Monday, March 29, 2010

Writing "The Lost Chord" - Parody of a Villain's Ritual

Though I haven't posted any of the material for “The Lost Chord” yet, the 'music appreciation thriller' I'm writing that's a parody of Dan Brown's novel “The Lost Symbol,” I thought I'd show you how it's going – and how I'm using the process of parody.

Having written some 64,000 words by the end of November toward NaNoWriMo's goal of 50,000, I was hoping, now that I've gotten back into it, to make it to 100,000 by the end of April, the second month I've been working on it. I could still make it. It's taken longer this time because (a) I'm not pushing myself as much as I was in November and (b) it needed more thought and research on details that I didn't have to deal with last fall, getting it started.

One of the biggest problems, of course, is finding musical equivalents of Brown's plot elements and props – especially the clues – and this scene stumped me when I first read it. I had thought of skipping it completely but I haven't done that with any of the other chapters so far and only with a few minor details. Then, over the weekend, it came time to do this scene or not. So I just plunged into it. And one by one, items started popping into my mind.

First, here's a preçis of Dan Brown's original scene, chapter 81 (p.301-303):

Mal'akh, the muscular tattooed villain of Brown's story, descends into the “subterranean space” that looked like a normal cellar – boiler, fuse box, wood-pile “and a hodge-podge of storage.” But “a sizeable area had been walled off for his clandestine practices,” a suite of smaller rooms, its sole entrance through a secret doorway in the living room.

The “largest room at the end of the corridor” of this suite was his “sanctum sanctorum,” a perfect 12-foot square (“12 are the signs of the zodiac. 12 are the hours of the day. 12 are the gates of heaven”) A 7'x7' stone table stood in the center (“7 are the seals of Revelation. 7 are the steps of the Temple”). Over the center of the table hung a “carefully calibrated light source” cycling every 6 hours through a specific ordering of colors according to the “sacred Table of Planetary Hours.” “The hour of Yanor is blue. The hour of Nasnia is red. The hour of Salam is white.”

Current time in Mal'akh's basement was Caerra – “the light in the room had modulated to a soft purplish hue.” He wore “only a silken loincloth wrapped around his buttocks and neutered sex organ” (this had been explained in a previous chapter about making sacrifices both of the blood and the personal variety). He is now ready to begin his ritualized preparations.

To sanctify the air, he mixes “the suffumigation chemicals” which he'll ignite later. He folds the silk robe he'll wear later as well, then purifies a flask of water.

(As I was reading this, I was so tempted to come up with a scene out of Julia Child...)

Then he opens an ivory box: nestled in “a cradle of black velvet” is the knife which cost him “$1.6 million on the Middle Eastern antiquities black market last year.” He doesn't at this point explain what the knife is, but I don't think I'll give anything away by explaining it will be revealed as the knife Abraham was prepared to slay Isaac with.

He polishes the blade with a silk cloth soaked in the purified water. Then Brown describes the Dark Arts that his villain is engaging in: “This primeval technology had once held the key to the portals of power” and so on.

(Mal'akh is after the “Ancient Mysteries” of the Masons; he knows of their stone pyramid which supposedly has a map guiding him to a location where these can be found: once in possession of them, he will become, essentially, Master of the Universe, or at least some god-like power beyond his wildest imagination.)

Then he turns to a piece of home-made vellum, a quill pen made from the feather of a crow, a silver saucer and three candles around a solid-brass bowl which contained an inch of “thick crimson liquid” (guess!).

This was the blood of Peter Solomon, the head of the American Masons and the man whose hand he had cut off to set both Brown's hero, Robert Langdon, and the plot in motion.

Mal'akh places his left hand on the vellum, dips the quill pen in the blood and traces the outline of his hand, adding the five symbols of the Ancient Mysteries on each fingertip:

The crown... the king he shall become
The star... the heavens which ordained his destiny
The sun... the illumination of his soul
The lantern... the feeble light of human understanding
The key... the one missing piece of information (the Lost Symbol) which, by the end of the night, he shall possess (if Robert Langdon is doing his job of deciphering the pyramid's map)

He then burns the vellum, adding the ashes to the remainder of the blood – see how well this'd work as a take-off of a cooking show?? – then stirred the mixture with the crow feather, creating a deep rich, nearly black ink.

Raising the bowl with the ink in it over his head, “intoning the blood eukharistos of the ancients," he pours it into a glass bottle, corks it and is now ready, when the time comes, to “inscribe the untattooed flesh atop his head and complete his masterpiece” (by which he means his body, every inch of which is covered from head to almost the crown of his shaved head with ritualistic tattoos).


First of all, aside from resetting the story from Washington DC and the United States Capitol to New York City and Lincoln Center, in my parody, Mal'akh becomes a similarly power-hungry villain named Tr'iTone, taken from the name for the interval of two pitches an augmented fourth or diminished fifth apart – say, C and F-sharp – called a Tritone, a very unstable interval that even in the medieval days when music theory was just beginning to be codified was called “Diabolus in musica” or “The Devil in Music.”

Once I figured how to turn Brown's Masons into Musicians – especially composers – my villain's quest would be to find a way of becoming the Greatest Composer in the World, this generation's answer to Beethoven. And he thinks Robertson Sullivan (my version of Peter Solomon) has the answers. Instead of a stone pyramid, there's a plastic bobble-head doll of Mozart (minus its head, just as Brown's masonic pyramid is minus its capstone).

Since Mal'akh perverts Masonic rituals into satanic ones for his evil ends, my Tr'iTone takes the spiritual quest to uncover your Inner Artist from Julia Cameron's wonderful book called “The Artist's Way” (which I worked my way through back in the mid-'90s) and perverts it into something comparably evil.

So here's my parody of this scene. [My interpolated explanations will be italicized in brackets].

I should mention that many critics complained about Brown's excessive use of italics in the text but he employs them for the characters unspoken thoughts, which is how I use them here.

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

Into the basement of his brownstone home on West 68th Street, Tr'iTone now descended careful not to make a sound or unnecessary gesture lest he upset the karmic flow around him. The lighting was a warm pastel shade mixing tints of magenta and brown with the music's slow pulsation which had already begun its gradual increase in speed. This was his “holy of holies,” his shrine to the pale-skinned Sarasvati, Queen of Heaven, Mother of Waters, the Hindu goddess of sensual love, creativity, beauty, art and music, creator of poetry, inventor of music and science and also the beverage Amrita, the 'drink of bliss,' a glass of which he held in his left hand.

A large velvet painting of her – a crescent moon on her forehead, riding on a peacock against a starry sequin-studded background that flowed from the myriad eyes of the peacock's tail – hung at one end of a twelve foot square space, the floor a pattern of square-foot tiles of various colors – twelve across and twelve down. (Twelve are the pitches of the chromatic scale, one for each hour of the day and one for each hour of the night.) Within the center of the square was a smaller square of seven tiles across and seven down, these colors darker, more intense. (Seven are the pitches of the diatonic scale. Seven are the days of the week.) In the center of this central square stood a smaller five-foot square table. (Five are the lines of the staff. Five are the... uhm... days of a normal work-week...)

Directly over the table hung an old plastic color-wheel from the psychedelic '70s, twelve panels of rainbow hues blending one into the other, which Tr'iTone had devised to rotate slowly to the hour hand of a clock. When it was noon or midnight, the color was bright red; the panel gradually blended to orange, the color of 1:00, and then to yellow for 2:00 and so on through the spectrum of green, blue, purple, magenta and brown till it was back to red.

This clock was coordinated with a CD-player that played continuously one of his finest creations, a series of slow-moving chord progressions played on a synthesizer, pulsating chords around a tonic center that repeated various pitch and rhythmic patterns, expanding from the lowest registers until, in a gradual crescendo and accelerando, it climbed to the very highest registers where, during the last quarter of the hour, it gradually filled out to the widest possible range of man's hearing before modulating climactically to the next hour, the new key.

Even though, like perfect pitch, Tr'iTone himself did not possess it, he felt the power of synesthesia, the ability some people have to see colors when they hear music. Each hour was associated with a different color and a different tonality, beginning with a darker shade of its color, the chord progression starting in the minor mode of its key. But halfway through the hour, the color would lighten and the music changed to the major mode. And so his clock reflected this. 12:00 was red which to many synesthetes was the key of C; 1:00 was orange and the key of G; 2:00 became yellow and the key of D. And so on through the entire span of time, the entire range of keys.

He called this composition of his La belle horloge de couleurs cèlestes, “The Beautiful Clock of Celestial Colors.” He had thought of hiring a symphony orchestra to record the piece for him in its entirety but union regulations precluded a twelve-hour service without breaks and he didn't want to have any edits that would minimize its spiritual impact. So while settling for a midi-version of it, he found it also made it easier to record and connect the different sections on his computer. Like all of his latest music, it still awaited its first public performance. He had even made a shortened version where, if you didn't take all the repeats, it would be only two hours long. He had sent the score to John Tesh but never heard back from him, not even the courtesy of “thank you for your wonderful score but at this time we are not looking for a twelve-hour-long work for full orchestra.” Still, Tr'iTone was convinced it would have been an epic presentation on a PBS fund-raising special.

Now was the Hour of B-flat, still in the minor mode. Dressed in his ritual boxers with a pattern of crowns and stars and smiling suns, he took his glass of Amrita – the “drink of bliss” concocted from Sarasvati's recipe freshly and carefully prepared exactly a week ago and left to ferment in the refrigerator for the requisite seven days – and drank it slowly to begin his ritual.

On the table before him were a metal box, a little lantern, a small clay pot with a miniature rose bush growing in it, a small photograph in a black wooden frame, a piece of paper on a deep blue china plate and a small dark cup, like one you might use to wash your eye with. Next to that was a small glass bottle like one you might find in any old European apothecary shop, its glass stopper carefully held in place with a red ribbon. Last was a bowl, its exterior plated in gold and quite aged, possibly even cracked, but no matter: it was empty – for now. [A tangential reference to Henry James' final novel, The Golden Bowl.]

He did not yet open the metal box. He did not need to, to admire its contents.

The pen.

After spending nearly a decade tracking it down, he had paid over $1 million for it at the black market arts fair held in Vienna last year. He wondered when the last time was that it had been used to write anything down?

He opened the box and took out the pen that had been carefully wrapped in a square of rich red velvet and a swatch of ermine, wiping it clean with a small scrap cut from a pair of lederhosen dipped in tap-water he had brought back from Vienna years ago and kept in a special air-sealed bottle in his refrigerator until this very moment in time.

[The pen will turn out to be one of the first steel-tipped pens ever made. It was manufactured in Birmingham, England, in 1803, and was given as a gift by Prince Lichnowski to his friend (and tenant) Ludwig van Beethoven. After a spat with the prince, though, Beethoven threw the pen in his waste basket where it was rescued by his student Ferdinand Ries – the story will continue from there in a later segment... While the pen could've been real, that Beethoven had been given one is a fiction. But the timing and the characters involved are all real and thus create a probable context for this historical fiction.]

Next, he examined the sheet of paper on the china plate. This, he sighed, was not just any piece of paper: it was an ancient manuscript written on vellum, hand-made by monks from the skin of a baby calf. In turn, he checked the other items, giving the eye-cup a careful look, swirling it and sniffing its bouquet as if it were a fine red wine.

But it wasn't a centuries old vintage of wine. When he was in Vienna, he'd thought of trying to buy the last remaining bottle from the collection Beethoven's publisher had sent the dying composer in 1827, but it was Mosel wine, Beethoven's favorite white wine, and Tr'iTone would have preferred a deep, hearty red, himself. No, in many ways, this was even better.

[It is true that Beethoven's publisher had sent him a case of Mosel wine which arrived as he lay on his death bed: in fact, his final words were, seeing the wine, "A shame, a shame - too late." Mosel wine is a white wine and I was trying to find the name of a red wine that Beethoven might have been able to drink in the 1820s but it took me an hour to find this out which then required some fudging.]

The cup he held before him contained 1/8th of a cup of blood. Robertson Sullivan's blood.

After lighting the little lantern, he touched each item in turn, from the box with the pen to the little apothecary jar, muttering unintelligible incantations, repeating them each three times as he took out three candles, lit them and carefully placed them one at the center back of the table, the other two in the center of either side, creating a triangle within the square.

He took the last bit of Sarasvati's beverage and let it drip onto the potted plant, a miniature rose that he had nurtured from a rose bush that grew on Robertson Sullivan's estate in Cornwall-on-Hudson. More a scrawny sapling than a true miniature, It was just barely alive – just like Robertson Sullivan, now that he mentioned it – but alive enough to serve its purpose. He had cut a slip from it when he went back to sneak around the property, summer a year ago: no one had been home and he'd thought about breaking in again but figured, if the gizmo he'd been looking for [which contained the map to the Ancient Myseries] were there at all, it wouldn't be out in the open, now, would it? No, he probably kept it in a hidden wall safe, any way: besides, this was much more aesthetically pleasing than breaking and entering, an act of mere petty larceny.

He looked fondly at the photograph taken of him when he was a teen-ager with his faithful German shepherd, Fleck, his one truly understanding friend until the poor dog had gotten run over by a neighbor's truck backing out of the driveway. [Fleck is German for Spot...]

The little apothecary bottle was a treasured item, too, purchased a few years ago on E-Bay: Gustav Mahler's dying breath, a steal at only $557.

Lifting the feebly shining lantern, he spoke the lines he had planned for this ritual years ago. “This lantern represents the hornéd moon.” Holding it close to his face, he added “and I, the man in the moon. But soon, my goddess Sarasvati,” holding the lantern up toward the painting, “I will be like Lord Apollo, King of the Sun.” He hoped this meant no disrespect to her deityship.

He lifted the next two items and presented them lovingly to her.

“This thorn-bush is my thorn-bush; this dog, my dog...”

[Since much of this original scene is so over-the-top, I wanted something particularly silly, here. I've transposed Brown's crown, stars and sun to the boxers Tr'iTone wears instead of Mal'akh's loincloth, but the lantern was the ignition for Shakespeare's Wall from the rustics' play in the final act of “A Midsummer Night's Dream.”]

Then he reverently picked up the vellum on which an ancient monk had written in simple notation – very old, using a three-line staff – the chant for the DIES IRAE, the “Day of Wrath” from the Requiem liturgy for the Mass of the Dead that had been, for centuries, associated with the sounds of evil. After kissing it three times, he held it to his forehead and chanted the text's three lines in Latin, moving his lips as he recited it in his mind.

Dies irae! Dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.

Day of wrath, that day
Dissolves the world in ashes,
So spoke David and the Sibyl.

Then he rolled up the small piece of vellum like a spring roll and held it over the flame of the center candle, allowing it to burn into ashes – favilla: ashes of the dead, still glowing like embers – and he now placed the china plate in the center of the table.

Julia Child, he thought, eat your heart out!

With a small branch he'd broken off from the rose bush, he scraped the ashes into the golden bowl, then poured in Robertson Sullivan's blood, mixing them gently with the sprig of rose. The resultant mixture was a thick, black ink that he would use when he'd take the pen – (ah, the pen) – to inscribe the one remaining chord on the remaining space of bare flesh on his body – the very top of his head – long reserved for a very special chord that would make him complete.

That special chord was “The Lost Chord.” Possessing it would make him Master of the Composers' Universe.

[Instead of Mal'akh's Masonic symbols, Tr'iTone covers his body in tattoos of chords taken from Elliott Carter's “Harmony Book” and so becomes a walking compendium of thousands of possible pitch combinations. Elliott Carter himself becomes a character in the next scene of “The Lost Chord.”]

He held the bowl up before him, three times aloft to the heavens before the painting of Sarasvati, held it against the top of his head for thirty seconds while three times chanting

Holy Triad,
Mighty Trichord,
Immortal Ternary Form.
Find me worthy...

[This is taken from the Russian Orthodox prayer, the Trisagion: Holy God, Holy Mighty-One, Holy Immortal-One, Have mercy on me...]

Three, another sacred number found in most religions. The Trinity.

Three, the number of sharps in A Major, the number of flats in E-flat Major.

A and E-flat.

Together, they formed the interval of three whole steps – a tritone.

DIABOLUS IN MUSICA, he intoned with a roaring, indeed even diabolical laugh, and set down the bowl with a smile.

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

In this last bit, Tr'iTone's prayer, a Triad is a three-note chord based on major and minor thirds used in tonal music; a Trichord is a chord made from three pitches not all based on intervals of the third which would not create a consonant triadic sound or a traditionally tonal function; Ternary Form – usually diagrammed A-B-A – is the basis for the structure of much classical music, based on the premise of Statement – Digression – Restatement which is also the foundation of Sonata Form's Exposition – Development – Recapitulation.

The notes A and E-flat have already appeared as a clue. While pitches can be turned into letters to spell words and names (a key ingredient in “The Schoenberg Code”) and E-flat is “S” in German (as B-natural is “H”), these two pitches spell out the monogram for Arnold Schoenberg who also figures prominently in other clues in “The Lost Chord.” For many, Schoenberg is the Great Bugbear of the 20th Century, an appropriate Diabolus in musica.

And so there you have the first excerpt to be posted from “The Lost Chord.”

More (much more) to come... eventually.

- Dr. Dick

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Odds & Ends: Kizhe, the Devil & 'The Lost Chord'

This weekend, the Harrisburg Symphony is performing a program with four works on it – I've blogged about three of them over at the Harrisburg Symphony Blog, here (“The Sorcerer's Apprentice,” Prokofiev's “Lt. Kizhe” complete with a link to the entire 1934 film the suite is taken from, and Bernstein's suite from the film, “On the Waterfront”).

The other work on the program, Richard Strauss' tone poem, “Death and Transfiguration,” is included in this post.

Back in the late-'80s, when I worked for the Harrisburg Symphony as Assistant Conductor and Orchestra Manager, conductor Larry Newland had initially proposed Christopher Rouse's The Infernal Machine, Strauss' Death and Transfiguration and Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice for the same concert. Of course, I, never a fan of your typical marketing slogans, blurted out "Great: Rouse, Strauss and Mickey Mouse!"

I was later told that was NOT the real reason the program was changed - the Rouse was done in January, 1988, the Dukas the following season, in November, 1989, and the Strauss was either dropped or moved to a season after I'd quit and was no longer keeping records of their repertoire. Spoilsports...

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

Meanwhile, I'm working on a climactic scene (or at least the dramatic turning-point scene) of “The Lost Chord,” having just introduced composer Elliott Carter as a character helping the hero and his team-mates on their quest to solve the ancient mysteries also being sought by both the villain, Tr'iTone (a.k.a. composer Iobba Dhabbodhú), and the Chief of Security for the International Composers Alliance (who seems a bit villainous at times), Yoda Leahy-Hu.

Recent characters added to the cast list include code-cracker Haydn Plainview, police detectives Heidi Ho and two of her former colleagues on the NYPD Vice Squad, DePuis LeJour (called “Toots” when she's working) and Wanda Menveaux (think the famous aria from Massanet's Louise and, for the other, Musetta's Waltz with its opening line, “Quando m'en vo” - Whenever I walk alone on the street, men turn and look at me - not The Girl from Ipanema but from Puccini's La Boheme), plus Emil Tesoro y Tonto and his partner Dolly-Sue Apache (think of Don Ottavio's arias in Mozart's Don Giovanni).

There's also a brief appearance by the thief who stole Buzz Blogster's coat (bugged with a GPS unit by the ICA agent Kay Gelida Manina): Damien Johnson is a known thief around Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, having recently stolen four basses from musicians in the area in one night. Since the story takes place on November 4th, the night the Yankees defeated the Phillies to win the 2009 World Series, I should point out that Johnny Damon had stolen four bases during the series' 4th game a few nights earlier.

And now I've started Chapter 25 as I continue re-reading my way through Thomas Mann's “Doctor Faustus,” the climactic chapter with composer Adrian Leverkühn's transcript of his dialogue with the Devil during which the plot's Faustian bargain is sealed. It's written in a pseudo-old-fashioned (one could even say “fustian”) style, Leverkühn imitating the delivery of an equally old-fashioned (and similarly fustian) former theology professor of his since it essentially parallels (if not parodies) the debate between the Devil and Martin Luther centuries before.

While, Schoenbergically speaking, this is going to be a tough row to hoe (or read), I admit I'm trying to think how I can use this in “The Lost Chord,” perhaps combining it with the chess game (which, admittedly, is with Death, not the Devil) from Bergman's “The Seventh Seal.” In this case, it would be during Tr'iTone's interrogation of Dr. Dick, which in addition will use my version of Abbott and Costello's “Who's on First” skit regarding the whereabouts of Yoda Leahy-Hu.

Thinking more of the film “Lt. Kizhe” than just Prokofiev's delightful music for it - a commenter at the Symphony Blog sent me this link to the original film – perhaps I should also include an almost true incident back when I worked for the orchestra either as assistant conductor or later as the personnel manager. A close friend, Vikki Moore, who'd been the personnel manager before I took over the job, and I used to joke about how we could easily confuse the conductor by inadvertently creating a musician with a well-placed typo, then wondering if we'd be able to bring it off in true Kizhean fashion.

There had been a concert, once, when the program and its personnel page had to go to print before we had decided upon hiring several key musicians after a series of auditions. So rather than leaving them blank, I decided I should make up some names figuring, you know, who would notice... Since this was a special fund-raising concert, though, and the theme was “The Orient Express,” I decided to go into Agatha Christie's wonderful mystery, “Murder on the Orient Express” and select seven different names for those players not yet hired. There were actually some people in the audience who noticed this and commented on it. I felt so much better, then, thinking the time it had taken to execute the idea (so to speak) was worth the extra effort.

- Dr. Dick

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Back to Looking for "The Lost Chord"

It's not that there hasn't been anything going on, it's just that I haven't felt much like writing about it. In the past two weeks, I've finished the song cycle, “The Other Side of Air,” and now I'm in the process of copying it (by hand – none of that fancy computer software only because I've never gotten around to it, mostly because in addition to purchasing it, I'd need to get a newer, faster, bigger, better computer, none of which is in the budget, right now). And after I put up the “The End” sign on the songs, I got back into my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol” which I call “The Lost Chord.” That doesn't mean it's a musical: it's just a parody of the story told from a musical perspective.

November was “National Novel Writing Month” and so I took the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month and wrote 64,038 words by the end of the month. Because I was nearing in on a climactic scene (but still not half-way through my outline of Brown's story), I kept going for a few more days till I'd done almost 70,000 words. Then I stopped.

Actually, during November, I did no composing: all my “creative” time was spent on the would-be novel. I didn't think I could do a whole parody in 50,000 – though “The Schoenberg Code” was more like 45,000 without even trying – but I had hoped I could get closer to the end than “not quite half-way through.” During December and January, I went back and did a little editing and threw out lots of words. I toyed around with outlines for a couple of scenes but the biggest problem, as the story progressed, was coming up with something that would be the equivalent of the seemingly impenetrable puzzle that Brown's hero, Robert Langdon, has to solve.

There was no sense even starting work on it without knowing what the equivalent of this clue or that character would be, but I had left the biggest issues for later, hoping they would fall in line along the way. Talk about “trusting in inspiration.” And certain smaller ideas have come up only to be solved in just that way. Implementing some of them is another matter.

If you haven't read Dan Brown's novel – and there are a lot less of you than read “The Da Vinci Code” – it won't make a lot of sense. That's how parodies work.

I knew my setting would be Lincoln Center rather than Washington D.C.'s Capitol complex and I knew (like Dan Brown's characters who are obsessing on the Washington Redskin's game the night everything takes place) it would take place the night of the final World Series game when the Yankees beat the Phillies, the perfect sports-obsessing equivalent. Curiously, when I started writing on November 1st, the Series had only just started so I waited a few days before filling in any of the details about things like the day of the week or what else may have been going on that was “day specific.” If the Yankees had lost, it would put a damper on the ending, I guess, but since most of the action takes place during the game, a lot of stuff goes unnoticed because everybody is wrapped up in the anticipation either watching the game or wishing they could be: this could be the night the Yankees win or the Phillies pull one out of the fire to prolong it.

A month later, the next scene I needed to write was a major climactic one, but not one that was an equivalent of anything in the original. Once I knew the story would take place on November 4th, I checked to see what would be happening at the Met – Rossini's Barber of Seville. Not only was it a favorite opera of mine, it was a production I had even seen, thanks to their new HD transmissions into movie theaters around the world. And I knew, given the timing, I would need a chase scene of some kind – like the CIA agents tracking Robert Langdon through the Library of Congress – about the time the first act finale of Rossini's comedy would be taking place. So obviously, my equivalent of symbologist Robert Langdon – that would be me, or rather a parody of myself as the musical know-it-all, Dr. Dick – would end up on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House (not in the way I had always dreamed it would be).

It would have been a very different scene if they were performing Janáček's "From the House of the Dead" that night...

(And why did I put myself into this story? Well, when I wrote “The Schoenberg Code,” it seemed a logical self-parody and, since many beginning writers write something autobiographical, masquerading their lives in fiction, it seemed somewhat logical to continue this into the sequel. It isn't so much that I'm stuck on myself but rather that I'm stuck with myself. Given my dull life and duller life-style, to say this is autobiographical is only mildly true: what is fictional is wildly untrue, and the wilder, the better.)

Since it had a been a couple of years since I'd seen the Met's production, I was delighted to discover, courtesy of YouTube, a clip of the very finale I was looking for. Unfortunately it's since been taken down for copyright infringement (ooops). But at the time, it helped me place my scene-within-a-scene in what would also become a parody of the climax of the Marx Brothers film, “A Night at the Opera” (which I'd also found on YouTube and which has also been removed for similar transgressions).

Now, hearing the opera and seeing the scene was not the same as translating it into written words that are to be read. I had to give the reader enough visuals for it to make sense and for it to be funny. Just to say “it was a funny scene” was not enough.

And because I knew this would take a few days to work out – even though I could've just sketched it in and barreled on ahead, coming back to fill in the details later – I ended up putting it aside. I stopped writing just as Dr. Dick and his two fellow-fugitives found themselves, unbelievably, arriving in the middle of the stage, the elevator they'd taken from the sub-basement scene shop turning into the freight elevator that delivers the sets onto the stage. Ooops.

So when I came back to pick up where I'd left off three months ago, the video clips of both the Rossini and the Marx Brothers had disappeared. Since my inspiration from Harpo Marx's backstage antics during “Il Trovatore” was only in spirit, not a literal parody, this didn't really matter, though I enjoyed the laugh whenever I saw it and a good laugh is like good medicine.

As rapid-fire as the action was, it took several days for it to take shape.

Dr. Dick (a.k.a. Brown's Robert Langdon) has been abducted from the seemingly evil clutches of Security Chief Yoda Leahy-Hu (a.k.a. Brown's Inoue Sato) of the International Composers Alliance (a.k.a. the CIA) by an architect working on the Lincoln Center renovations named V.C. D'Arcy (a.k.a. Brown's Warren Bellamy, Architect of the Capitol). As they try to escape through the scene shop in the Met's basement, they are joined by LauraLynn Hardy Sullivan (a.k.a. Brown's Katherine Solomon), sister of Robertson Hope Sullivan (a.k.a. Brown's Peter Solomon) who's had his ear (a.k.a. Brown's hand – well, Peter Solomon's hand, not Brown's hand) cut off and who is herself trying to escape from her brother's captor, Tr'iTone (a.k.a. Brown's Mal'akh), the villain who is disguised at this point as Dr. Iobba Dhabbodhú (a.k.a. Brown's Christopher Abbadon). And so on.

They are being chased by three special agents from the ICA named Kay Gelida Manina, Oona Furtiva-Lagrima and Edie van Sierre. Like the architect, their names are all puns on famous arias: V.C. D'Arcy is “Vissi d'arte” from Puccini's Tosca; Kay Gelida Manina is “Che gelida manina” from Puccini's La Boheme; Oona Furtiva-Lagrima is from Donizetti's Elixir of Love; and Edie van Sierre is the line “e di pensier” that concludes “La donna é mobile” from Verdi's Rigoletto (and famously parodied on-line in the translation “Elephants, yeah!”).

While these agents are clad in skin-tight black body-suits like characters in a futuristic spy thriller or computer game, I've even made reference to their suits as the equivalent of the “little black dress” which caused famous soprano Deborah Voigt to be fired from a production of an opera because she would not fit into the “little black dress” that had been designed for that character. So, here, another agent, reassigned to a desk job because her weight gain meant she could no longer wear the regulation “little black body suit” was named Aïda Lott. (She will re-appear, quite transformed, at the end of the story.)

Many of my other characters' names also are based on musical terms, expressions or aria titles. In addition to people like Tom LeVay and P.K. Arabesk (from the ballet steps, temps levé and piqué arabesque), I am still trying to work in someone named Alice Vergenglikke, from the German “Alles vergängliche” – all things are transitory – a famous line from Goethe's Faust. I suspect she will be a temp...

There is also Lohimar May – from the medieval song, “L'homme armé” – who will become a famous musicologist specializing in early music and the inventor of the game “Where's Gesualdo?” (This last name was reworked from a suggestion by Facebook friend Steve Gregoropoulos who'd come up with something similar.)

After Dr. Dick and company find themselves in the middle of “Freddo ed immobile” (the ensemble starting “frozen and immobile like a statue,” not “Fred's in Mobile”), they see this wagon loaded with pumpkins (part of the actual Met production) being prepared to be brought on-stage. So they begin marching sideways, heel-to-toe then toe-to-heel, crab-like across the stage, the rest of their bodies not moving and taking up position behind a bunch of soldiers lined up on the opposite side of the stage. Confusion continues to mount when Almaviva and Figaro see the three black-clad secret agents with machine guns poised across their chests standing behind the wagon.

As the ensemble builds into its rapid-fire confusion (“my head is banging like it's being hammered on an anvil”), Agent Furtiva-Lagrima sees something hanging over them that's beginning to move – a large anvil that is supposed to descend slowly until it crushes the wagon. However, Agent van Sierre shouts and steps back, firing at the anvil, cutting one of its cables. Swinging dangerously by one cable, it now falls precipitously, destroying the wagon and smashing the pumpkins. The agents then slip and fall into what would have made an immense pumpkin pie, unable to apprehend the three fugitives before they escape backstage with the help of tenor Barry Banks (who actually was singing Almaviva that night) and one of the supers in the group of soldiers named Wyatt Zittipiano (later in the opera there is a whispered trio, “Zitti zitti, piano piano” - Quiet quiet, softly softly – and Wyatt = Quiet, get it?) after Banks recommends they hide in his out-of-the-way dressing room. Meanwhile, the rest of the soldiers do mock-skirmish with the three ICA agents during the bows – to great audience approval.

From there, it seemed logical to parody another scene from “A Night at the Opera,” the famous “crowded cabin scene” on board the ship where Groucho Marx is hiding with Chico and Harpo (who is sound asleep). One by one, various maids, a manicurist, a tourist looking for her aunt, two electricians and finally three waiters with trays of food all squeeze into this tiny little room. Then along comes the indefatigable Margaret Dumont as the matronly Mrs. Claypool who opens the door and everybody spills out into the hallway.

Meanwhile, back at “The Lost Chord,” Architect D'Arcy has gone off (as Bellamy had in Brown's novel) to be apprehended by the ICA as a decoy. LauraLynn and Dr. Dick run into usher Nandi Abbott, a diminutive and otherwise unassuming woman who's blocked their way but was sent off on a wild goose chase when Wyatt Zittipiano told her about the three armed intruders. He says “they don't call her 'Killer' Abbott for nothing.”

(Now, “Nandi” is the name of the White Bull who is the gatekeeper for the Hindu god Siva. Nandi is also the Tamil word for someone who blocks your path. 'Killer' Abbott refers to the killer rabbit in the scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” with Tim the Enchanter and the harmless-looking rabbit who, in actuality, has nasty big pointy teeth.)

Once in the dressing room, Zittipiano tells them not to let anyone else in. So naturally, while they're trying to figure out an important clue, people start knocking at the door. First, it's the tenor, Barry Banks, coming back to enjoy the intermission break in his dressing room. Someone from Costumes arrives with Banks' 2nd Act disguise as the young music master, and just as Dr. Dick asks him what the password is, Banks asks LauraLynn if she'd like to join him for dinner afterwards. “I could really go for some swordfish.” Then Dr. Dick lets Guido in with the costume.

(There is another famous scene – from “Horse Feathers” – where Groucho is trying to get into a room but Chico won't let him enter unless he says the password. After much questioning, Chico says “you can't come in here unless you say 'Swordfish'...”)

This is followed by two people from Make-Up, one of them named Kensington Gore (which is the stock name for fake blood used in the theater), an electrician and later his burly assistant, a girl hoping to get an autograph from Juan-Diego Flórez (who was not singing Almaviva that night), two interior decorators sent to do a make-over of Mr. Banks otherwise shabby little dressing room (“could you make it look a little bigger?”) and then three guys from the Met commissary with trays of food.

Meanwhile, LauraLynn is trying to open a small box that has one of the major clues in it but she is constantly being interrupted by more and more arrivals.

When Dr. Dick realizes someone has left the door open – shouting “Mind that door!” (from Act II of Britten's Peter Grimes) – he ends up body-surfing over the crowd (as the sleeping Harpo did in the original scene) just as someone pulls the door shut. At that moment, Nandi Abbott has returned, irate that Mr. Banks has broken the rules about guests in the dressing room, accompanied by one of the ICA agents. When she yanks the door open, guests cascade out into the hallway and Barry Banks, disguised as a disheveled young music teacher, clambers out over them in time for the three-minute warning. When the ICA agent looks into the room, there is no sign of Dr. Dick or LauraLynn Sullivan.

- - - - - - -

There is an earlier scene that is not found or even suggested by anything in Dan Brown's original novel and it includes a recurring character from “The Schoenberg Code,” Dr. Dick's young assistant, Buzz Blogster.

In Brown's novel, Katherine Solomon has an annoying trait where she's frequently brushing a stray wisp of hair back behind her ear. In “The Lost Chord,” this has been transferred to my Yoda-like take-off of Chief Inoue Sato, though it's always associated with her talking to Buzz as if it becomes some kind of sexual nuance.

While I first introduced Security Chief Yoda Leahy-Hu speaking very much as Yoda did in “Star Wars,” I quickly decided to drop it as it became not only difficult to do but tiresome and distracting to read. More recently, however, she's taken on other characteristics as I find myself imagining the part played in the movie-version by Linda Hunt, or actually more like the character she plays on “NCIS: Los Angeles,” Hetty Lange.

The problem with Buzz, though, was what to do with him once the action of the plot started. When V.C. D'Arcy abducts our hero in the sub-basement level of Lincoln Center, there is no room to include a side-kick. Since he was now in the hands of the ICA Director of Security, it seemed logical he should be interrogated – but another question was “where?” Given the renovations going on at Lincoln Center, the Security Offices were currently (fictionally or actually, I have no idea) housed in a construction trailer in the underground area not far from the 62nd Street entrance. Since there wouldn't really be room for an interrogation room there, Leahy-Hu commandeers the men's room.

Now that I'm this far into it – and some 71,000 words total, at this point – I should just start posting it. Yet I'm only half-way through Brown's story. I estimate his novel to be about 230,000 words which would make mine, if the proportions hold out, to be about 2/3rds the length of the original – in fact, it would put it within the Golden Ratio: the Golden Section of c.230k is c.142k and uhm... double the words I've written up to the half-way mark would make it a total of c.142,000 words. Hmmm...

Well, anyway, I've got to get back to work. Two things must happen in the next scene: the equivalent of Brown's pyramid and capstone are to be reunited – in my case, it's a headless bobble-head doll of Mozart with the head in a separate and long separated container (plus there's also an old Seth Thomas metronome which looks a bit like a pyramid minus its capstone, though I haven't quite figured out how this really functions in the overall plot) – which will reveal further clues, including one leading them to another clue in the equivalent of Brown's use of Albrecht Dürer's 1514 “Melancholia” which I've figured will be found in Schoenberg's 1934 essay, “Problems of Harmony.” Not sure how that's going to happen.

Most of the details have already been worked out, as I've outlined Brown's story chapter-by-chapter (all 135 of them). But some of them still need clearer resolution and that's why I don't want to start posting the chapters I've already written, like a serial-novel-in-progress: I may need to go back and change some things as new details and possible solutions evolve. And then there's always the editing process, anyway.

Right now, I just want to write and get it down in a rough draft.

Meanwhile, I have officially been diagnosed with Spring Fever. I think another walk is in order, after four days of 60° weather. It's cloudier today with more clouds and some rain in the forecast through next Tuesday, so I think I'll go enjoy it while I can. One always hopes there's plenty of time to work, later...

- Dr. Dick