I lived, then, just north of Pt. Reyes Station, California – in an old duck-hunting cabin on Tomales Bay. And by ‘on’ I mean that the house was on pilings, the water sloshed under it and the back porch was a dock (see photo). The bay-side of the house wafted, so my piano was on the land-side, in the tiny, dark wood-paneled livingroom
I was writing a musical. A two-person musical about a birdman and the ultimate housewife – and their competition over a golden cage.
I’d written a lot of songs, a lot of music for the “Palace Players” community plays – but this was different. This was an operetta, a real musical – over an hour of music and story with intricately woven songs – songs that told the story, specific piano accompaniments.
I could invent it. I could play it and sing it all. But I didn’t know how to write it down.
There was a moment…
When the scope of the piece became clear. It was bigger than anything I’d created before and it mattered that I could remember it all.
And I didn’t know how to write it down.
I stopped and sat at the piano – just sat there thinking: “So … you’re going to … what? Memorize this, and then become the living repository of it, and every time someone wants to perform it, you’re going to go there and teach it to them note for note? Because, face it … you are illiterate.”
I could not see a way forward without going back.
And so I did.
I went back to school. I enrolled at the local Junior College – College of Marin, which had a rigorous music program – one of the great strokes of luck in my life. Slowly, I learned to read and write music.
And in the band closet, in a huge trunk – I discovered there was a harp.
Why I started playing it is another story, but at some point I thought: this instrument could help me go where I want to go. Circuitous route, yes. Ill-conceived, maybe.
But that’s how I became a musician. I went from College of Marin to U.C. Berkeley, and paid for college (which was embarrassingly inexpensive then) playing the harp. And as my final project, I finished the musical and produced it.
The harp became my career and that musical is still one of the things I most love that I’ve ever created. I still dream of producing it again. It was the pivot from the life I left towards the life I followed, and it holds both my lives inside it.
And sometimes I need, very deeply, to go back to the life I left.
I’m doing just that very soon, traveling with my electric harp to Pt. Reyes where I’ll perform once again in the place where I first became a musician.
I’m performing Sat. Jun. 22nd, 2013 at the Pt. Reyes Dance Palace – where I gave my first-ever solo concert nearly 4 decades ago.
And Wed. June 26 at the Museum of Making Music (MOMM) in Carlsbad, CA (near San Diego).