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“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)


To be nobody but yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
- e. e. cummings


The Miracle of Music
----- For as long as I can remember, my father has played in bands and orchestras. When I was ten years old, he was invited along with several colleagues to perform in the orchestra for a production of an opera entitled “The Nazarene,” under the baton of its composer, Don Gillis. At my young age, I was not fully able to appreciate why my father felt so honored at this invitation. I was later to learn that Gillis was a highly decorated composer of quite extensive merit, having served as the program director at NBC at the time Arturo Toscanini was producing his famed broadcasts with the NBC Symphony. Each time I have encountered works by Gillis, either as performer or conductor, I am transported back to the memory of the events of my childhood.
----- Following the production of “The Nazarene,” my father found himself enthralled with the composition. I recall him telling the story of how the entire score had come to Gillis in a dream and how he had worked feverishly to capture it on paper before the memory left him. My father felt moved to bring it to our town as part of the local symphony’s performance season. With a little help from his friends, his dream became a reality. My father would hire the musicians, my mother would help organize the chorus, and my fate as their ten-year-old son was sealed; I’d be held captive at yet another long and arduous performance.
----- I don’t have many recollections of the planning or rehearsal process, but I’m sure I was present for at least a small amount of the preparation. Performance night is another matter. I can remember it as if it were yesterday. I took my seat in an unlikely place; the front row. I remember peeking over the orchestra pit railing to peer in at my father in the clarinet section before the first downbeat. My mother was on stage as well, member of the chorus she helped organize. And I was settled in, ready to count down the seemingly endless hours. Little did I know at that time, the performance would not last for mere hours. It would indeed last a lifetime.
----- The events that followed amaze me to this day. I sat through the performance, not fully understanding the events on the stage; a one-act fictitious account of five ordinary characters who lived on the road to Golgotha only days following Jesus’ crucifixion. But, something about the performance moved me in a most profound way that I will never be able to fully understand or explain.
----- Following the event, my parents invited several of their friends for a reception at our house. I recall hanging very near the party, trying desperately to muster the courage to recite the opening lines from the performance; “Poor souls, poor heart-sick miserable souls. They should have known it would happen.” I never found the courage I sought, but the desire to do so never left me.
----- A few days later I picked up one of the chorus books from the pile my mother had collected from the singers. I began to copy the entire dialogue of the production into a little notebook. My parents asked me what I was doing and I casually told them that I was going to produce my own production of “The Nazarene.” They laughed and went back to the business of watching T.V. and reading the paper. But I kept on writing, transcribing every detail. This went on for days. One evening I overheard a conversation my father was having on the phone. They were obviously making arrangements for the return of the books. Now I knew that my work would have to been accelerated. Much laughter preceded my father’s “goodbye” before hanging up the phone. He came into the room where I sat scribbling in the notebook and announced to me that I needn’t finish the task. Mr. Gillis wanted me to keep a copy for myself. I beamed with delight, and turned back to my notebook, working less frantically, but just as diligently. Finally, the copy work was completed and I possessed two manuscripts; one in my hand and one in that of Don Gillis. Production could now begin!
----- I assigned roles to the other three neighborhood kids who were my age, somehow convincing them to play along. I read the unassigned fifth part, along with my own role. This part of the endeavor wasn’t by any means a stretch. Each year, when the annual telecast of the “Wizard of Oz” was broadcast, we’d spend at least an hour the next day reenacting it. There had been other dramatizations as well. The fact that my playmates had never seen nor heard the production, and I had only seen it once, didn’t appear to dampen their enthusiasm. My parents watched from afar in the manner parents routinely watch children imitating their parent’s world. None of the endless array of prior schemes had lasted more than a few hours. I wonder to this day if they took side bets on how long this one would last; but last it did.
----- I somehow managed to get my playmates to stay with me through the rehearsal process. Often I’d have to go find one of them who missed their entrance because they were off doing some foolish activity such as playing or homework. As days turned to weeks, my parents watched in disbelief. As weeks turned to months the disbelief started to wane. We were still without a fifth person, a small but very important role. I negotiated with my parents to allow one of the other symphony member’s sons to fill this void. He lived across town, but he was a few years older and would not require as much rehearsal. Having attended most of the rehearsals leading up to the professional performance, he was already very knowledgeable about the script. They agreed to make this happen, if indeed we got that far. And indeed, we got that far.
----- When I started further negotiations with my parents about the construction of sets and the means to transform the den into a theater, I noticed a different attitude from them. In fact, when our fifth cast member’s parents would bring him to rehearsals, they’d stay to help with set construction. Then, the final step was made and I knew that my endeavor was being met with sincerity. They consulted their calendar, set a date, and began inviting the other parents to join them in our crowded den.
----- There was to be one final conversation with Mr. Gillis to be overheard. This time it ended without laughter. After hanging up the phone, my father came straight to me. It seems as though Mr. Gillis had invited himself to the performance, and my father asked if this was all right with me. What was I to say? Terrified and elated, I nodded my approval.
----- Performance night was met with great anxiety. I recall the five of us sitting in a circle on the floor, taking turns in prayer and encouragement. Our nervousness accelerated when we saw the early evening sun glisten on Mr. Gillis’ car as it rolled to the curb outside our window.
Of all the amazing events throughout this unlikely process, perhaps the most amazing to me now, was the precision with which the performance came off. Somehow all five children had captured the same vision. We reproduced all of the dialogue, and sang most of the songs. A few had been too difficult for us to sing, but we recited each and every lyric just the same. Now, months later, I had indeed found the courage to recite that opening line for my parent’s friends. And with the closing line delivered, an amazed audience of friends and family leapt to their feet.
The moments that would follow helped to clearly define the course of at least one lifetime. Mr. Gillis moved to the stage area in the crowded den. Noticeably moved to tears, he spoke. I can see and hear it as if it where today. He closed his short speech by stating very simply but with a deeply poignant sincerity, “this has been the greatest tribute ever given to my music.”
----- A few years later, before I started my own career in music, I was browsing through a book with the title, “The Year in Music.” I happened upon an obituary for one Don Gillis. I ached with the pain of never thanking him for the way he touched my life. I was never able to share with him my own adventures with music making. But perhaps someday, somewhere I will find the way to thank him. Perhaps I will once again bring his creation to the stage. Could there be a ten-year-old boy out there………….