the correct ones which in this case happened to be mostly left turns.

“We turn left, here, right?” Buzz had asked as we'd gotten closer to 65th Street.

“Right, right,” I'd said, half distracted by looking about at the mesmerizing flow of so many people.

Instead of turning left, though, I was suddenly aware that Buzz had swerved over into the right lane just in time to get caught at the light.

“What was that all about, Buzz? We were supposed to turn left, back there.”

“Right, that's what I thought, but you said 'right, right,' so I figured I must've gotten it wrong.”

“Well, now we have to go up a few more blocks to make a right, then go around a block or two” - or three or four, given the notoriousness of Manhattan's one-way streets – “before we'll be back in place to make the right, ah... I mean correct turn...”

“Oh. Sorry...” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as we watched the people crossing back and forth in front of us. “Busy night.”

“Buzz, it's New York: it's always busy.” It was like this when I lived here thirty-some years ago, back before you were born. “Even up where I used to live, there were cars and people on the street at 4am. There was a bookstore up near Columbia University that was open 24/7 and if I couldn't sleep, I'd go up there and hang out, read books, drink coffee, and the place was just as busy at 3am as a club might be at 11 o'clock on a Saturday night. It was amazing.”

“Cool, they had live music?”

“No, Buzz, they had books...”

I had been a child of 13 watching the opening concert with the New York Philharmonic in their new home at Lincoln Center. It was September 23rd, 1962, and Leonard Bernstein conducted a program that was broadcast live on television – CBS, I believe. It was odd the only thing I really remembered of that concert, other than seeing Jacqueline Kennedy seated in one of the boxes close to the stage, was hearing the world premiere of Aaron Copland's latest work, “Connotations for Orchestra,” specially commissioned for the occasion. Actually, what I remembered about it was how much I hated it. It wasn't at all what I expected – or, apparently, anyone else expected, either – lacking the beauty of Appalachian Spring or the sweeping grandeur of his Third Symphony. It sounded, from what my naive experience could manage, more like Schoenberg and who, I asked, liked that?

Today, I couldn't even tell you what else was on that program without having looked it up: Vaughan Williams' “Serenade to Music,” which I find insufferably saccharine today but which I was probably drooling over as a shallow youth; the Gloria from Beethoven's Missa Solemnis; and the first movement, the epic setting of the “Veni Creator Spiritus” from Mahler's 8th Symphony. But since I've heard all those pieces in other performances or broadcasts before - or, more likely, since - the specificity of place and occasion had no longer-lasting impact on me, I guess. But I did, apparently, recall a great deal about Copland's Connotations which I never heard again: when I bought a recording of it almost thirty years later, I realized how much of it actually sounded familiar. Perhaps I remembered more of it than I was willing to admit and whatever my first impression of it was wasn't really as strong as I had thought.

The other thing I remember was seeing a rather timid-looking Copland facing down a clearly hostile audience – were there boos? I was sure there were – and looking quite frail and old. The memory makes me chuckle since I am two years younger now than he was then...

But Lincoln Center was a primary focus during my brief residency in New York City in the late-70s, sixteen years after that initial concert, just a couple of years that were something of a dream come true. I heard many new works then, some of which I liked and more, I had to admit, I didn't. I also heard many old works that I was so tired of hearing and found little in the performance to make me feel the anticipated “wow! I was glad I'd bought a ticket to that concert,” speaking of disappointments. It was difficult to imagine what it was like, taking something you played so often and then playing it, perhaps four or five more times in a concert series that week again and still keeping it so fresh we in the audience would sit there thinking how amazing it is that they've put all this into this performance just for me!

Perhaps I spent more time at the Met, since the opportunity of seeing an old war-horse was not the same as listening to a recording or a radio broadcast of it. I spent a lot of time sitting or standing through the likes of Verdi's Traviata, Mozart's Marriage of Figaro or even Wagner's Parsifal from up in the Family Circle where the cheap seats were, as if I were viewing this immense stage in this immense theater from the immense heights of Valhalla itself. There was no comparison to watching the Met's High Definition Transmissions in movie theaters these days: following the text line by line in the subtitles and being able to see the slightest nuance of a singer's expression was a lot different from the old days when I'd be lucky if I could even distinguish the singer's face. Once I'd finally seen an opera staged live on the stage, I wondered why anybody would want to listen to an opera on the radio or even on a recording. Except to realize that is how many people discover opera in the first place, as I had done, and how many people only ever get to experience the great music of these operas during their lives. It was an experience that still needs to be protected.

By this time, however, realizing I was hugging my tote-bag to my chest with a sense of Family Circle-induced vertigo, I noticed Buzz had missed the right turn at 64th. So now we were going to have to go another block, stop at the light at 65th Street at the other end of Lincoln Center but that turned out to be one way the wrong way. In fact, while walking in New York City was one thing, I had soon learned the first time I tried driving in it, most of New York's streets were one way the wrong way. It would've been better just to find a parking garage somewhere and walk since it was getting very close to 7:00. I could, I suppose just tell him to let me out here and I'll walk over but I couldn't abandon him here in the middle of Manhattan to find a parking place on his own. While it's possible I might never see him again, it was most certain I would never see the car again.

A tall, stooped man, massive and wearing shabby clothes with an old navy blue bandanna over his dome of a head, beat-up gloves and a voluminous if well-worn trench coat over equally tattered baggy pants, almost completely hiding a pair of highly stressed black sneakers, suddenly stepped out in front of us just as the light changed and Buzz had to hit the brakes and wait for him. Without seeming to notice us, the man artfully gave us the finger with well-practiced and no doubt often-used nonchalance. Several horns honked behind us as the man strode arrogantly past us. Ah, New York: I rarely had to drive in the city and this only reinforced why I preferred taking the train.

We were finally able to turn right down 65th, only to discover Central Park West was one-way north, again taking us away from Lincoln Center. We turned left onto 66th, got out to Columbus Avenue and finally headed down toward and then eventually past the Center, now on our right. “Right,” I reminded him, “it would be a right turn this time onto 62nd,” coming in on the south end of Lincoln Center.

“Right – right?”

“Yes. Correct.”

Another mob of pedestrians crossed the street and we successfully managed to complete the turn. Once past some construction barricades, I saw where the cars ahead of us were turning into an opening on the right that proved, luckily, to be the entrance into the Lincoln Center underground parking.

Pulling up to the booth, I noticed a short stocky blond woman wearing her hair in a thick German-looking plait peering into the cars as they approached. When she saw us, she waved excitedly and came over to us after nudging the attendant in the ticket booth.

“You're Doctor Dick?” she asked and without waiting for a reply, continued “Go ahead, I'll park the car, it's all taken care of. Everything is under control but we really are running it kind of close, aren't we?”

As Buzz and I got out of the car, she must have realized from the perplexed expression on my face that I had no idea how she would know who I was.

“I recognized you from the photo on your book cover,” she said as she got into the driver's seat. “I didn't really get it, though, since I'm not, like, a musician and all? But Mr. Sullivan said it was very good and that's good enough for me, you know?”

Then she looked me over in a quick disdainful gaze, shaking her head. “You really should be wearing a tie, though...” And with that, she drove off.

“A tie?” I sputtered, “in New York City?” The last time I wore a tie, it was part of a Hallowe'en costume – and nobody could recognize me, in a freakin' tie...!

I went up to the security guard in the booth, straightening out my turtle-neck, and after showing him my driver's license, he just waved me through without looking at it. “How do I get to the Avery Fisher Lobby from here? I'm supposed to give a pre-concert talk there at 7:00.”

He looked at me with a cocked eyebrow and pointed at the clock, ominously reading 6:56, as if I didn't know how late we were already. Then I realized he was pointing in the direction of one of the walkways, stretching down into the underground cavern that is called The Concourse. “You'll see the signs but you'd better hurry.”

It's three blocks away: how am I going to do anything else?

- - - - - - -
To be continued...

= = = = = = =
The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for another segment next Monday, June 28th.
©2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 1

Welcome to the initial post in the serialized novel, THE LOST CHORD, a music appreciation thriller by Dick Strawser (a musical parody of Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol"). And so it begins...

*** ***** ******** ***** *** PROLOGUE *** ***** ******** ***** ***

The secret is how to suffer.

That's been the story of the artist's life since the beginning of music history – whether it was in the number of solitary hours one spent practicing to become the successful performer one aspired to be, or whether it was something like Beethoven's deafness or Schubert's premature death at the age of 31.

Becoming a composer, he'd been told, was like playing Russian roulette – maybe you'd win, maybe you'd lose.

Go ahead, spin the revolver – what've you got to lose? Who would notice another dead composer, any way?

“The only good composer is a dead composer.”

“Here is music that stinks in the ear.”

He remembered back to that June day years ago – so many years ago, it seemed, yet in a way, a recent memory – when they had gathered in a reception room, the members of the composition department's graduating class from one of the most prestigious conservatories in the world – the Juilliard School of Music at Lincoln Center.

And here, today, standing in his brownstone home, he thought, I am just blocks away from Lincoln Center.

This icon of American arts, located between 62nd and 66th streets on Manhattan's Upper West Side, was designed to modernize the great concert halls of old and yet bring to mind the grandeur and symmetry of the Ancient Greeks. It was a cultural Acropolis in the midst of a busy, modern city, considered one of the premiere music venues in the world.

The egos in that room, at that reception long ago, could easily have filled the Parthenon itself. Young composers about to enter into the competitive world, some already with colleges to go to – to teach, perhaps, or to attend another level of training; others still waiting to hear; and some with no prospects other than an immensity of hope. The older, respected composers – teachers or those guests who influenced the younger generation – probably thinking back to the time they had once been on the receiving end of their training, mere grasshoppers in the world of New Music, now passed on their knowledge, their inspiration to the next generation of composers who hoped, one day, to replace them.

There were rivalries, of course. There were always rivalries: how could anything so intensely personal as a composer's individual style not kindle some amount of friction when rubbed up against someone else's compositional style?

All art, he had learned, was political: before there were Red States and Blue States, there was Uptown vs Downtown with Juilliard trying to maintain its Midtown identity. If it hadn't been German vs French or sacred vs secular, it had been something else, all the way back to Apollo and Dionysus.

They stood around in their graduation robes, many still wearing or holding their mortarboards, drinking wine and hoping not to spill any since the robes were rented and needed to be returned soon.

His face hurt from trying to smile. I'm a composer, not an actor. He shook hands, he wished his classmates luck and offered platitudes as easily as he accepted them but deep down in his heart, he knew otherwise.

He knew the truth.

There had been speeches about success and hard work, about integrity, about not worrying over what was original and what wasn't, about not giving in to the path of least resistance.

His teacher, the one with the intense blue eyes, looked him in the face and wished him well, glossing over the arguments they had had, the enmity they shared.

Some day, you too will recognize the truth. There is much I have to learn but there is much that I will teach you. And for that, I will have your soul.

He joined in the toast and, standing next to his teacher for the photograph, raised his wine glass “to the future.”

And your little doll, too.

*** ***** ******** ***** *** CHAPTER I *** ***** ******** ***** ***

They said it would be just another routine elevator ride, even if a very long one, all the way to the top of the Washington Monument, but once we got there, the view would be spectacular. There were maybe fifteen of us, the first group of fifth graders from Eastedge Elementary School, crammed into it with one of the teachers, Miss Eliza Messerschmidt, an older woman – she was probably over 40 – and not much taller than us kids. She taught one of the other classes and I only knew her by reputation, what my friends had said about her at recess or after school: they called her Sarge and wasn't it just my luck she was standing directly behind me? It's so cramped in here, I thought, and why is this bony woman standing there with her hands on my shoulders?

The door cranked shut and slowly we took off, lurching upwards bit by bit. It didn't really feel like there would be any problem as we chugged up and up through the cold stone needle but several of the children were becoming uneasy. After all, it was unnatural to be confined in such a small space, unable to move for even a very short time, anything more than a few minutes, really.

Then there was a snap, a jolt and the light went out. We had stopped climbing. I could feel Miss Messerschmidt's fingernails digging into my skin. At first the kids were silent for maybe five seconds, if that long, but then a slow wail began to grow from deep inside someone behind me. In a matter of seconds, we were all freaking out, wondering what had happened, if we were stuck and if so, how long would it be before we'd be rescued. Suzy Spartnik began chanting under her breath “Please, God, I don't want to die.”

The teacher told us to remain still – still?! – but her voice was already quivering. Many of us were just rolling our eyes, but then that was about all we could move. One of the girls on my right began whimpering “What's going to happen to us? Are we going to be stuck here all day?” The guys, for the most part, were taking it all in fun. One of them suggested if we all jump up and down together, we'd get the elevator car unstuck and soon we'd be moving again. Or crashing down 300 feet to the bottom of the monument, you dork! Count on Billy Bellwin to come up with something completely the opposite of what we should do. I could imagine the elevator car gaining speed as it rushed headlong – or rather, feet-first – to the ground level, gaining speed with every yard.

Judging from the look on Robertson Sullivan's face, I could imagine he had already calculated the speed. The class geek before we had a term for it, he was a mathematical as well as musical whiz and if anybody could do it, he could. I just hoped he'd keep it to himself. Generally. he was better at hiding his geekiness under a bushel basket than I was. I would've blurted it right out.

Then there was another lurch and we started to drop. Fast. The kids started screaming and I felt I was losing circulation in my arms from Miss Messerschmidt's grip. She was shouting louder than the rest, “We're all gonna die!”

Then just as suddenly, we stopped.

Standing there wedged together, too tightly packed to fall on the impact, everyone remained momentarily silent and motionless. The only thing you could hear in the darkness was the faint but annoying presence of the music going on just as mindlessly as before. So cloying as to be unnoticed under normal circumstances, the sound washed its calming melodic strands over us, softly undulating saxophones crooning bad arrangements of tunes familiar to those of us who sat with our parents on Sunday nights watching the Ed Sullivan Show on television. But in a matter of seconds, we each felt the same incredible fear rising from deep inside us. And before we knew it, it had happened.

We all started to vomit.

And with that the elevator began once again to rise, slowly at first, only gradually gaining speed. We remained expectantly silent, standing there almost ankle-deep in barf, our shoes and our clothes soaked in the remains of our late-lamented lunch – spaghetti and meatballs eaten at the House of Representative's cafeteria with our local congressman as part of our tour – and also in our hair. I could feel something dripping down the back of my neck and I hoped to God Miss Messerschmidt was playing that game where someone'd come up behind you and pretend to crack an egg over your head and touch their fingers to your hair, slowly sliding them down the back of your head. But Miss Messerschmidt didn't seem to be that kind of teacher, not Sarge...

The whole way up, the muzac played “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Then, once we heard the door grinding, trying to open, it switched to “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” and a number of other tunes before it reached “Unchained Melody.” It wasn't so much the song itself but the sappy arrangement that got to me. It was then I felt a second wave developing and before long I had begun the whole process of regurgitation again.

Gaa-aack!

Like a chorus on cue, everyone else began to join in, including Miss Messerschmidt. It was a half-hour before they were able to get the door opened: apparently, someone later explained, the ever increasing flow of puke creeping out under the door-panels had shorted some key circuits.

I woke up from my dream with a jolt, the spaghetti I'd wolfed down for lunch sitting uncomfortably somewhere beyond my stomach. We had to be in New York City by 7:00 for the pre-concert talk and reception. The way things were going, I doubted there would be much time before I was scheduled to speak. Buzz was driving and had begun to express reservations about the traffic as we approached the Lincoln Tunnel. Though it had taken only two hours to get this far, even with Buzz's legendary lead-foot, just going with the flow averaging ten miles above the posted speed-limit (and still being passed), we might spend another hour before we'd actually get through the tunnel. I didn't want to give the appearance of impatience by constantly checking my watch, only adding no doubt to Buzz's frustration as well as my own, but there wasn't a lot of wiggle-room in our schedule.

The dream had left me feeling even more nervous, bringing back nasty childhood memories, most of which, by this point in my life, seemed categorizable as “unpleasant.” It certainly explained my aversion for insipid background music intended to blunt our everyday existence with pleasantness and familiarity, lulling us into a sense of comfort and security without our needing to be aware of what we were actually listening to. In fact, in most cases, we were listening to nothing, only aware of hearing something without any intellectual or spiritual involvement: carrying this attitude from the nation's elevators, supermarkets and radio stations into living rooms and concert halls across the land, this societal insidiousness had relegated music to the level of ambient noise, little different from a fish tank in a doctor's office.

But then, every time I would hear “Unchained Melody,” I got a distinct whiff of barf.

The dream had probably been triggered by the thought of seeing my old school friend again. Robertson Sullivan and I had often met since we went our separate ways in college, reconnecting by random phone calls and generic Christmas cards over the intervening years. On those occasions I'd get to New York for a special concert or what I referred to as a day of “music sight-seeing,” we tried to get together for lunch if not dinner, but usually his schedule was so busy, it was rarely possible.

This time, it was going to be different, I just knew it.

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Only a few blocks from Lincoln Center, in an old brownstone house on West 69th Street just a block from Broadway, a tall muscle-bound man – most people would regard him as a monster of a man – stood in the middle of his living room, admiring his near-naked form in floor-to-ceiling mirrors on either side of the rough limestone fireplace. This time, he had remembered to close the curtains to protect himself from the prying eyes of nosy neighbors. Even on such a quiet street as this, you can never be too careful who might be watching you.

He had called himself Tr'iTone, after the musical interval long known through the centuries as “The Devil in Music.” As tall and immense as he was, people had difficulty dealing with him: did they call him “Mr. Tone” or what? People were so hidebound by convention in this country, they had little acceptance of artists whose minds ran slightly counter to societal norms. He had thought of signing himself with a musical depiction of the interval



but the experience of an artist formerly known as Prince recommended otherwise. Still, it annoyed him when total strangers tried to sound chatty by calling him “Tr'i” and so as a precaution he never went about in public except with something carefully selected from a whole library full of alternate identities.

The grand piano stood nearby – the old-fashioned upright he composed on in his sound-proofed study upstairs looked shabby by comparison to the gleaming black sleekness of this new Hamburg Steinway – and the walls of the room were covered in bookshelves stuffed with finely bound volumes, with fine art collected from around the world ranging from paintings by French Impressionists to delicate vases from China. Nowhere visible was anything like a TV set or a simple sound system, yet reverberating through the house were the weird strains of the “Wolf's Glen Scene” from Carl Maria von Weber's opera, Der Freischütz.

Stepping up onto the coffee table before the opulent black sofa, he flexed his muscles, striking various poses that rippled the muscles across his body, his tattoos undulating in the half-light of the room as the villainous Kaspar, after crying out for help from the Black Huntsman, forges one magic bullet after another – seven in all – accompanied by some of the scariest music in the Western Classical canon, including a whole array of his favorite interval. But Tr'iTone knew he had nothing to fear: Samiel, the Black Huntsman, was indeed at hand.

Only a few more parts of the puzzle to put together before I will be complete.

He sighed in admiration over his own handiwork as he proceeded to complete the tattoos with which he has slowly been covering his body, tattoos unlike any he could find at a mere populist tattoo parlor or like any droll loser dude would desecrate himself with. He laughed at the moron he'd seen loitering across the street, his biceps full of Chinese characters that were all the rage these days: little did he know the tattoo artist – as he had self-deludedly described himself – had taken them from a take-out menu dropped off by the Great Wall Diner down the street and instead of bearing the wisdom of ages past, he was merely advertising Orange Beef, Moo Shoo Pork and Sesame Cold Noodles.

Since he was a composer, he had chosen to transform his body into a physical codification of all the possible chord combinations one could build out of the same twelve pitches of the chromatic scale. On his pectoral muscles was the most impressive array, twelve different chords built from twelve different pitches, written out in musical notation, six on the left side and six on the right side, a mere fraction of the chords available but his body was, unfortunately, only so grand. His nipples stood in for the Middle C's in two of the more expansive chords. He had grouped these, as Elliott Carter had done in his Harmony Book, as massive chord structures of inversionally related intervals spanning out from a central tritone. Theoretically, there were 88 of these chords plus 60 more parallel-inverted chords, all built with twelve notes, but he chose only those he preferred using for the major climaxes of his grandest orchestral compositions. It was a shame that no one wanted to play them, but he knew his time would come. And as the days of summer shortened with the inevitable arrival of winter, he knew it would come very quickly. Not in months or weeks or even days.

Perhaps this very night, if all goes well.

Soon he would be regarded as the World's Greatest Living Composer, and the person who was going to help him should now be entering the Lincoln Tunnel.

- - - - - - -
To be continued...

= = = = = = =
The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Thursday, June 24th.
©2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Lost Chord: Table of Contents

A maniac is loose at Lincoln Center.

Intent on locating the old wisdom of the Great Composers, he has placed a severed ear on the plaza's fountain and summoned the little-known, self-styled composer and musicologist Dr. Dick to do his bidding. Will the headless Mozart bobble-head doll found in a practice room deep beneath the Metropolitan Opera House really lead him to the unknown location and will he be able to find it before it's – gasp – too late?

Meet the evil tattooed villain who goes by the trendy name of Tr'iTone, a composer who also masquerades as Dr. Iobba Dhabbohdú.

Meet the diminutive director of security for the International Composers Alliance, Yoda Leahy-Hu, and her team of intrepid ICA agents Kay Gelida Manina, Oona Furtiva-Lagrima and Eddie Pensier.

Why does Lincoln Center architect V. C. D'Arcy question whose side they're really on?

The ear belongs to Robertson Hope Sullivan, the chairman of Lincoln Center and an old friend of Dr. Dick's. Joined by Robertson's sister, LauraLynn Hardy Sullivan, Dr. Dick & V. C. D'Arcy are pursued by both Tr'iTone and the ICA, a chase that leads them onto the stage of the Met during the first finale of “The Barber of Seville,” much to the confusion of the cast and the delight of an audience usually skeptical of unconventional productions.

And that's only the beginning...

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Here are links to the individual installments (in chronological sequence) for THE LOST CHORD, a music appreciation thriller by Dick Strawser (a classical music parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol). Continuing installments are expected to be posted on Mondays and Thursdays of each week through the summer of 2010.

An Introduction to "The Lost Chord" (posted 6-18-2010)

Installment 1 (posted 6-21-2010) in which we meet our hero, Dr. Dick, who's on his way to New York, and our villain, the trendily-named composer, Tr'iTone who's getting ready for a big night.

Installment 2 (posted 6-24-2010) - three main characters arrive at Lincoln Center: Dr. Dick, LauraLynn Sullivan and the villain Tr'iTone in one of his many disguises.

Installment 3 (posted 6-28-2010) - On the night of the 6th game of the World Series, Dr. Dick shows up in the lobby of Avery Fisher Hall for his pre-concert talk with the New York Philharmonic's World Twelve-Tone Series only to find the place uncharacteristically empty - even for a program of atonal music.

Installment 4 (posted 7-01-2010) - Somebody has left a severed human ear on the fountain at Lincoln Center and Dr. Dick recognizes it as one that belongs to his friend Robertson Sullivan, the Executive Director of Lincoln Center. Meanwhile, as officers Donna Mobile and P. K. Arabesk check out the crime scene, Chief Phil Harmon has an odd encounter with an old German woman in Avery Fisher Hall.

Installment 5 (posted 7-05-2010) - Dr. Dick discovers there is a Latin phrase tattooed around the rim of the ear and he is introduced to the Director of Security for the International Composers Alliance, Yoda Leahy-Hu.

Installment 6 (posted 7-08-2010) - Yoda Leahy-Hu is a bit skeptical about Dr. Dick and what he's found tattooed on his friend's ear. Meanwhile, LauraLynn Sullivan arrives at her lab where she surprises her assistant, Haley Gedankgesang.

Installment 7 (posted 7-12-2010) - Dr. Dick, Buzz, Yoda Leahy-Hu & Chief Phil Harmon stand in the center of the Lincoln Center plaza wondering why the ear had been left on the rim of  the fountain and what significance its location might have had in the plot (such as it was).

Installment 8 (posted 7-15-2010) - we meet Dr. Iobba Dhabbohdhú, find out about a mysterious pizza delivery one Thanksgiving night at the Gilbert N. Sullivan homestead when Aunt Katie Shaw died, and Dr. Dick discovers why, exactly, he's been brought to New York City, something about a curious object Robertson Sullivan had entrusted to his care years ago.

Installment 9 (posted 7-19-2010) - It seems the clues on the severed ear lead to a room far beneath the Metropolitan Opera House. And Tr'iTone modulates to a new disguise - once again Dr. Iobba Dhabbohdhú - as he arrives to meet LauraLynn Sullivan at her secret laboratory. There's dirty work afoot!

Installment 10 (posted 7-22-2010) - they've discovered odd references to an obscure 8th Century bishop, a famous madrigal by Gesualdo and some uncomfortably familiar smells while traversing a dark underground hallway deep in the bowels of Lincoln Center...

Installment 11 (posted 7-26-2010) -  Dr. Dhabbohdhú arrives at the lab's entrance and is just as surprised to meet Haley Gedankgesang as she is to meet him. Meanwhile, the mysterious room deep beneath the Met turns out to be a musty old practice room with some rather startling contents.

Installment 12 (posted 7-29-2010) - Haley Gedankgesang doesn't even get to sing her own swan song; the musty old practice room reluctantly reveals some of its contents, including some that cast doubt on the idea of a mysterious portal leading to some of classical music's most ancient mysteries.

Installment 13 (posted 8-02-2010) -  True, 13 may be an unlucky number to some - Dr. Dick ponders the possibilities of meaning behind the newly discovered Mozart bobble-head doll: is it junk or is it, as the alleged maniac seems to think, something far more sinister?

Installment 14 (posted 8-05-2010) - Dr. Dick connects with LauraLynn Sullivan and warns her she is in imminent danger; then he and V.C. D'Arcy, hanging out in a scene storage shop underneath the Met, have a frank discussion that ends with a rather unsettling realization.

Installment 15 (posted 8-09-2010) - LauraLynn barely escapes from the evil clutches of the monster pursuing her; much to Chief Phil Harmon's relief, Director Leahy-Hu suggests they split up - he's to chase after the hulking creature at Dr. Sullivan's Lab and she and her intrepid ICA agents will take on Dr. Dick & V.C. D'Arcy who, meanwhile, are continuing their interminable discussion about creativity when they suddenly realize there's more dirty work afoot...

Installment 16 (posted 8-12-2010) - Three agents arrive from the ICA and enter the fray; LauraLynn Sullivan, reminiscing about her family's tragic history, recognizes the maniac as the one who killed her Aunt Katie Shaw and murdered her nephew Anthony Shaw, when her thoughts are interrupted by a very loud and very nearby explosion...

Installment 17 (posted 8-16-2010) -  There's been an explosion beneath the Metropolitan Opera House, rattling the singers on stage, gearing up for the first finale in Rossini's "Barber of Seville." Dr. Dick & LauraLynn Sullivan have finally found each other and the villain, making his escape, reflects on his life as Zoose.

Installment 18 (posted 8-19-2010) - Director of Security Leahy-Hu interrogates Buzz Blogster in the security trailer's men's room (there being no other space) when they are interrupted by the sound of a loud explosion. V.C. D'Arcy recalls what a pain-in-the-ass Robertson's nephew had been. And then our heroes take an elevator to the Met's backstage - in fact, it turns out they're actually on stage...

Installment 19 (posted 8-23-2010) - The impact of the explosion is felt in the Met's underground scene shop as well as the interrogation/men's room at the security trailer. Meanwhile, Dr. Dick, LauraLynn & V.C. D'Arcy, with the ICA agents in close pursuit, try blending themselves into the performance on the Met stage, much to the surprise of the cast and, once the curtain falls on Act One, the delight of the audience.

Installment 20 (posted 8-26-2010) - An old man settles in for an evening of reading when he receives a mysterious message. After the curtain falls on a very strange production of the first act finale from The Barber of Seville, our heroes manage to escape the trio of evil-looking agents by hiding in a small, out-of-the-way dressing room (with apologies to the Marx Brothers) as Leahy-Hu has figured out what to do about Buzz Blogster.

Installment 21 (posted 8-30-2010) - Tr'iTone continues his preparations for his Big Night; Leahy-Hu calls Peter Moonbeam about finding a better interrogation room; Dr. Dick and LauraLynn find a clue on the head of the Mozart bobble-head doll; and an old man, having received a cryptic message from V.C. D'Arcy, prepares to help a friend-in-need.

Installment 22 (posted 9-02-2010) - Dr. Dick & LauraLynn start working on two musical clues; D'Arcy is captured and about to be interrogated as Buzz makes his escape but has his coat stolen from him; and an old composer contacts 'The Mighty Widow.'

Installment 23 (posted 9-06-2010) - Tr'iTone's latest composition is officially underway; the ICA agents discover that Dr. Dick has escaped from the Met, unaware that he and LauraLynn have run into Buzz Blogster and taken a cab only to find the cab-driver has heard the NYPD bulletin about them.

Installment 24 (posted 9-09-2010) - Leahy-Hu begins to interrogate V.C. D'Arcy. LauraLynn, realizing their cab driver has called the police, devises another plan of escape. Meanwhile, Tr'iTone has a flashback to the night he broke into the Sullivan Homestead, was shot by Robertson, then left for dead.

Installment 25 (posted 9-13-2010) - Zoose prepares the way for his modulation to Tr'iTone, a musical devil, by studying (and perverting) 'The Artist's Way' and deciding to cover his body in tattoos using chords from Elliott Carter's 'Harmony Book'...

Installment 26 (posted 9-16-2010) - Our heroes discuss the scientific study of creativity; Vice Squad agent Wanda Menveaux helps track down Buzz's wayward coat as Dr. Dick & Co. connect with the mysterious composer referred by V.C. D'Arcy who turns out to be a 100-year-old man named Howard Zendler (well, it is fiction); meanwhile, Yoda Leahy-Hu's interrogation of D'Arcy is about to take a serious turn.

Installment 27 (posted 9-20-2010) - In his specially designed basement, Tr'iTone prepares himself for the final ritual in his ultimate transformation, eventually modulating into 'Tr'iTone the Great."

Installment 28 (posted 9-23-2010) - our heroes met the Grand Old Man of American Music, Howard Zendler, as they tried figuring out what the clue "Crabs Golden Horn Rector Teeter" means and wait to see what happens when Mozart's head is reunited with the body of the bobble-head doll.

Installment 29 (posted 9-27-2010) - A discussion on the legacy of teachers and students leads to a startling realization, while Yoda Leahy-Hu leads V.C. D'Arcy to another, even more startling realization.


Installment 30 (posted 9-30-2010) - The conversation about creativity with Howard Zendler and its possible connection to the search for the Bobble-head Doll's secret continues as they make an unexpected discovery.

Installment 31 (posted 10-04-2010) - Having made that discovery, they're still no closer to the answer when they realize Leahy-Hu & the Police have arrived: they escape to the basement in time to make yet another discovery...

Installment 32 (posted 10-07-2010) - As the World Series reaches its conclusion, the search for solutions to the Bobble-head Doll's clues goes on with yet another clue unlocked with even more surprising results.

Installment 33 (posted 10-12-2010) - calling Dhabbodhú, they get a security agent at his house telling them a man with an ear missing is asking about them but just as they are about to leave, they're intercepted by Leahy-Hu and her officers.

Installment 34 (posted 10-14-2010) - Contact is made with Dhabbodhú about meeting at Verdi Square where Leahy-Hu and her agents then set up a stake-out while Dr. Dick & LauraLynn hurry to Dhabbodhú's brownstown to rescue Robertson before it's too late.

Installment 35 (posted 10-19-2010) - While things at Verdi Square are not panning out as anticipated, neither are things at Dhabbodhú's brownstown where Dr. Dick & LauraLynn find themselves captured by the villain Tr'iTone and meet him face-to-face for the first time.

Installment 36 (posted 10-21-2010) -  Tr'iTone begins the interrogations of LauraLynn & Dr. Dick in a scene that includes a parody of the Interview with the Devil from Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus by way of the chess match from Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal.

Installment 37 (posted 10-25-2010) -  Left alone to contemplate the meaning of the chaotic-looking matrix on the base of the statue, Dr. Dick figures it out in a flash before Tr'iTone leaves him in the booth and he hears the familiar strains of a distant hymn.

to be continued...

= = = = = = =
This is (obviously) a work of fiction and intended as a parody of Dan Brown's novel, "The Lost Symbol."
©2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

An Introduction to "The Lost Chord"

Next Monday, Thoughts on a Train will begin serializing “The Lost Chord,” a Dr. Dick 'Music Appreciation Thriller,' a novel by Dick Strawser that is, simply put, a musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol.”

And by 'musical,' I don't mean “The Lost Symbol: The Musical,” with songs and dance numbers and lots of tits and feathers: I mean a reworking of the story within a context of classical music.

Mr. Brown's novel, his third in a series of Robert Langdon mysteries, deals with the Masonic Brotherhood and its secrets, especially trying to discover the whereabouts of the “Ancient Mysteries” which, legend has it, are buried somewhere in Washington D.C. and when found will give the finder immense, unheard of powers.

My parody of his novel, on the other hand, deals with Musicians – particularly composers who would seem, according to most normal people, something of a select group, a secret society with its own language and rituals and visions – and it deals with the mysteries of creativity and inspiration, among other things. These “old secrets,” handed down by masters of composition to their students over the generations, through the centuries, create a distinct link with the past no matter how new the music.

In Brown's original, the clues are found on the Masonic Pyramid. In my parody, they're found on a Mozart Bobble-Head Doll (actually, a headless bobble-head doll).

Though there is no legend I know of, I think anyone who's ever wanted to become a composer wished at one time there were a magic pill out there, somewhere, that would turn them into The Greatest Living Composer. And that is the focus of the mystery behind “The Lost Chord.”

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In the nature of parody, my story parallels Mr. Brown's chapter by chapter, though he has 133 chapters, many of which are only a couple pages long, and I have only 24 though some of these are rather sizable and larger than I would prefer for a single post. But basically, all but a few of Brown's chapters and incidents find their parallels in “The Lost Chord.”

I'm not sure how many posts there will be or how long the serialization will run. When I finished it last Sunday, the rough draft (before editing) had over 183,000 words in it, so at an average of 4,000 words per post that could mean about 45 posts. The plan is to present two posts per week on the blog though – IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER – that doesn't mean it's going to happen. Suffice it to say, lots of things can happen between now and then.

The novel is, however, complete. I just can't tell you how it's going to end...

If you get behind in reading the posts or have discovered it late, you can always follow the “LOST CHORD” link on the right panel which will take you to the sub-blog. There, the installments will be posted in reverse order (like regular blog posts) but the heading will include a link that will take you back to the beginning where each post's individual link will be included.

There are also posts which can be found at this link, “About the Lost Chord.”

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If you haven't read Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol” for whatever reason - if you prefer, you can read a wikisummary here - you can still follow “The Lost Chord” (for whatever reason) as an independent story that should stand on its own: the names and situations have been changed but the plot develops on its own integrity (and by that, I mean its own inherent logic).

If you have, allow me to introduce my cast of characters, first with Mr. Brown's characters and then with my equivalent characters.

“The Lost Symbol” takes place in and around the Capitol in Washington D.C. on the night of the Redskin's playoff game.

“The Lost Chord” takes place in and around Lincoln Center in New York City the night the Yankees won the 2009 World Series.

The hero of Dan Brown's three novels is Robert Langdon, a middle-aged professor of symbology at Harvard. He was played in the previous two novels' movie versions by Tom Hanks.

The hero of my parodies of two of them – the other one being “The Schoenberg Code” – is someone named Dr. Dick. This was originally not an attempt at self-aggrandizement though isn't it every author's fantasy to turn himself into a hero? “The Schoenberg Code” began as the dream sequence of a middle-aged former professor and generally annoying name-dropping, fact-spouting, would-be expert know-it-all and it seemed logical – as in fait accompli (which, alas, has nothing to do with 'fate') – to continue that character in the new work. I rather doubt Robert Pattinson would be a likely candidate for the movie version...

He is joined by a character who has nothing to do with anyone in either of Brown's novels, a side-kick who is a young friend and former student who existed in a previous blog as a kind of foil. His name is Buzz Blogster.

Peter Solomon is the leading Mason in Washington D.C. and an old friend of Langdon's. On the other hand, his equivalent in “The Lost Chord” is Robertson Hope Sullivan, a composer, former Juilliard professor and now some executive with Lincoln Center though Dr. Dick can never quite remember what he's called.

(Did you get that – “other hand”? Yeah, my book is full of puns like that: if you didn't read the original, you wouldn't know that Peter Solomon's hand was amputated by the villain and shows up in the Capitol rotunda, a clue that sets off the adventure that is 'The Lost Symbol.' Let's say I have an ear for those kinds of puns, but if you didn't get it, it just goes by like, well... a missed opportunity.)

His sister is Katherine Solomon, a scientist working in the field of Noetics. LauraLynn Hardy Sullivan is a scientist work in the field of Demiurgics which (to my knowledge) does not exist but is the study of composers' creativity and refers to a theory she has that anyone with proper training can become a composer.

(Did you catch that name? There are lots of references to great classic comedies including whole scenes parodied from Abbott & Costello and the Marx Brothers. For what it's worth, her brother's name was inspired by Bob Hope...)

The villain in “The Lost Symbol” calls himself Mal'akh though no one else ever seems to call him that – monster, villain, beast seem more appropriate – but he has other persona as well, including psychiatrist Dr. Christopher Abaddon (in case you're not a fan of Warcraft or up on your ancient demons, Abaddon means “Destroyer”).

The villain in “The Lost Chord,” being a musician, calls himself “Tr'iTone” but he also has other persona, like the composer Dr. Iobba Dhabbodhú (who lives in a brownstone on the Upper West Side though since it's really gray, you could call it more of a flintstone). And in case you're not up on your musical terminology, a tritone is an unstable interval of an augmented fourth (for instance, C to F-sharp) long known as “Diabolus in musica” or “The Devil in Music.”

The Director of Security for the CIA is a short woman named Innoue Sato. She has a ravaged voice and an annoying personality. We're not really sure which side she's on, at first.

The Director of Security for the ICA (the International Composers Association) is a short woman named Yoda Leahy-Hu. I would imagine Linda Hunt as Director Hetty Lang from NCIS:Los Angeles playing her in the film version. You can also see where Abbott & Costello's “Who's on First?” would fit in, now...

Chief Architect of the Capitol and also a high-ranking Mason is Warren Bellamy. An architect working on the Lincoln Center renovations, a former composer and friend of Robertson Sullivan's is V. C. D'Arcy (the name comes from the big aria in Puccini's Tosca, Vissi d'arte, “I've lived for art”).

Katherine Solomon's lab assistant is a young woman named Trish Dunne. LauraLynn Sullivan's lab assistant is a young woman named Haley Gedankgesang (the name comes from the German nickname for the slow movement of Beethoven's String Quartet, Op. 132, the Heilige Dankgesang or the Holy Song of Thanksgiving).

The blind old man who is sometimes referred to as Dean David Galloway of the National Cathedral, another highly-placed Mason, becomes composer Elliott Carter, a real composer who (really) turned 101 about a month after the events of this story. He is the only real person among my main characters: I figured if I came up with a really old composer everybody would know it was supposed to be Elliott Carter so why not just call him that?

There are many minor characters – especially CIA agents and police officers – not all of whom need to be identified by name. Suffice it to say, many of those appearing in “The Lost Chord” are based on musical puns – “The Schoenberg Code” was full of them where they were mostly performance terms. While I have no idea how the Lincoln Center Security Force is actually organized, each individual building or organization on the center's campus has its own chief of security in “The Lost Chord”: Avery Fisher Hall's is Phil Harmon (for philharmonic); the Met's is Nelson Dorma (Puccini's aria, “Nessun dorma” from Turandot); for what used to be the State Theater and is now the David H. Koch Theater and home of the City Opera and New York City Ballet, there's Tom LeVay (from the ballet term, “temps l'evé”); for the Juilliard School of Music, there's Peter Moonbeam (from Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire). Three additional security officers are Donna Mobile (from Rigoletto's “La Donna é mobile”), P. K. Arabesk (from the ballet term, “piqué arabesque”), and Estéban Lucella (a spoonerism on “É lucevan le stella,” from Puccini's Tosca).

The main ICA special agents are Kay Gelida Manina (an aria from Puccini's La Boheme), Oona Furtiva-Lagrima (an aria from Donizetti's Elixir of Love) and Edie van Sierre (a line from Verdi's aria “La Donna é mobile”). There are also Aïda Lott who became a dispatcher after she was no longer able to fit into the ICA agents' traditional little black body-suit; Wanda Menveaux (from “Musetta's Waltz” in Puccini's La Boheme, the opening line, Quando m'en vo); as well as Tamara Bumdier (a rollicking Irish maiden), Heidi Ho and Rhonda Voo (do I have to explain those last two?).

There is also an ICA cryptographer named Haydn Plainview. The agent who specializes in computer technology is C. Colin Beckschloss.

And one small walk-on is reserved for the Director of the ICA, Blair Donwen. His name is an anagram of Daniel Brown.

In addition to Mr. Carter, two singers from the Metropolitan Opera's performance of Rossini's Barber of Seville are also real people: mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and tenor Barry Banks. They appear briefly in the scene where Dr. Dick, LauraLynn Sullivan and V.C. D'Arcy, chased by three ICA agents, find themselves on the stage of the Met during the finale of Act One of Rossini's opera in a scene intended to be reminiscent of the Marx Brothers' classic “A Night at the Opera.”

While this is – obviously – a work of fiction, many of the buildings and locations described in New York City are real. Not all of the details, however, are completely accurate because I'm not writing a “Lost Chord Tour Guide.”

And so, stay tuned for the first installment of... THE LOST CHORD.

- Dr. Dick

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bloomsday 2010

Who is that reading James Joyce's Ulysses?  
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BELLO
(savagely.) The nosering, the pliers, the bastinado, the hanging hook, the knout I'll make you kiss while the flutes play like the Nubian slave of old. You're in for it this time. I'll make you remember me for the balance of your natural life. (His forehead veins swollen, his face congested.) I shall sit on your ottomansaddleback every morning after my thumping good breakfast of Matterson's fat ham rashers and a bottle of Guinness's porter. (He belches.) And suck my thumping good Stock Exchange cigar while I read the Licensed Victualler's Gazette. Very possibly I shall have you slaughtered and skewered in my stables and enjoy a slice of you with crisp crackling from the baking tin basted and baked like sucking pig with rice and lemon or currant sauce. It will hurt you.

(He twists her arm. Bloom squeaks, turning turtle.)

BLOOM
Don't be cruel, nurse! Don't!
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James Joyce: Ulysses (p.532-533Modern Library Edition 1992)

Yes, it's June 16th again – Bloomsday! The day on which the action (if that's an appropriate term) in James Joyce's novel Ulysses originally took place in 1904.

And around this time of year, I try to read a little more of the novel. I'm not making much progress, over the years, sometimes barely remembering Bloomsday itself, but last week, I picked up my copy again and started where I had left off last year – p.424 – and last night made it to p.533, the passage quoted above.

I am now into one of the longer stretches of the book (it continues to p.609), the end of what Joyce marked as Part II and which, by those dividing the novel according to Homer's epic, is referred to as “Circe.”

For those who read a few lines and then think "shouldn't I be reading something that makes sense?" there's always Cliff's Notes... Here's their rendering of "Circe."

It is written as a “play-within-the-novel” complete with costume and character descriptions as well as stage action, but it is a surreal (or at least more surreal than normal) description of the late-night passage of Leopold Bloom and another main character, Stephen Dedalus, through a bawdy section of town known as “Nighttown,” including a visit to the local whore-house. In fact, the scene above takes place in the parlour: Bello originally appeared as Bella Cohen, “a massive whoremistress... dressed in a three-quarter ivory gown, fringed round the hem with tasselled selvedge, and cools herself, flirting a black horn fan like Minnie Hauch in Carmen”) but changed gender somehow after Bloom had a diaglogue with the fan and then the heel of her foot, subsequently changing gender himself. In the inner reaches of his mind and imagination, so far in this play, he has been brought up before the court as a pervert for writing nasty letters to women of social standing (replete with masochistic asides), sent off to be executed, then crowned ruler of Ireland and becoming increasingly god-like (“Bloom assumes a mantle of cloth of gold and puts on a ruby ring. He ascends and stands on the stone of destiny... The peers do homage, one by one, approaching and genuflecting”) before he is pilloried for being a womanizer and set on fire but, it turns out, this is all a 20-page fantasy going on in his mind while he's berating Zoe, one of the prostitutes, for smoking a cigarette.

You can read two previous Bloomsday posts - 2008 and 2009.

WBAI continues its 32-year tradition of live on-air celebrations of Bloomsday. In fact at 10pm EDT, you can hear the “Circe” chapter with female impersonator Charles Busch taking on the role(s) of Madame Bella Cohen.

The broadcast, which includes related poetry and songs as well as readings of Joyce's letters to his lover Nora who inspired the character of Bloom's wife, will end with Molly Bloom's soliloquy (performed by Galway native Caraid O'Brien) as she's lying in bed, thinking about her lovers, her husband, her children and her stalled artistic career. It's 45 pages of Joyce's classic “stream-of-consciousness” but contains only eight sentences.

WNYC will also broadcast its own celebration of Bloomsday live from the Symphony Space on Broadway where Stephen Colbert will be one of the readers (in a New York Times article, Mr. Colbert admitted in an e-mail message that “Performing ‘Ulysses’ on Bloomsday at Symphony Space is the only way I’ll ever finish the damn book”)

It also begins at 7pm and will include several excerpts from the book as well as parallel passages from Homer's Odyssey.

Though Molly's orgasmic monologue (“performed by Fionnula Flanagan in a prodigious performing feat that lasts two and a half hours.”) will occur (unedited) well after midnight, the station mentions that “James Joyce’s classic novel, Ulysses, contains language and concepts that may not be suitable for younger listeners.” (No doubt...)

But it does remind me of the famous United States District Court case when obscenity charges were filed against the periodical in 1922 after they had begun serializing excerpts from the book four years earlier. The court's lawyers described the book as being "the work of a disordered mind," but that was another matter... Anyway, the initial trial delayed the publication of the complete book in the United States until 1933 when Random House challenged the decision in court. Judge John Woolsey wrote in his decision that while using familiar "old Saxon words," the work was not intended to be obscene according to the laws of the United States since it did not intend to titillate and "nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac" (I am trying to imagine a whole generation of American boys growing up with wild sexual fantasies resulting from their reading James Joyce's Ulysses...). Within minutes of hearing Judge Woolsey's ruling, Random House began preparing the first publication of the work which became available in January, 1934, twenty years after Joyce began writing the novel and almost 12 years after it was first published in France by an ex-patriot publisher.

You can find out more about Bloomsday on Broadway at symphonyspace.org and you can listen to it on-line, starting at 7pm EDT, at wnyc.org.

Incidentally, if you're not one to try reading it yourself, there's a complete audiobook edition from Naxos read by Jim Norton and Marcella Riordan (there was an earlier abridged edition released in 1994, so be sure you get the unabridged recording released in 2004). It's 22 CDs and takes over 27 hours to listen to so I'm not sure you'd want to try it all in one sitting. The "Circe" Chapter I mentioned above begins at Disc 13, cut 6 and continues through Disc 16, cut 8.

So a Happy Bloomsday to all and to all, good reading (or listening)!

In the photograph, btw, that's Marilyn Monroe, reading Molly Bloom's soliloquy from James Joyce's Ulysses.

- Dr. Dick

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Lost Chord: Finishing the Rough Draft

UPDATE: You can now read the novel as it's serialized on this blog.

Yesterday, I finished the rough draft of “The Lost Chord,” my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Chord” – a total of 473 pages and 183,365 words. Officially, I started writing it on November 1st, 2009, and finished 64,038 words as part of the NaNoWriMo Challenge, to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November, National Novel Writing Month. I kept going for a couple more days and then put it aside to get back to work on the song cycle I was composing at the time, “The Other Side of Air.” When that was finished on March 1st, I decided to return to the novel and, with any luck, finish it but without the daily tally of words working toward a monthly goal. Working fairly steadily on it, though sometimes reaching a speed bump here, a brick wall there, sometimes taking a day or three off to allow things to gestate, I managed to complete the first step of the process of writing a novel yesterday morning.

Now that the rough draft is done, it's time to go back and do a few re-writes – filling in a couple of sections where I left minor details go or where, as things tend to evolve when characters begin to develop more on their own, going back to correct some details or clarify some back-story. Then of course there's the issue of simple editing – finding a better word, tightening up a phrase, fleshing out one thing or trimming the fat off another, making sure the characters' names are spelled the same way, the eyes haven't changed color and that verbs agree with nouns.

Soon, I will start posting it on-line at Thoughts on a Train where it will be accessible through a special link, a page that will include just the installments of the novel. There will also be “continued from” and “continued to” links in each post for ease of navigation so if you miss a couple of posts, it will be fairly painless to catch up.

There are 24 chapters in all but some of them are quite long. I'd like to keep the posts between 2,000 to 5,000 words each, so the chapters will be broken up into more convenient post-sized segments.

And what if you haven't read Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol”?

Never fear – I tried to make my story complete in itself so that you can still follow it as a story on its own. Of course, the element of parody – and not just with Brown's novel – is very strong throughout, so if you have read it, you will enjoy another element of it beyond the surface level of the story.

The Schoenberg Code,” my serial novel in 12 chapters about a serial killer inspired by a secret message found in a score by a serial composer, was a parody of Brown's earlier “The Da Vinci Code,” the element of parody was more broad: his story suggested a parallel story that loosely followed the original plot. That parody – only about 45,000 words – was written differently, as well: the first chapter (originally all I had intended) was a spoof of the novel's opening scene and the movie's trailer, but several people enjoyed it so much they said I should do the whole story. So over the course of the remaining weeks before the movie came out, I wrote the rest of it on the installment plan, reading a few chapters and then turning that into my parody of it, posting each chapter as I went along. So basically, I had no idea how the novel would end until I got there.

With “The Lost Symbol,” I read the whole book – got it the day it was released and finished it in less than four days – then started outlining it, chapter by chapter (and there are 133 short chapters plus a prologue and epilogue, a challenge to keep track of but convenient for short attention spans and for converting into a film script). However, I was busy working on the songs at the time and didn't want to put that aside until I could safely take a break, and that coincided with National Novel Writing Month which began on November 1st. The curious thing, the story takes place on November 4th, so there were details I would need to know which hadn't happened yet. Of course, now, seven months later, I'm trying not to include details that have happened since then – nothing topical either in the arts or in the current news – because, looking back on the day it took place, all that would be in the future.

As I was reading the book, I took some notes, jotted down some ideas, came up with some plot points and character names. Though all the main characters are fictional, I knew once I got to the chapters with the old, blind Dean of the National Cathedral, a very key figure in the unwinding of the plot, I would make an exception. While almost everybody and everything in Brown's novel would have its “musical equivalent” in my version of the story, and instead of Masons and masonic mysteries I would be dealing with composers and musical secrets, the elder Mason at the cathedral would become senior composer Elliott Carter who, a month later, would be celebrating his 101st birthday. The scenes with him involve two new compositions he was working on at the time- the wind quintet “Nine by Five” which was eventually premiered in February of 2010 and the song cycle “What Are Years” which will be premiered later this summer. At the time I was writing the scene with him, the quintet had just been premiered and while I knew the song cycle was being premiered, I didn't know when it was written. As it turned out, I found a reference to it that he was working on it in November and December, so I went back and altered a detail that involved a flash of inspiration that was originally to go into the quintet but now became something “for a new song cycle.”

And of course, I didn't want to put words in Mr. Carter's mouth where the conversation around the plot-points focused on composition and creativity, so I adapted ideas and lines found in numerous interviews – of which there were many during his Centennial Year – and found additional details about the setting from Frank Scheffer's wonderful documentary on the composer, “A Labyrinth of Time.”

This shows the composer at work at his desk with frequent glances out the windows of the apartment he'd lived in since the mid-1940s with its skyline view including the World Trade Center and then, later, somewhat ominously, without it. In terms of what a composer's work-space would look like, there was factual documentation. In terms of a realistic location, I didn't want to give away Carter's actual address, of course – unlike Brown who sets up his novels with the accuracy of a tour-guide, down to the street addresses (the unnamed building which later becomes an important plot-point is introduced on page 1 as a “colossal edifice, located at 1733 Sixteenth Street NW in Washington D.C.”) – but I knew about where it might be located from information in the DVD or in other sources that referenced it on-line. I only needed some vague mention of neighborhoods and subway lines that would get my characters within a few blocks of it.

While the premise of my parody is often comedic – with sub-parodies from the Marx Brothers' film, 'A Night at the Opera' or a reworking of Abbott & Costello's “Who's on First” routine, not to mention most of the characters' names – it also gets into a serious story, discussing creativity and how composers might compose. As Brown gives many historical details about the ideas or buildings involved in his story, there are many details about mine that make it reasonable for someone who enjoys classical music to gain some insights into this whole mystery of creativity. Some of it is told with the same obfuscatory sense of mumbo-jumbo Brown sometimes employs but also, hopefully, with some illumination behind it so a reader might actually, well... appreciate the music a little more.

And if not, all is not lost: the names might appear kind of silly, but not understanding them doesn't mean you wouldn't get what's going on. I'm not a fan of the kind of “pop culture reference” – especially the dated ones – where names or facts are tossed off and if you don't get it, you're like “what the hell was that all about?”

Oh, and speaking of “what the hell,” thats' one of Brown's vastly overused locutions throughout the book. Some critics also complained about his use of italics which they seem to think was meant for emphasis but which anyone reading with half a brain (preferably their right brain) would realize were un-voiced thoughts. I mean, what the hell did they really think was going on, here?

One of the parodies, of course, is my hero. Since “The Schoenberg Code” was a kind of “Dr. Dick Mystery” where Brown's symbologist Robert Langdon was turned into my “altered ego,” Dr. Dick, I ended up continuing the role in the newer novel. In a way, the Dr. Dick in these novels is a caricature of myself, the know-it-all fact-dropping pseudo-intellectual 'expert' that began life when I was a grad-assistant at the Eastman School of Music and developed further while I was teaching at the University of Connecticut, long before it was turned into my on-air persona when I worked for the local public broadcasting station here in Central Pennsylvania. Curiously, he never actually succeeds in accomplishing anything during the course of “The Lost Chord,” much less actually in solving the mystery, but then much the same could be said for Don Giovanni in Mozart's opera, but I digress...

In Brown's novel, Robert Langdon quipped to a student that “googling was not the same as research,” so naturally I used Google and plundered Wikipedia for practically every detail in my story that was not based on personal memory or first-hand knowledge. This involved what was going on in New York the night the story takes place – everything from the Yankees winning the World Series to watching video scenes from 'The Barber of Seville' or 'A Night at the Opera,' to checking maps and looking at google-cams for street views around Lincoln Center. Considering my experience in New York City since I lived there between 1978 and 1980 was limited to a very few visits since then (and other than the occasional concert run-in, so to speak, only one extended visit since 2001), I needed not only to refresh my memory but also to up-date it with what a current visitor in the city might see. At one point, I referenced a building in the Columbus Circle area that I remembered well, having walked past it frequently before, only to discover in an article about something else completely that the building in question had been torn down some 25 years ago...

On May 15th, I made another of those quick in-and-out day-trips, this time a locally organized on-your-own bus-trip that happily coincided with a performance of Alban Berg's “Lulu” I wanted to see at the Metropolitan Opera House. I met my friend Dan who guided me around Lincoln Center in the brief time we had before and after the performance, who pointed out what was new and different in the on-going restorations there but also remembering “this wasn't open in November” or “I think that was already done by early November.”

We checked out the block where I'd originally planned on locating the villain's brownstone but once I saw it, I realized there were so few of them there, it would almost be like giving the address – not that I would expect fans taking “The Lost Chord Tour” would be bothering people who lived in the only brownstone on that block. But, in walking back to Broadway, we checked out a block of W.69th Street. Here were a whole bunch of brownstones including a few that were not brown but gray which prompted Dan to say “so you could call it a flintstone instead” – perfect, considering one of my villain's many disguises was the composer Dr. Iobba Dhabbodhú!

Since the street-cams always showed details I needed covered by a passing city bus or a parked moving van, there were things I had to check personally. One of those was Verdi Square which I didn't even know had been Verdi Square all those times I walked past it at 72nd & Broadway! Looking at the map, I had assumed there was an entrance to the park on the southeast corner, so there was a very major clue that I set up with that in mind. Well, I was very disappointed that the park itself is actually so small, it's just a plot of green (more daffodil leaves than grass) completely fenced in by a wrought-iron railing so the whole idea of having someone going in to walk around the park and the Verdi statue was impossible.

There were also things that were completely inaccurate, due to lack of on-line information: the maps I found about the “concourse” level of Lincoln Center still baffle me since I think there were references to the Lincoln Center corporate offices being located under the fountain and there were blocks underneath the various buildings that were either basements of those buildings or a whole underground system of storage rooms (one article mentioned a Met rehearsal room on the third basement level). So I created this whole subterranean network of storage pods and scene shops that, if they didn't exist, should have.

When I found mention that the actual scene-building shop was on the fourth floor above the Met stage, I had to convert the shop I'd created underneath the Met lobby area into a scene storage room where already completed sets for up-coming productions were held until they were needed. So it will take a little bit of rewriting to bring it closer in line with what might be reality. There wasn't time to take a back-stage tour to get the official lay-of-the-land but I figured, what the hell – some things would be more visible as verisimilitude and others, less important, could be fictionalized. Considering what was going to be happening in this story, how likely was it someone would say “this couldn't have happened” because there were no storage facilities or empty space for LauraLynn's research lab underneath the Met?

And I didn't really want to start e-mailing the information desk at the public library next to the Met, asking about things like “is there access to the Met's roof” (where a violinist had been murdered back in 1980, so obviously, yes there was, but how would one get there?) or “would it be possible to knock out part of the Met's back wall along Amsterdam Avenue using a small bomb exploding in the basement?” Even if I tried to explain what I was doing, how long do you think it would take for the FBI to show up on my doorstep?

As it was, after I took a quick walk through the first floor of the library there, I said to Dan as we left through the lobby, “great – they even have a freight elevator right there” but which could, I imagine, have been misunderstood by the security guard standing behind me. Fortunately, I hadn't added something like “to get the body down from the roof”...

Now, I'm sure Dan Brown spent lots of time doing research – perhaps even had a staff of researchers running down such details for him – but part of the fun of writing this was finding all the information I needed on-line. It was also interesting to realize, even though I'm not writing historical fiction which ought to have some semblance of factuality in its locations, how much I really should have been paying attention to such things when I was walking around there. It would be so much easier just to create an entirely fictional city as I'd tried to do in an early and still unfinished novel.

Still, having read Brown's book through once and then rereading each chapter as I was preparing my parody, I still wasn't sure how the story would actually end – I mean, what the musical equivalent would be of this segment or that idea.

At one point, though it had no parallel in Brown's story, I interpolated a scene that was parodied from James Joyce's “Ulysses.” This may seem a far stretch, considering the pop culture references or the general populist nature of Brown's books. But as I had already turned one climactic scene into a parody combining the interview between the Devil and the fictional composer Adrian Leverkühn in Thomas Mann's “Dr. Faustus” along with the famous chess game with Death in Bergman's “The Seventh Seal,” at some point I needed something to be going through the villain's mind as he was preparing for the high-point of the story, the dastardly deed itself (so to speak) but which, in an interesting turn, could be considered a mash-up of things going through three different characters' minds at the same time. The line in Brown was a Latin phrase – “Verbum significatium, verbum omnificum” – but what popped into my head, needing something musical, was actually a line from James Joyce – “the ineluctable modality of the visible” – which I turned into “the ineluctable tonality of the audible.” This famous line begins what is actually the 'third chapter' of “Ulysses” called 'Proteus' by editors pointing out the parallels between Homer's “Odyssey” and Joyce's day-in-the-life of Dublin, June 16th 1904.

Now, as it turned out, Proteus is a shape-shifter, the Old Man of the Sea in Greek mythology. Considering all the transformations the villain undergoes in Brown's story, a reference to Proteus seemed rather apt though not something I'd care to over-do. (Another coincidence: my villain is also known as Tr'iTone after the musical interval often called 'The Devil in Music' and Proteus is related to the Tritons of Greek myths.)

More importantly, one of the final moments involves Langdon's epiphany with the phrase, “E pluribus unum.” Even as I started writing that chapter, I still had no idea how I would parallel this line. Eventually, I brought back the ineluctable tonality of the audible, turning “tonality” into a term that was usually misunderstood from its original meaning (however specious it might be in my instance), as Brown had pointed out with both “apocalypse” and “atonement.”

Another crucial elusion – that is, something that continued to elude me up to the very last minute – was Brown's “The secret is knowing how to die” which figures not only in a key scene between the villain and his chief victim, but is actually the opening line of “The Lost Symbol.”

I think I had taken a two-day hiatus from writing “The Lost Chord” while I tried to figure this out before I could move ahead. In the midst of something else entirely, it occurred to me how the 19th Century imagined the “suffering artist” – Beethoven going deaf, Schubert dying at an early age – when I realized my line should be “the secret is knowing how to suffer.”

Having now gotten over several log-jams blocking the ending of the book, I was finally able to finish the epilogue – which still took several days because, as a summary of many of the philosophical aspects concerning creativity in my book, it was trying to turn itself into a summary of Alex Ross's “The Rest Is Noise” – and then go back to write the brief prologue.

And so it has come full circle.

And today I'm sitting here realizing "I just finished writing a novel!" What the hell...?