Hilltop Diary, June 30, 2020

These last two weeks have been quite a bit more eventful than the previous ones (see diary of June 14). Crystal’s wonderful new Subaru Forester arrived, brought up from Florida for us by Crystal’s parents, and we promptly took a vacation trip in it to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, staying three nights at the Biltmore Inn, their own luxury hotel on the estate. We celebrated our ten years of wedded bliss on June 19 and enjoyed a wonderful rest with beautiful views in their lap of luxury, indeed, though the Downton Abbey Exhibition that we hoped to see there did not reopen to the public till five days after we had returned home! Oh well, maybe another time on that. A highlight was staying overnight on the fourth night with our good friends, author Joseph and Susannah Pearce and their lovely kids in South Carolina. We parted regretfully and all wished we could somehow live nearer to each other and see each other more often. Plans will shape up to vacation in the coming months sharing a mountain cabin halfway between us in the Smokey mountains.

Back at Hilltop, we’ve been sitting in the back garden most evenings at dusk and have some new friends, a pair of skunks! One has a very narrow white stripe and the other a completely white back. They just amble and waddle past us and go on their way as we sit still and pray they don’t decide to spray us!

Without giving the details, Crystal has been auditioning for musical theater and was among the few who got a nice callback, an honor itself, since so many auditioned for that leading role. If she gets the part, you’ll hear the details here. Also, she is scheduled to sign her contract this week for her new music teaching job!  I can say that she’s changing schools this year but will wait to give those details, also, till the formal signing. UPDATE: Crystal signed her contract today, July 2, with St. Edward Catholic School on Thompson Lane in Nashville. Her duties will be comparable to those she had as music teacher at her previous position: pre-K through 8th grade music classes and directing choirs and musical theater productions. St. Edward specifically recruited her as someone who could build their music program based on Chant and traditionally reverent sacred music.

Last week, I made my last trip over to my Vanderbilt office to bring home so many music scores and books, leaving behind a good number of textbooks for anyone who might want them. Into the trash went many memories, such as old folders of notes for classes I haven’t taught in years. It was a bit nostalgic, but mostly a relief and a catharsis to make that final break and begin my early retirement to devote myself full time to composing and writing. Not to mention that teaching gets much harder this coming fall, with more preparation to be done by teachers, because the last half of each course will have to be done remotely – students will not return to campus after Thanksgiving break but will finish their classes at home, via computer! The building was all marked off with arrows on the floor, showing which way everyone will have to walk in the building and many other safety measures, but I won’t be there for all that fun (whew)!

Meanwhile, thanks be to God, this past weekend I finished the fiction novel I have been writing, lo, these several months! It came in at eighty-two thousand words. Depending on the print and layout, that would typically be around a 250 to 300-page book and comparable to the average length of many novels. However, as a composer, I cannot help but compare the scope of that (apples and oranges though it may be) to the 45-minute symphony score I’m also near to completing, which will have over two-hundred big 11 X 17 pages and perhaps more total notes for its ninety-six instruments than there are letters of the alphabet in the novel, if you total them up. Ha-ha, I don’t know which is the “bigger” project, but both have taken months. During those months, I just kept reminding myself of that old Indian saying: “How do you eat an Elephant? One bite at a time.” However, I can also add that one must work up to doing such large projects. Twenty years ago, it would have taken me years instead of months to do either of these two projects, if I even could have done them, which I doubt. You do get faster and better as your skill improves (at least I have).

Having enjoyed one publisher’s rejection of the novel already, I’m excited to start racking up several more of them in hopes of finally finding one foolhardy enough to publish it. However, I also have a friend in Hollywood who has agreed to read the novel and consider helping me in the process of pitching it to the film industry, since the novel has fairytale elements and scenes that cry out for a potentially captivating visual treatment on film. It will need to be translated into a screenplay, of course.

At the Biltmore Inn, I tried a cocktail with an intriguing description, called “The Last Word”. It is a classic old one, from the Prohibition era. The recipe is:  one part dry gin, one part Chartreuse, one part maraschino liqueur (called Luxardo), and one part fresh lime juice, shaken and strained into a chilled martini glass, or served on the rocks. Delicious!

Last Word

So today is the last day of the first half of 2020! So far, we’ve had tornadoes where I live, a bit of the plague everywhere, and people in the streets in many cities. And that’s just half a year! Maybe the remainder of the year will be calm. Oh, wait, we are about to start an election season! I will not pontificate at you about any of it, but simply wish you mental peace and good health and some beauty in your life for the rest of the year.

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