Alright, here’s a story and an insane spin-off project for you (well call it a labor of love, sounds a bit more respectable than random act of desperation). Ready for this? Here we go.
In 1992 I took ballet at a little studio in Maryland, and at the end of the year we had a recital. Nearly everyone who was born in the 1980s experienced this first-hand at least once in their lives so you’d think that 30 years later tracking down something like the name of one of the pieces of music used wouldn’t be absolutely freaking impossible. After all, it’s the internet age – you can find anyone online. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve successfully tracked someone down from some prehistoric part of my life to ask them something random, I have actually gathered quite a plethora of random information this way, it’s kind of awesome. Well, I have met my match.
This fun little obsession goes back to 1992. I was 9 years old, but I will never forget the music that one of the advanced modern classes performed to in the recital that I was also in. Our music was Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers, from The Nutcracker. I remember the choreography (passe, fifth, chassez, arabesque…), I remember that Jenny Bunty, Kathy Delauney, Meri Price and Jessica Stakarowski were in it with me. I remember the white satin dresses with white tulle skirts and an off-the-shoulder fringe (that wasn’t actually supposed to be “off-the-shoulder” but I didn’t let that stop me from repeatedly pulling the fringe off of my shoulders throughout the piece so my costume would look like a “real ballerina” (I was 9, once again, just reminding you). I remember the weird plot of this pseudo classical story that we were telling… the flowers, then the rain, then fire, then the fire captures one remaining flower and is about to burn it to ashes (it’s a pas de trois to music from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet) when a magical storm hits and saves the day, blowing out the fire, watering the world and restoring life to the arid world. Or something like that… it was never actually explained to me. But after decades of deliberation, I have settled into this story.
The first time I heard the music for the Misty Winds (this was the name of the dance for this piece, performed by the advanced modern class) it was one of those moments that sets the entire trajectory of your life into directional motion.
I’ll go ahead and say it – I’m a weird adult. It’s not a new thing with me, the weirdness. Over the years, I’ve learned to embrace and rock the weird but when I was 9 I didn’t think I was weird, I thought everyone else was just really boring. At that point in time I wasn’t remotely familiar with any popular music with the exception of a few Michael Jackson and Richard Marx songs I heard on Baltimore’s Lite 102 on a nightly basis.
What was I listening to? Well, earlier that very same year Sister Act hit the theatres and I saw it at least 5 times, and I had memorized the soundtrack within a week of its release…
What was I listening to? Well, earlier that very same year Sister Act hit the theatres and I saw it at least 5 times, and I had memorized the soundtrack within a week of its release… and no, I don’t mean the popular songs from the movie (“Just A Touch of Love” C & C Music Factory for example… I know, don’t even, ok? Let’s just move on… I’m old and lame, we know this) – I mean I had memorized the songs that the Sisters performed during Sunday Mass after Mary Clarence (Whoopi Goldberg) assumes directorship of the choir. In fact, that was my favorite song at the time, Salve Regina from the Sister Act Mass scene (yes, this carried definite social consequences that I was never able to completely live-down before high school graduation).
I remember sitting on the floor of the girl’s locker room at the pool with my red Sony tape recorder, listening to that song over and over again as I wrote down the lyrics, all of the parts, the rhythms and as much as I could with the musical knowledge that I had. What was I really doing? I was actually doing my first transcription and arrangement – this project consumed my summer, I spent hours and hours and hours working on it, and no it was never performed or shown to anyone, I loved every single solitary moment of it. I considered this a summer well-spent.
The Misty Winds. I was out in the audience at our first dress rehearsal. This music was absolutely mesmerizing, it was unlike anything I had ever heard before… and it wasn’t Tchaikovsky or anything from any classical piece of anything I could identify. For some reason, I never took it upon myself to look at the freaking program and see who the composer was (once again, I was 9 – a lot of things here are laced with child-induced stupidity) but by the end of the week with all the rehearsals I had committed the entire piece to memory.
Memorizing an instrumental piece is a completely different experience (for me) than memorizing a song with lyrics. With instrumentals, I rely a lot more on my feelings and emotions to keep the melody flowing in the absence of lyrics that create a sort of narrative that aids the memory. Different tonalities and chords and progressions and what have you create different feelings, and so much of the way I experience music is through catharsis, so – in a nutshell – I’ve painted a sort of bio-picture of the music. In all seriousness, I can still hear it in my head as if it were fresh – as if it hasn’t been 25 years since the last time I heard a recording of it. It’s a beautiful piece of music that’s become almost a legend in my head – I have nothing to go by but memory. No title, no composer, no recording label (it sounded like Windham Hill or Narada… so I listened to EVERY SINGLE NARADA AND WINDHAM HILL record that was put out from the time of the labels’ existence through 1992 (which was about a year longer than I needed) – that’s THOUSANDS of fucking records, you have no fucking clue… oh my GOD, and nothing – I got nothing, nothing but that memory. Luckily, that memory has become an entity of its own. I even transcribed the melody for my first semester proficiency exam when I was a sax principal at Berklee. I can’t let it go.
II did try tracking down the woman who owned the ballet studio – you know, the one that was responsible for all of the choreography and the music. I was unsuccessful. Being completely unsuccessful in this day of the whole living on the internet is strange – not that I couldn’t find her, but that I couldn’t find anyone related or any remnant of her. Anywhere. From anywhere. It’s like she vanished off of the face of the earth. Actually, it’s creepier – it’s like she never existed. I’m guessing that was my last possible avenue to go down in an attempt to find that piece of music.
Well, that was my last opportunity to find it, but I’ve got a freaking score for an ensemble in my head that’s been there for 25 years. I need to get it out. I need to hear it. I need to put it out there. I figure one of three things will happen:
- My song goes viral, everyone in the world loves it, I become famous, no one claims it, and it becomes mine. I can do this without feeling guilty because it has been 25 years and there is a possibility that I’ve done some re-composing over the years. I have absolutely nothing to listen to as a guide so anything is possible.
- My song goes viral, everyone in the world hears it, I don’t become famous because someone claims it and attempts to sue me for copyright infringement and whatever the hell you want to throw in there BUT I don’t get sued because I got what I’ve always wanted – the name and composer of the freaking piece of music. I can let it go. I’m good with that.
- I put it out there, absolutely nothing happens. I’m not surprised – this is the most likely outcome and if I were to believe anything else I’d be a damn fool. But I don’t see that as a reason not to do this. I’ve written tons of music over the years that no one’s listen to, I’ve enjoyed that. It just seems like something I need to do.
So, there you have it. The song that set the insanity in motion. I’ve heard tales of musicians going completely crazy from not being able to stop obsessing over the pitch of a single note for prolonged periods of time. Well, I’ve had this whole damn thing in my head for 25 years now and I do declare I feel a bit batty. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to this.
Stay tuned, this will be fun. And transcendent, maybe.Definitely interesting. Oh yes.