Saturday, July 12, 2008

Questions About "Pantheon Bar & Grill".

As a writer I am always living in more than one world at once, and I've discussed this before. But there's the world, the physical world that I and everyone else must live in, but then there's the World of the Song. Or, lately, the World of the Cantata. The World of Pantheon Bar & Grill.

Because the songs are finished, and the score 99% written out (I have one short piece, a epilogue to finish), I've been writing up author's notes. There's a practical reason for this, the main one being to help the promotion people of the chorus have some material to work with in terms of publicizing the event.

Pantheon Bar & Grill has never been performed -- and it will only be performed once (so far). Yes, Kathleen (McGuire, who's doing the arranging) and I definitely plan to make the piece available for other choruses, but, for now, I'm thinking only of December 1st.

So, the people connected with the SF Gay Men's Chorus don't have any other productions to judge it by, or to compare it to. I have to find a way to tell them what it is they're promoting. The more I write, the more I understand it myself. It's like being in therapy, except the "patient" is a piece of music.

Since I haven't really discussed "Pantheon" in any depth on the blog, I thought I might take this moment to answer questions I've been receiving through email, beginning with "What's a cantata?"

Er, ah, um, good question. Funny you should ask. I was telling everyone I had a cantata long before I actually looked up the definition. Classically, it's a piece of music utilizing singers that told a story from the Bible. Bach, for instance, would write a cantata and insert it into a church service. Cantatas consist of choruses, soloists, recitative, etc.

I don't write in a classical style, of course. I'm more of a troubadour, telling little stories that add up to a larger whole. And I use the music that I know, what I grew up with -- a combination of pop, gospel, country, folk, jazz, and some blues. Rootsy, rural American music. Hopefully, a little swamp works its way in around the edges.

"So, what made you decide to write this?"

I didn't really "decide" to write it. It began writing itself. Ever since I began my blog, though it was initially focused on health issues, it was Rev. Dr. Mel White whose synthesized collection of Soul Force principles, as was taught by Jesus, Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King that grabbed my attention early on.

The more I read about the effects of violence, how it never achieves the result people think it's going to, creating only resentment and a backlash, leading to more violence down the line, the more I began to embrace the concept of "relentless non-violence."

IOW, "non-violence" is not about lying down and letting yourself be trampled.

It's about aggressively confronting an oppressor and convincing him to sit down with you at a table in order to find a third solution acceptable to both parties. It also means you cannot enter into a negotiation assuming the "enemy" is "evil." Rather, he or she should be considered misguided or ill-informed. You must also consider that you might be misguided or ill-informed.

Learning to view your opponent as human is the first step toward true reconciliation and progress.

Those larger themes have been circling inside my head for a number a years, and I found myself putting into practice these principles, but on small scales. Then, one by one, these principles began to physicalize themselves in the form of lyrics and music.

There was no set plan. No road map. Not even a realization that I was writing anything in particular. But as the songs came into being, I could sense them falling into a pattern. This is not unusual for me. It's exactly how the scores for "The Last Session" and "The Big Voice" were created.

In a way, it's exciting and in another way it's maddening. It's as if someone or something knows what the piece is before I do, and is doling it out to me piecemeal, making me suffer with anticipation.

One day, I'm sitting there at a piano with a bunch of songs, and the next day I'm telling someone I'm writing a peace cantata.

It's that simple.

"So, does this 'cantata' have a plot?"

Well, yes and no. It's more accurate to say that it has a theme arc. Divided into three sections, Part One is "Violence at Home." Part Two is "Violence in the World." And Part Three is called "The Awakening Suite."

If I were writing a storyline, you might say that it's about a person who observes violence in his or her community, steps out into the larger world to see that violence is everywhere, and then has an epiphany -- a kind of rational or even spiritual awakening -- on how to make a peaceful world.

But it's not a plot-driven piece. It's a series of stories, observations and experiences in song that each stand alone, but together, create a larger picture.

And as I was writing notes for the piece last night, I began to realize that these random stories, thematically connected, also felt like a reflection of my own personal journey and awakening, though it's not a story about me. It's about being a Lazarus person. It's about being gay, but it's not a gay piece.

I never intended for it to feel this personal. I honestly believed I was writing objectively about a subject that, while it interested me, wasn't really ME.

But what could be more boring than a disinterested observer writing dispassionately about something? Of course it's personal.

Well, I don't know if that gives you much information, but I'll come forth with more as we get closer to December.

If you have any more questions, please ask.
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For my birthday, also St. Francis of Assisi Day,

here is "Rescue" the song I sang to Erika Amato 's Buddy the dog. Imagine if we loved humans as much as we love our animals...