Thirteen in ’13

I’ve committed myself to a big project. I don’t have funding, I don’t have a commission, I’m not even sure how it will ultimately manifest itself. But this is something that’s been rattling around in my head for quite some time, and I realize I need to either fish or cut bait. So I’m fishing.

Before I tell you what the actual project entails, I thought you might like a little background. And if you don’t care, just skip to the last paragraph. I promise you won’t hurt my feelings.

Still here? Thanks!

If you’ve followed my blog at all, you’ll notice there is very little “personal” information on it. That’s intentional. You’re most likely interested in music, not what I had for dinner tonight, or how frustrated I am with so-and-so. To truly understand this project, though, I think a bit of personal background might be helpful. Not too much, mind you. It’s not a 1,600-page autobiography, and I don’t think you care about the name of my first crush. (Andy, if you really must know.) But a little bit about how I came into composing might be helpful. You can still skip to the end, if you want.

My life can basically be divided into “before” and “after.” “Before” I was a secretary (administrative assistant, if you prefer.) I was good at it, too. I did a bunch of other things on the road to that career, but basically everything came down to being a really good secretary. “After” is when I turned to music, to a new life as a composer. And the turning point, the point that marked the line between “before” and “after” was the death of my father.

Losing someone you love, someone who was so influential, can make you examine your own life very closely. It doesn’t always culminate in a dramatic change, although for me, that was definitely the case. With the support of my husband, I turned my back on the life I was expected to lead, and turned to a career in the arts. I started as a freshman music composition major at the tender age of 40, and loved each and every minute of my undergraduate life.

Then came graduate school. It should have been great. I got a full ride with a Billy Joel Fellowship, and had nothing to do except study and compose. But barely a month before I moved to New York to start school, my mother was hospitalized. I postponed my move by a couple of weeks to help her get settled back at home after her hospital stay, and then started my Master’s program. Mom was ill for the next three years, however, going in and out of the hospital fairly regularly. Though I was physically in classes, mentally I was, more often than not, hundreds of miles away with her. After I graduated I eventually moved in with her, giving her the 24-hour attention she needed.

She left this world in 2009.

To be clear, I wasn’t alone in caring for her. I have wonderful brothers, and an incredible husband, and (stereotypes to the contrary) a whole slew of loving, caring in-laws. I had plenty of physical and emotional support and companionship. But losing a parent is devastating, and I was adrift for a while after she died.

Now, here’s a little insight into my personality. While some artists deal with hardship by creating, others – me included – withdraw instead. After Mom died I got so far “in” my own head that I froze for a while, and really struggled to write. I took on a couple of commissions, and did well with them, but it was an incredible mental battle for me to complete them. I don’t do a lot of public whining and crying, pulling the whole sackcloth-and-ashes, “pity me, pity me” act. We all have problems in our lives, and we all have to deal with them in our own ways. But between you and me, dear reader, I was devastated beyond measure, beyond anything my friends and family realized. (Except my husband, and I am so thankful to have him!)

Things eventually started looking up, and I felt ready to pick up my life and move on again. Until my brother was diagnosed with cancer in early 2011. It was a horrible battle for him, and one that he lost in the spring of 2012. Although we were separated by great physical distance, we became closer in many ways, and my sister-in-law and I spent long, late hours on the phone together. (And still do.)

But, being who I am, my compositional mind locked up again. I’m not surprised by that, I don’t apologize for it, nor do I feel any shame or guilt. Losing a parent is one thing. Losing a brother is entirely different. Losing both in such a short time, in a word . . . sucks. Frankly, I think I’m entitled to some degree of devastation.

What this means in practical terms, however, is that my compositional activities have been at a minimum now for just about 6 years. And I’m realizing that there is a lot of music simmering away in my soul that is clamoring to be let out.

So that is what 2013 is all about – finding renewed life through my music. I’ve set my goal, and I’m declaring it publicly. My original thought was to complete a new piece each month for the next year, and put up a recording of it for everyone to listen. When I explained this to my husband, he thought it was a great idea, and said, “Why just 12? Why not make it 13 in ’13?” I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound. “13 in ’13” it is. So, dear reader, I’m making this commitment, to myself and to you . . . I can’t back out of it now. And I’ll blog along the way for anyone who might want to see how this year-long journey unfolds, too, which means if do I slack off, everyone will know.

Wish me luck!


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