I am having a difficult time with an old lover: music. We had children, lots of them, and they got lost. Now they’re turning up and asking why I didn’t keep them, feed them, give them a life. I’m torn between joy and the pain of not knowing what to do now.
Music has been a huge part of my life, and not many people know that. The years of my being a keyboard performer are eminently forgettable, rightly so, but my decades of being a theatre composer are more problematic. I have boxes of old tapes and disks and files of music and am trying to organize and preserve them, and in the process I made a spreadsheet of all the productions we’ve done, and listed the ones for which I composed music. Sixty-three. That’s not counting five radio series.
Being the compulsive soul that I am, I am embarked on the process of transferring everything I have that is still playable to digital files, listening to them, and trying to decide what to do with them now. Over the years we’ve done many revue shows, so a lot of the music is like what you’d find between segments of a radio show, i.e., charming audio wallpaper. My problem is the rest of it.
This week I loaded and processed a show from 1969. We were in our first year at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee, the Fine Arts School, and another new faculty member directed a production of Brecht’s A Man’s a Man. I did a new translation from the German, including song lyrics, then wrote music for the songs, arranged it for Widow Begbick’s all-girl canteen band, and played piano myself alongside the trumpet and drums. The trumpeter was brilliant, and the drummer was really cute in drag, being a skinny little guy with nice legs. As a promo before opening the theatre department loaded an upright piano on a pickup truck and we paraded through the streets playing my music, with me in a skimpy little fringed sequinned mini-dress trying not to congeal from the Milwaukee cold. It was a hit.
I’ve got a complete recording of a performance, not bad quality considering that this was reel-to-reel from fifty-two years ago. I listened to it and cried. That music was rowdy, energetic, and really good. It got gestated, birthed, did its job, and passed out of existence except for its ghost preserved on tape. I have about thirty more of these full-length scores.
That old lover has been patient for decades, but time is getting short. I just have to keep this process going, keep the kleenex handy, get new shoes for the kids and figure out where we’re all going.