Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dad's Roses

It sounds odd, calling them “Dad’s Roses,” considering my father had little to no interest in the yard and probably hated mowing the grass almost as much as I did when I was a kid. It was my maternal grandmother who grew roses – one, I remember especially, climbing over a trellis, a beautiful Peace Rose.

These roses, though, came from a bush N’s mother planted 23 years ago, taking a cut rose from the casket spray when my father was buried in July, 1985. Never mind that the rose sat forgotten on the back seat of the car for most of a broiling summer day after the funeral, but given her over-achieving green thumb, she stuck it in the ground anyway and put a jar over it. The next year, there were three blossoms on it on the first anniversary of Dad’s death. The bush has never done really well, and sometimes the deer, chomping their way through the back yard, managed to eat all the buds.

This year, however, there were three blossoms and two buds which barely survived a pretty nasty rainstorm last week.

I was thinking of taking them over to the cemetery but thought I’d like to enjoy them here. I’m not a great believer in graveside visits, anyway – they’re not really there: they’re wherever I am, in my heart, and certainly here, all over this house.

So for the past week, the roses have been kept in the only safe, cat-proof place I have – the refrigerator. They were a little past their prime even when they arrived, but that’s not what counts, for me. Having them is another memory, a connection with the past.

When they fall apart and the petals have dropped, I will dry them, then place them in a bowl, scattering some of them over the grave.

N’s mother died four years ago this month herself, so she wasn’t here to rescue a rose from my mother’s casket spray. I think we tried ourselves, but none of them made it. The one connection like that I have with my mom is the red peony by the back door, grown from a stalk she’d gotten from her folks when they moved into their first house in 1946, divisions from the plants my mother grew up with in the backyard of what was her mother’s first house. That means they were planted probably around 1919 or so. This year, barely hanging in there, the peony didn’t produce a single bud: maybe next year when the original plant might be celebrating its 90th birthday.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

One Big Step for Dr. Dick, One Small Step for Radio

Since it’s now in the Patriot-News today and on yesterday, it’s time to post about it here at Thoughts on a Train.

When people asked me what I did for a living, I used to say “I stand in a small room with carpeting on the walls and talk to myself all night.” At least until we moved into the new fishbowl of a control room at WITF’s new building with all its glass.

It was only supposed to be a temporary gig, when I became the evening announcer at WITF-FM 18 years ago. After leaving the Harrisburg Symphony where I was assistant conductor, orchestra (and personnel) manager, presenter of pre-concert talks and, among other things, the voice for the symphony’s preview interviews on WITF-FM in the mid-80s, I worked at B.Dalton’s, the bookstore in Strawberry Square, for five months until WITF’s station manager Wick Woodford walked by one afternoon, surprised to see me, and talked to me about an opening they had for an evening announcer. I said, “sure, I’ll come out for an interview.” I knew nothing about radio and less about the technology but I knew my classical music pretty well and figured I could manage that for a while.

That was in 1990. A few years later, I started thinking it was time to move on: I’d been shot down for a couple of teaching jobs because I already had my doctorate and was probably too expensive for these colleges – not that they asked: they both hired younger composers just finishing up their Masters degrees. The department secretary at one of them even told me, “unless you have a letter in your file from Aaron Copland, they’re probably not even going to consider you,” so I said “well, I know George Crumb, is he big enough for you?” Huh...

Then Wick told me he was making me the Music Director for FM. I didn’t want the job. I wanted to get back to teaching and mostly to composing. But it was too easy to stay and the other teaching jobs turned out to be farther and farther away. I was born and raised here and didn’t want to leave my mother alone as she got older: she was settled in her house, the one I grew up in (and the one I’m now living in) and was not eager to follow me anywhere or to move to Rochester to be closer to my brother. Over the next few years, weeks became months became years and suddenly I’d been at WITF 10 years. Then 15 years.

Changes were made, there were issues to deal with, personal contretemps that fired up into nasty office politics, people came and went, often unceremoniously. There were several times I felt I had to get out of there for one reason or another, often just to keep soul in line with body. During the ‘90s, the easiest way for corporations to balance the budget seemed to be by firing people before the fiscal year ended: to this day, many of us regard June 30th with a sense of dread.

But I enjoyed bringing good quality classical music to listeners in Central Pennsylvania, talking to them while taking their requests on Wednesday nights, tracking down a recording of something they’d heard and wanted to add to their own library, running into them out in public. Judging from many of the comments I’d gotten from people, what they liked most was learning a little something about the music, what was going on in the composers’ lives at the time they wrote it, realizing they were not just marble busts but real people, too.

For a while, we did an on-air “module” called Concertos to Kazoos, a kind of “Ask Dr. Dick” where originally listeners could send in questions about classical music that devolved into funny shticks with no real educational value but sometimes could still be fun. That was how “Dr. Dick” came to WITF-FM – we needed a radio-persona style nickname for me and Cary Burkett suggested this one – which I said was fine with me: students of mine at UConn called me that back in the ‘70s. I think one of my Eastman students called me that even before the Dr. became official..

Then came the blog, starting in December of 2004. 364 posts later, it’s now closed and the links on the WITF website have been removed. You can still find it by googling it, but I’m sure it will soon disappear into the Limbo of Dead Blogs. I plan on continuing some of the threads here – especially information about up-coming performances or maybe writing ‘reviews’ [sic] about ones I attend. So if you’ve found Thoughts on a Train, please spread the word around to your friends and link to me on your blog!

It was always important to me to get listeners out to hear live music, and it was great to be able to program an evening’s music on the radio where every piece would have some tie-in to an up-coming performance in the region, whether it was one of the area’s orchestras, a program at Gretna Music or Market Square Concerts or a recital at a college or church: “here’s music you can hear live in the area” was one way I could tie the classical music in with life as we know it here at home. The News Guys can do that easily: they’re reporting the news, after all, but classical music is usually just seen as this lump of old stuff that people put on so they can sit back and watch their fish tanks. I liked having it a little more integrated into the community, reflecting the many (if not always varied) experiences that can enrich our lives and also support our local arts groups.

As it became less important to the radio business in general, it became more difficult to make it work for me, personally. It’s happening around the country: what’s been going on here is just part of the problem classical music on the radio has nationwide, in fact part of the problem the Arts in general are having nationwide. Usually, I’m not one to say “Classical Music Is Dying” because, first of all, they were crying about that when I was a kid. But as educational programs in the schools diminish or disappear, the future audiences for these groups diminishes with them.

It doesn’t take much, though, for a single experience, one simple unexpected encounter, to change something for one individual.

There was a recital by the Harrisburg Players Collective at the Fredericksen Library in Camp Hill one afternoon, and I remember seeing a mother with her young son – maybe 5 or 6? – walking around behind the two musicians who were playing at the time. The boy hung back, his mother reached back to take his hand and lead him out to the circulation desk, ready to check out an arm-load of books. But he still hung back and so she put the books down, sat down on a chair and held him on her knee so he could see better. You often see looks on children’s faces of such intensity and awe, and this was one of those moments I wish I had a camera. That was probably five or six years ago and I wonder if that boy is taking violin lessons now, inspired by that chance encounter because his mom took him to the library (a good sign to begin with) at just that moment. Not that he has to become a musician – whether he does or not is not the point. His life may be enriched by the discovery of this whole world of music whether he pursues it as a career or not. After all, musicians – and radio stations – need audiences.

When I was told at a staff meeting earlier this year that, as the industry continues to evolve and WITF with it, “perhaps you won’t be on-air anymore, maybe you’ll be working on educational projects,” I said, “okay, let’s talk.” After 18 years, I was up for a change and going out to schools and various public groups to talk about the music I love seemed a good fit, perhaps offering some music appreciation courses for students and adults at the Public Media Center, continuing as I had done with “Opera Outreach” in years past, talking to kids about how you turn stories into operas.

Talking about this with some of the musicians in the community, there was a good deal of excitement about the possibilities. But the interest at WITF was not forthcoming – a simple exploratory meeting could not be scheduled over a period of three months because the other two were so busy – and so the predictable finally came to pass.

On Thursday, June 19th, five weeks after I’d started getting “the drift” – you know how you can sense these things – my employment with the company was terminated.

By that time, the only thing left to clear out of my desk was my own CD player/radio and my personal special backless chair which I needed for my back trouble: most everything else had been taken home or tossed out in a slow spring cleaning that began even before mid-May (when my friend and colleague John Clare left to take his current job in San Antonio). When I mentioned that that day, someone said to someone else, “and you thought he was just being tidy.” (Dr. Dick is never “tidy.”)

I’m not sorry it happened. I am sorry I didn’t have a chance to say good-bye to my listeners, to my readers at Dr. Dick’s Blog or to the colleagues I’d worked with during those 18 years.

Friends and people I don’t know have told me they’ll stop contributing to WITF as a result. I can’t say that’s a good idea: if you still listen, I still feel you should support the station to the level that you value it. If donations are withheld, it only increases the risk classical music will be lessened or even replaced with something less to your liking (they tell me that’s not the case: “WITF remains committed to classical music”). If you choose to no longer listen to the station, you’re missing reports from the great FM News Team and their perspectives on life in Central PA. But everybody has to make that decision for themselves.

As the quote from Henri Bergson at the top of this blog states – “To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly” – change happens to everyone and every thing. Change can go in different directions, for better or worse, but we all have to deal with it. Like aging, the alternative is often not so good.

For me, right now, I’ve got a job to find, but in the meantime, I want to settle in on this new violin and piano piece. It’s just what I happen to be writing now, nothing momentous, just something more realistic than a symphony or an opera. But it’s a good time to concentrate on it. I’ll be blogging about that as I have before.

So check back.

Dr. Dick, a.k.a. Dick Strawser

Saturday, June 21, 2008

An Inconvenient Truth: Thinking Outside the Vox

It’s been a busy and, in some ways, exciting but not unexpected week. Now that I have some free time to myself, I’m very much looking forward to getting some serious work done on the new violin and piano piece (a.k.a. Chaconne). It will be nice not to have to deal with workplace White Noise any more and even though I may have to look at the calendar to figure out which day it is, that is not a bad trade-off. I’m looking forward to a more leisurely and creative summer, job-hunting aside.

In the meantime, I plan to maintain this as it always has been, my personal blog which I started almost two years ago. For those of you who found me through my former company blog, I will continue here with many of the same topics – including what’s going on in the area (and perhaps reviews-after-a-fashion of some that I get to attend – now that I have more time to do so) mixed in with posts about creativity in general or works I’m composing specifically – maybe even do an on-line short-story or two.

My last post at my other blog was going to be an up-date to the one about turning books into operas since I had overlooked a very unlikely such translation – Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” being commissioned as an opera for La Scala – but unfortunately, my employment there was terminated before I could start it. So I will post it here.

Basically, my thoughts had been generated by reading two blog posts about “books into operas.” Well, one was a short story into an opera and the other the reaction of former co-workers to a tell-all book who, following the clearly official line, could certainly supply at least a scene for vocal treatment if not a complete opera.

The first, over at Decidedly Simple, concerned the slenderness of Annie Proulx’s short story, Brokeback Mountain, which had been turned into a much talked about, award winning and very popular movie and which has now been commissioned, by New York City Opera, to be turned into an opera by Charles Wuorinen. The question here, despite all the cyber-ink wafted around about it, is not why they commissioned Wuorinen, a composer not well known in the annals of the Standard American Way of Writing Accessible Populist Operas, in the first place, but how a story of bare essentials barely filling 30 pages in my edition (the concluding selection in Close Range: Wyoming Stories) is going to be turned into something that fills an operatic stage.

Alex Ross’s pointing out the speech patterns in the Talking Points Memo video, based on the official White House Reaction to Scott McClellan’s insider book, “What Happened,” could be instructive to a composer looking to set it to music. As Janacek had done, turning the speech patterns of his friends and neighbors in Moravia into musical patterns that he used when writing the opera Jenufa or the hard-to-describe song cycle, The Diary of One Who Vanished, one could take the repetition of certain words here (“puzzled” or “disappointed”) and, as I’d suggest, turn it into a minimalist ensemble as several characters get together to comment on the plot of McClellan’s book like a Greek Chorus. One could, in fact, call it “The Spinning Quintet” or some such thing.

What I had overlooked in mentioning these in a previous post was the news that came out of Italy late in May, that composer Giorgio Battistelli (a name unknown to me) had been commissioned to write an operatic setting of Al Gore’s book about Global Warming, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Now, I haven’t seen the movie based on it – a documentary to some, “science fiction” to others, depending on which side of the bird you’re on – but its material could certainly support a musical setting as a “cantata” or “oratorio” much in the way Michael Tippett turned some of his concerns into a riveting musical work for chorus, orchestra and soloists written for the Boston Symphony called “The Mask of Time” (alas, the recording seems once again to be out-of-print). But an opera? Something staged? With a plot?

After having resumed reading James Joyce’s Ulysses this past Bloomsday, I had questioned how something like this could be made into an opera, but of course no sooner having said that, the problem turned itself into a challenge and I began seeing how it could, in fact, and perhaps very successfully. It would not be a typical plot-centered traditional opera but then since it’s not a plot-centered traditional novel, why would it not work in the opera house, with a little imagination? Alas, copyright issues aside, I have neither the time nor the luxury of doing it myself, but that’s another matter.

It was amusing to find John Tierney’s hysterical article at the International Herald Tribune website, imagining a letter from composer Battistelli responding to Al Gore’s comments about this project for “An Inconvenient Truth.” Of course, the idea is to create a traditional, old-fashioned (even Baroque) plot with allegorical figures (oh, did I mean that as a pun? sorry...), representing different aspects of the subject matter personified (Petroleo and Carbonia, for instance). But that is, of course, what opera WAS, not necessarily what it can be – hence the idea of “thinking outside the vox.” If you had a chance to see (or hear) Philip Glass’s Satyagraha at the Met, you can see how incredible something more abstract like the life and thoughts of Gandhi could be crafted into a moving work of art.

Rather than turning Gore’s collected tables and statistics into sung text, it can still form the basis for a dramatic as well as musical argument. After all, the play “A Walk in the Woods” is not a setting of some government White Paper but a fictionalized account of what might have occurred between two diplomats during the Cold War.

Clearly, one is only limited by one’s imagination – or lack of it.

- Dr. Dick

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Yesterday was Bloomsday, the day on which James Joyce’s novel Ulysses takes place.

All day long, I kept thinking “today’s some day, some anniversary, some...” and I went through birthdays and anniversaries of friends and family, of things that may have happened in my own life on June 16th, but couldn’t associate anything with it. Then, when I was clicking through a few of the blogs I check regularly (if not daily), I landed on Soho the Dog’s picture of Critic-at-Large Moe on the beach with a description of a dog running on the beach. I went from thinking “wow, Matthew’s really changed his literary style” to “this style is too much like James Joyce,” something I thought I’ve read before. And then at the end, he attributes the quote to Joyce, from Ulysses. Aha, then it dawned on me.

When I was teaching at UConn, I spent part of a summer reading James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and actually made it past page 200 before thinking, “ya know...?” and put it aside. I had read some of Dubliners, most of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and had started Ulysses several times, each time getting a little further into it. The problem is, usually I’m in more of a Henry James mood than a James Joyce mood and the two do not mix very well. In fact, during a round of would-be-novel writing back in the ‘80s, I’d come up with a character (a would-be novelist) named Henry James Joyce, who found it difficult to write because of all these conflicting emotions and aesthetic ideals, unable to find some natural sense of voice and rhythm. But I digress...

Living in New York City back in the late-70s, I spent many a fine spring afternoon, an old tattered paperback copy of Ulysses in hand, lounging in Central Park or Riverside, either on a park bench or stretched out on the grass, floating along on page after page of Joyce's unfurling mesmerizations. On one of those Bloomsdays, there was a marathon reading at a bookstore on Broadway called Bloomsday Books which was also broadcast live on (I think) WQXR. Richard Thomas had told me he would be reading one installment but I missed catching him either live or on the radio. The whole thing probably took 36 hours. Some of the day I spent at the store, some of it at home listening on the radio, some of it following along in the book. As a result, I found it easier to focus if I read out loud, then, something not always recommended even in Central Park (though today, it probably wouldn’t even gaurantee me a seat on the subway).

This spring, I’d begun Tolstoy’s War & Peace for the third time with the new Pevear / Volokhonsky translation. I’m not enjoying it much – mostly because the numerous paragraphs of French (and some German) are translated only in the footnotes, not in the actual text (because Tolstoy included these passages or expressions in their original languages himself). I find myself thinking I may switch over to Anthony Briggs translation instead. I am now over 200 pages into it and gearing up for the Battle of Austerlitz...

Without a lot of time for leisurely reading (or, when it is too leisurely late at night, staying awake), I’ve found if I read while using the treadmill, the one stone/two birds approach can be quite productive: I tend to read for longer stretches without interruption and I tend to walk more without getting bored. The book nests comfortably on the handles and a clip-on lamp allows for good lighting regardless of the time of day. One would assume, reading War & Peace on a treadmill, I should easily lose 15 pounds long before the war is over, but it doesn’t work quite that simply. Even as it is, I do aonly about 30 minutes, rarely 40-45, a day, but still, both exercises are good for me, much better than just putting on something to listen to, passively.

Walking was always something I enjoyed, especially on the back roads where I live now, or on the many trails through the woods around UConn. This was a great time to free the mind for creative work, eliminate the daily stress and the destructive influences of everyday reality. But I can’t stop on the treadmill to watch a bluebird or a butterfly (even though, looking out my windows, I can watch the chipmunks and the mourning doves on my porch without needing to stop) much less to jot down an idea or a phrase or some kind of reminder so that when I would get back to my piano I could pick up where my mind left off. The hope has been, after a good walk-think, I could sit down at the piano, my brain refreshed, and let everything pour forth.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Timing, first of all, is usually not on my side. With my afternoon work-shift, I don’t have the five hours of creative time I used to manage, going in later in the day. Quite frankly, the brain has been creatively comatose at the end of the day: even for the more mundane busy-work that is often an important part of composing, writing in the evening after dinner has been marked by a lack of focus. The next morning, I find I had made too many miscalculations or simple errors in judgment or just came up with something so really awful it was unusable.

So last night, I thought I would get out my copy of Ulysses – one I’d bought ten years ago and, this last time, made it to page 399 – wondering, even if I read just 15 pages every Bloomsday, “how old would I be if I lived to finish it?” Hmmm, June 16, 2034... Within minutes of settling into my favorite reading chair, I was surrounded by cats who, presumably, wanted to go along for the ride, but before I had managed to turn two pages, I was sound asleep, not even muttering, as had Molly Bloom on the final page,

"...yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."

- Dr. Dick

Friday, June 13, 2008


A couple of weeks ago, while unpacking some papers, I found something I had only glanced at in decades. It was always there on a shelf in my study but I just never bothered with it, a notebook that contained an unfinished work I’d started composing when I was in college. The music was one thing, the recollection of the time in which it was composed was, more importantly, another.

It was not my first opera. I had started one when I was still in high school and finished it during my freshman year in college. It never got performed but at least I completed it and wrote out the full score. This second one, not only incomplete, never got beyond the vocal score (more a rough draft “short score” written on two staves whether playable at the piano or not, with indications for subsequent orchestration). It’s a setting of Henrik Ibsen’s play, Ghosts, though as often happens in adaptations the title had been changed, why I’m not sure: instead of “Ghosts,” the past coming to haunt the present, I felt something more direct was needed, involving the main character.

The play is basically the story of Mrs. Alving, a well-to-do widow in a conservative Norwegian town who has discovered her son, a would-be artist (with all the pretensions accorded thereto) visiting home from Paris, exhibits many of the same personality traits she despised in her late husband. These ghosts, however, turn out to be more involved: the son has fallen in love, superficially at least, with the maid who, it turns out, is really the result of his father’s affair with a maid who’d worked for them shortly after his parents were married. The end of Act One, where I’d stopped composing, is her confrontation with the realization it’s happening again, catching her son and the young maid in the same situation (with the same dialogue) she had years before caught her husband in with the girl’s mother. But she hid it, kept it to herself, just distanced herself from her husband, maintaining the public veneer of a happily married couple. By the end of Act Two, Mrs. Alving is confronting something more than a ghost: her son (however suddenly) now exhibits symptoms of advanced syphilis, presumably something else he inherited from his father.

While the moral is often described as “the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons,” I felt the focus was really on Mrs. Alving’s confrontation, what the impact her past inaction had on not only her present but now her future: having lived with her husband and kept this a secret (as her pastor advised her), she now must face living with her son who has now been destroyed by that same secret (not that her actions, had she had the courage to change them, have had any effect on his growing up with an inherited disease, but the disease, really, is more symbolic than crucial to the plot, I guess).

Anyway, that’s why I chose to change the title to something I felt had more “punch” to it – at least from the late-60s’ standpoint. So I called it Through a Small Glass Darkly after the biblical expression in 1 Corinthians: we live with an imperfect perception of reality, but as we age (the preceding verse, “when I was a child, I spake as a child,” ends “but now that I am a man, I have put aside these childish things”) we discover things, looking in the mirror of our lives, and see them now differently than we saw them before. This seemed a suitable description of what was going on in Mrs. Alving’s soul – the “small glass” being one individual rather than the collective biblical one.

The irony, of course, is at 20 I could hardly have the accumulated wisdom or experience to understand the various implications of this story and saw merely an operatic story with an ironic twist at the end. Looking at it almost 40 years later was a rather startling experience.

In this mirror, as I sat there hearing this in my head probably for the first time since I stopped working on it, I heard reflected more of Berg’s Wozzeck and Britten’s Peter Grimes than I would care to – two operas that were then (and still are) among my favorite works. Aside from the dramatic musical gesture of a crashing chord spotlighting every exclamation point as if swatting at flies with heavy artillery, an aria for Pastor Manders, where he reminds Mrs. Alving of her past actions when she chose to leave her husband (“what right have we to happiness”) and how he guided her back to her path of duty as a wife, is set to an accompaniment of triads in contrary motion, moving through various dissonances to resolve hymn-like at the cadence, straight out of Ellen Orford’s scene in Act One of Peter Grimes, another biblical image beginning “Let her among you without fault / cast the first stone,” a parallel that I no doubt thought clever, considering how Manders had passed judgment on her as an erring wife and forced her back into society’s straight-jacket.

Here and there, sound-bytes imitating the town gossip in the opening scene of Grimes underscored the dialogue with the village carpenter who was passed off as the father of Captain Alving’s illegitimate daughter. But these ghosts I could dismiss as the learning experience of a young budding composer: it is rarely easy for an aging composer (having budded or not) to face youthful indiscretions, even successful ones.

Curiously, when I decided not to finish this – and why, I don’t really know – I ended up recycling the title, at least, for my next opera which was another examination of the biblical “I” facing reality, in this case what I called a “plotless life-cycle opera” as if someone were confronting their entire life and seeing it in a flash just before the moment of death (momento mori as opposed to memento mori), a collection of quotable quotes in a series of disconnected episodes. This one, however, did get staged when another composer on the faculty and I wrote chamber operas to inaugurate the University of Connecticut’s first opera workshop during the 1976 Bicentennial.

I suppose I should mark the earlier score and change the title back to Ibsen’s original, rather than have two works in my “catalogue” with the same title, as if there would be anyone who’d bother to be confused by that.

But sitting there with this score, then, I began thinking who I was at 20 compared to who I am now and what dreams I had then and what, if any, dreams were left. Ever since I was 5 or 6 years old, I wanted to be a musician and soon after that, realizing I wanted to be a composer, too. Having a composition performed by the Harrisburg Symphony when I was still in middle school and writing an opera before I graduated from high school, the dream of having an opera premiered at The Met, no less, by the time I was 50 was not unreasonable, then. However unrealistic it may have been is one thing, but it’s not a dream one can keep alive, especially now that 50 has long gone and I spent so many years not composing at all.

Redefining ones dreams, then, is a necessary part of life, adapting to the realities one sees in that mirror, darkly or otherwise (and don’t even get me started on aging). As a result, I went back to reading Harold Kushner’s “Overcoming Life’s Disappointments” which helped supply a certain amount of perspective – something always necessary for an individual who sometimes has trouble dealing with day-to-day reality. Granted, the book is primarily concerned with people facing divorce (like Mrs. Alving) or the death of a spouse, but a lot of it applies easily to people who have felt failure in this world that says “you didn’t win the silver, you lost the gold.” There is much to be said for the mid-life crisis – the real culprit, I would imagine, behind my 16-year writer’s block – and ones sense of self-confidence and accomplishment which can turn momentary setbacks into destructive lifetime failures. The process of even finding your bootstraps is difficult enough, but the risk of redefining yourself and getting beyond those setbacks is not much different than those faced by a habitual couch potato who decides to lose weight and start exercising.

This, I tell myself, is why I have been doggedly composing for the past few years, now, working at it as close to every day as possible: it is important to my soul, to defining who I am, but what I realized in the process of facing this 40-year-old piece, what I’m doing now is just composing, not really dreaming. And I need to have a dream, otherwise I’ll continue to do what I’ve done so often in my life: finish something, then put it away and start something else. For years, this has been enough.

But now I realize I must give myself time to dream – something more realistic than an opera at the Met, certainly – to give myself permission to dream and to not feel like a failure if it doesn’t happen.

Dr. Dick