I am a brand new person. And, dare I say it, a better one. Why, you ask? Because I got a dog.
A few weeks ago I went to Animal Control in Frederick, Maryland, and walked away with possibly the mutty-est mutt of all time. Her name is Cleo A. Taylor, and she’s a five-month-old mix of Springer spaniel, poodle, and rocket fuel.
I have always had some difficulty switching from one project to the next throughout the day. Going from a film score to a jazz tune for my band, for example, required a 15-minute adjustment period. And by “adjustment period,” I mean “nap.” But that has changed. Now, any time I need to shift gears, I simply walk the dog. It is one of those activities that is like watching waves at the shore or studying a campfire: it has nearly zero focus and yet it can occupy all of your attention. So far, I haven’t seen any effects on my musical output, but they may be coming. And in the meantime, Cleo is waiting patiently under my desk for me to finish this blog post so I can shift gears and we can go for another walk.
A few years ago, I wrote a film score for a guy who—soon after finishing the film—got deported to his home country of Sierra Leone. My hopes of getting paid seemed slim until he emailed me a series of numbers for a money transfer. I took the numbers to the bank, where the teller told me he couldn’t help me and sent me across the street to the CVS. “Ask for the red phone,” he advised. Astonishingly, after the clerks at the drug store helped me do some dialing on this mysterious phone, the store manager walked over to me waving a check! (And yes, it cleared.) This was my first in-person contact with the concept of “remittances,” the payments that immigrants receive from and, more often, send to loved ones back home. Fast forward to a new commission I am working on: to musically examine the immigrant experience of my beautiful Montgomery County, Maryland. I’ve decided to use spoken words in the piece: the real, collected stories of local immigrants. This will be another first: interviewing story subjects. But I’m coming to understand that the immigrant experience in this country is one of many firsts, as well as one of many ties to the loved ones left behind.
I’m currently writing the score for a new musical theater piece called Nineteen. Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw are my collaborators, and they’re the ones who came up with the idea for the show, which is based on the life of suffragist Alice Paul, a leading figure in the push for the Constitution’s 19th Amendment—that’s the one that granted women the right to vote. This is the first time in a long while that I have collaborated with a lyricist, and I’m loving the challenge, and the fun of bouncing ideas off one another. Right now, we’re working on a song called “I’m Prim. So What?” There’s a 30-minute preview of this work scheduled to be performed in Alexandria, Virginia, the first week of November.
I’ve just finished a new piece to be premiered next spring under the baton of maestra Victoria Gau. When I wrote it, I was going for a retro-modern, sci-fi, Jetsons, mid-century vibe, so naturally I called it Rocket Ship Model X-14z19 (Personal Space Vehicle P-90). This 12-minute work is for a standard big orchestra. I hope it’s a blast to play—pun intended—especially for the entire brass section.