Today, I walked around the Civic Center plaza in San Francisco.
It was early in the morning. The streets were almost deserted.
I stood in front of the magnificent city hall and looked across the street. There was the opera house, a gorgeous monument with Greek (or Roman?) pillars. Next to it is another building just like it.
I felt like I was in Greece or Rome. These remarkable institutions just standing there in the sunlight, a testament to the high arts.
Next to them was this beautiful modern building with a large panoramic glass front.
Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall.
And I was totally overwhelmed to realize that my music would be performed in this building where the usual repertoire is Beethoven, Bach, Ravel, Gershwin, Handel, and all the greatest composers this world has given to us.
I thought back to my high school days in Buna, Texas, a town which consisted of a drug store, a broken down movie theater where the rats would run over your feet, where the only traffic light was a blinking yellow light on the highway, where half the grade school kids didn't even have shoes, where all the men worked at the paper mill down the road -- a place where I couldn't even IMAGINE an opera house or a symphony hall.
Tears just started streaming down my face. The enormity of it all began to overtake me.
Now, look. Some perspective from the other side: In the big picture of serious music, I'm not really even a blip on the map. Few people know my name, really, so I don't mean to sound like I'm even close to being on the same level as the great composers listed above. That's not my point. As big as my ego is, I at LEAST know THAT much.
But I would be an ungrateful fool to not stop and breathe in this moment, this opportunity, and embrace and be thankful for this gift -- and look back to realize how far I've come.
No one knows the long road I've traveled, the little country churches, the dinner theater in Dallas, the endless number of Rodeway Inns and casino lounges, piano bars, hospital rooms, emergency rooms, funerals, and... and... places I don't even remember.
And tomorrow night, my songs will be referred to as "movements." My simple musical stories will become a choral/symphonic work in one of the most celebrated symphony halls in the world.
Even as I write this, tears are streaming down my face. It's almost too much to think about.
But it's real. It's really happening. And I honestly believe that if you look at my background and see where I came from, if there's anything I would want you, the reader, especially if you are an aspiring writer or singer or conductor or performer, to take from this, is that if it can happen to me, a person who has literally come from one of the most poverty stricken corners of the United States, who grew up learning nothing about serious music, who never saw the inside of a theatre until he was in his 20s, who barely was able to play a single Bach three part invention, it can happen to anyone who truly believes in him or herself and who writes from the heart.
I say all these things not to brag about my situation, but it's my dearest and most fervent hope that you will take this as inspiration no matter what your talent. Whether it's in the arts or in business or in education or in anything, really. The only thing holding you back is yourself.
I believe I'm here because I believed in myself and I believed that I had something to contribute -- and because others believed in me and let me know that they believed in me. I believe this, too, of every human being on this earth. Every one of us has something to contribute, a message no one else can bring.
Even if you can't be at the concert, I hope you'll celebrate this moment with me. It will come and go so quickly, but I'm going to hold it in my heart forever.