I don’t really believe that there’s a curse on my music, but I do.
The universe conspires so that something happens to prevent any piece of mine from actually being performed. If a piece is performed, something happens to make it flawed.
I am not counting the two or three times we’ve sung through William Blake’s Inn, although I appreciate the bravery of my friends in courting disaster. And “Sonnet 18” had a touching premiere in VSU’s Rotunda back in 2005.
But on the whole…
It began with “Children of the Heavenly Father,” a piece I wrote at Ginny’s behest for the Newnan Presbyterian Choir (years before I was its choir director.) It was her favorite hymn, she said, an old Swedish folktune. So I set it for SAB chorus and piano.
On the Sunday morning, I went to hear my piece. First, the preacher forgot it, leaping to his feet after the scripture reading and launching straight into his sermon. I think he must have realized, as he scanned over the congregation and saw me there, out of place, that he had done so. The choir bravely set to it after the offertory.
But then the accompanist/director played it on the organ, effectively destroying the nature of the piece with its sustained arpeggios, and, because she was struggling with a piano piece on the organ while trying to conduct at the same time, blew some entrances and the whole thing fell apart.
And finally, after the service was over, several kindly souls told me they liked the piece; had I written the melody? Puzzled, I turned to the hymnal—and “Children of the Heavenly Father” was nowhere to be found. It was Ginny’s favorite hymn at Mary Baldwin College. Presbyterians had never heard it.
Longtime readers of this blog will already be familiar with the Symphony in G major debacle: in the summer of 2007, after I wrote Dance for Double Bass Duo and Marimba (which went off without a hitch, because the universe does not care about double bass music), and after the orchestra read through (terribly and sloppily) “Blake Leads a Walk on the Milky Way,” my good friend Stephen Czarkowski asked me to write a symphony for the GHP orchestra. I had finished a movement and a half when he decided in April of 2008 not to return to GHP. It threw me for such a loop that I am just now getting back into the composing groove.
More recently we have the Chinese youth orchestra who agreed—bravely and foolishly—to premiere “Milky Way” on their U.S. tour. I knew they would not; they are a traditional instrument orchestra and in no way could tackle the lush Western chromaticism of that piece. But they tried before apologetically giving up. It was too late, though: swine flu erupted in their province and the Chinese government forbade them to travel.
I submitted “Sir Christémas” to Masterworks last year, and Kathy Bizarth liked it. She said she would like to schedule it for the Christmas (i.e., 2009) concert. What happened? She retired not only from Masterworks but from teaching itself.
And now this: when it looks as if I might even complete a pretty good chamber piece, I get thrown off course for 24 hours while I have to loll about a hospital bed waiting for tests for nonexistent heart issues.
It gives me pause about wanting to win any of these competitions. What danger am I putting the Yale Glee Club or the Meistersingers into? And the poor Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra next summer—should I warn them that performance of my music puts their whole tour at risk?
It’s enough to give one heart palpitations.