Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Never Alone in Monteton

I feel so fortunate to have been able to be part of DJSS two years in a row, because it allowed me to deepen the relationships that I had begun last year, and to make new friends. Rehearsing together is a great way to get to know each other, so I gathered a group to run through a tune of mine titled, “Never Alone.”

I already had a yes from Guy, a drummer from London, who was a great encourager to me throughout a very rough year. He was the first to hear every new piece I wrote, and always cheered me on, keeping me excited about the writing process. Paul, a sociology professor, said he would play bass, and Graham, who was in my group last year, offered to play trumpet. New to me was Ollie. After hearing my music at the seminar, he asked to join us on sax. So we scheduled a rehearsal for Tuesday night.

On Tuesday night, Paul took me aside and apologized to me that he had hurt his fingers from playing electric bass all day, and needed to give them a rest. But he still wanted to play with me, so could we move the rehearsal a day? Paul kept apologizing, over and over. Then he says something like, “You know, I bought your CD last year. Well, I listen to it all the time. Your music makes me feel like I’m not alone.” Paul was someone I didn’t really talk to last year until the course was over. We happened to sit together in the van on the way back to the train station. He’s kind of quiet, and I guess we just never were at the same table or had an opportunity to get to know each other. But after that van ride, we because fast friends. His comment was one of the nicest I’ve ever received, and it brought back a memory. About 12 years ago, before I started writing music, I was teaching music appreciation at the University of Indianapolis. One night, when discussing Tchaikovsky’s 6th (Pathetique) Symphony, I broke down in tears right in front of the students. (Not a gentle mist, but heaving sobs.) Delaney was four at the time, and I had just learned that day that her diagnosis was cerebral palsy. I said something like this to the class, “When I listen to this piece, it makes me feel like I’m not alone.” Tchaikovsky put his deepest emotions on paper and shared it with the world. For Paul to say the same thing to me was an amazing, “full circle” moment.

On Wednesday night, the five of us finally got together. Graham had looked at the music earlier, and pulling me aside, told me that the piece had great emotion, and was excited about playing the main theme, the “A” section. I actually had the reverse in mind, sax on A section and trumpet on B, but I was happy to try his idea. When Ollie heard the tune, he said he loved it and couldn’t get it out of his mind.

A bit more about Graham. I met him last year, and he was a rather quiet guy from England who rode a motorcycle and always wore sunglasses. Kind of a tough guy, hard to get to know. I spent more time with him this year and found out how funny he is. So all I knew of him was his tough exterior and his dry wit. After the performance on Thursday, Irene, a sax player and friend from Austria said she had never heard a more emotional performance from Graham before.

When creating “Never Alone,” I was on a three-day personal retreat, alone in a chapel in Nashville, Tennessee, to focus on composing. But people kept interrupting me. Groups kept coming in to tour the building. (Even though I had to be let in with a key, somehow, other people found their way in through different, mysterious, hidden door.)

Speaking of “never alone,” after the course I spent some time alone in Paris. But I was rarely alone, because people kept offering to help me along the way. While watching the Tour de France, I met a woman with an American accent who had just moved to Paris from Indiana, and we had lunch later in the week. At dinner, I was seated by a mom and daughter from the Bahamas. We had a lovely meal and great conversation, and they walked me back to my hotel since it had gotten dark. One day, when I felt very lost and was standing on a street corner staring at my map with a confused look on my face, a gentleman drove up on his motorcycle and stopped in front of me. He pulled off his helmet and began speaking in French. I said I didn’t understand, I spoke English. Very slowly, with a low voice and thick accent, he said, “I can help you. That’s north. That south.” Then he drove off. It was just what I needed to find my way again.

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