"Loss & Gain" – Behind the Music

(Originally posted Feb. 26, 2006, MySpace page blog)

After my second son, Gavin, was born in 2004, I really didn't have time to write anything. Or the desire, really. Getting to know my new baby was pretty overwhelming/all consuming. During the summer, after he started sleeping thru the night more, I opened up my file of poetry that I'd like to set. This little 3 verse poem by Longfellow kept me awake at night for a while.

It starts with a sense of melancholy. Longfellow talks about reflecting on one's accomplishments, and basically realizing that you haven't done much. About how we get distracted and off course, and find ourselves lost. It's all about doubt. But it ends on a happy note, (no pun intended), with the thought that "the lowest ebb is the turn of the tide."

This resonated with me so much, as I was struggling with balancing my new, larger family with my own need to create and to teach. I was doubting my abilities, questioning my priorities and my potential, kind of adrift. But after some soul searching and some inspiration came music, and this little poem got stuck in my brain.
I tried very hard to resist putting anything into the computer until I was sure I was hearing it in my head correctly, and wrote out most of it on paper first. That was something I kind of gotten away from for a time. Everything sounds so much better when I trust myself enough to write what I hear in my head, rather than putting notes into Finale and pressing play to see how they sound.

There's a part about two thirds of the way thru, almost to the 'turn of the tide' part. Defeat may be victory in disguise is the text. I had been listening to a lot of Eric Whitacre earlier that year, and without realizing it, I quoted him a little harmonically right there, from his piece Sleep. In a very cool, perhaps subconscious way, this little bit o' Whitacre represents my own doubts about my abilities and my music.

For those of you who are not familiar with the piece, Sleep was actually first written to Robert Frost's poem, Stopping By Wood On A Snowy Evening. When Whitacre tried to get it published, the Frost estate would not grant him permission to use the text, despite several impassioned requests and the obvious benefit the estate would reap of royalty payments, as this thing was sure to sell. It's gorgeous! But, they would not be persuaded. So, being resourceful, he asked a poet friend to create a new poem that kept some key words from the Frost poem, but had it's own character and line. Sleep is now a top seller and fan favorite. "Defeat may be victory in disguise." Can you see the parallels? But wait, there's more...

Eric Whitacre and I are essentially the same age. When I met him in 2001, it was a real wake-up call, the kind you don't see coming. I realized, here is a guy that I have a lot in common with, and he's doing what I've dreamed of since I was in high school. He's living it: a composer extroardinaire.
It was a real epiphany, and I discovered that I had been putting my dreams on hold for so long, saying, "I'll get to that composing stuff later." I went home and rededicated myself to composition, and started searching for what music I had inside me, and how good I could write.

Since that time, I've had kind of a love/hate relationship with Whitacre and his music. I am awed and inspired by his approach and his authenticity. His music has Power, and it's amazing, beautiful stuff. And he seems like a genuinely nice guy. But I'm also a bit envious of his success. He has people eating out of his hand, lining up to sing anything he puts on paper. The recordings I have of his music are gems. If I had one of my songs sung by a choir of the quality that he has at his disposal, I'd die a happy man. So I kind of stay away from listening to too much of it. Inspiration and influence is one thing, plagarism is quite another.

Anyway, my little homage to Whitacre represents my own doubt, my own struggle with failure, and my resolve to overcome and to achieve. When life is lowest, the tide turns...and I move on, forward, up. It's my defeat, but it's also my victory, in disguise.