Hilltop Diary, April 3, 2022

Happy birthday, April 3, to my wife of now close to a dozen years, Crystal! I try to surprise her every year with something a bit unusual from among her many passionate pursuits. One thing she enjoys, perhaps out of her nostalgic sensibility, is playing scratchy old antique vinyl records of original cast recordings and movie musical soundtracks on an old portable record player – You know, the little box that closes, with a carrying handle and a little built-in speaker. It inspired me to write a record player into my show, Dear Miss Barrett, as a prop in the character Sarah’s rare book and tea shop, modeled after one we had seen in a tea room in London. And we even used Crystal’s little player and her records as props in the premiere of that show last summer. (Check back for details of a new production in the works.)

So this year I got her an upgrade, and I’m happy to say that she did like it, and many of her records are actually scratch free. This is a state-of-the-art, non-portable turntable with a separate pair of good speakers in wooden boxes, plus I found a walnut record cabinet for the turntable to sit atop, with a glass-front cabinet below to store her many treasured 33 rpm albums. And I found at an antique store several more classic cast and musical soundtrack albums to add to her collection. Today’s turntables also have all sorts of USB and other ports to allow you to connect to other devices and to save your old records as MP3’s, and this one even has Bluetooth to allow you to play music from your phone or laptop through its speakers. How quickly the new becomes old, and how surely the old again becomes new! Now, bring back dial phones! Just make me a cell phone a bit bigger and put a dial on it.

bird 3Lately, I’ve been having this visitor I’ve named Tweety, a female bluebird, whose favorite perch is clinging throughout the day to the screen on the window next to my composing desk, photographed here from indoors. (Those are conducting batons sticking up from my pencil cup and St. Padre Pio in the foreground and our back yard in the background, if you’re curious.) Tweety just sits there a good while at each visit. I enjoy her company and often reply to her chirps as an excuse to talk to myself. “Tweety, help me get this stubborn flute line right!”

Here is a bit of both lovely and humbling news that I have finally started sharing with friends once it was official but before it was formally presented, since my record company had already spilled the beans online, anyway. During February and March, a resolution sponsored by one of their members worked its way through the State of TN House Designations Committee, then passed the full State House of Representatives and full State Senate at the Capitol building, then it was finally signed by the governor on March 18, 2022 naming me, by law, “Composer Laureate of the State of Tennessee.” There is still to be a formal presentation of the framed bill in the House and Senate Chamber (see photo of it below, taken just before I was introduced to the House) when they can fit it into their busy legislative schedule. I think that event may be open to visitors in the gallery, date to be announced. Thanks, Tennessee!

MK house floor 2

The state’s last composer laureate, David Van Vactor, died 37 years ago at a ripe old age, leaving the title vacant until now. It is a lifetime appointment! (Composers, please don’t get any ideas of taking my place any time soon.) Van Vactor had been a student in 1931 of then-65-year old French Composer Paul Dukas (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – You know, Mickey Mouse and the magical brooms).  It so happens that, in turn, the elderly Van Vactor was my own very first private composition teacher when I was a young student. It appears that I’m now the only living state composer laureate in the U.S., among the four states (CA, NC, AR, TN) that even have the title, but England has had one, also called “Master of the King’s (or Queen’s) Musick,” continuously since the time of King George the Fifth in the 17th century.

Meanwhile, my choral music for the upcoming album has now all been recorded and mixed and sent off to the record company, who will master it later with the symphony. I’m particularly pleased with how beautiful this “extra” music came out. The album is named after the symphony, and I had thought of this choral music more like bonus tracks to be thrown in afterwards, for good measure. However, the performances are so stunning that they may well steal the show and end up as some people’s favorite part of the album. Tucker Biddlecombe, who also conducts the Nashville Symphony Chorus, had rehearsed them to perfection, and our great engineer, Kevin Edlin, gave them a truly haunting but clear and pristine sound.  

My May 14 recording session for the symphony in Bulgaria is all set to go! Our postproduction mixing and mastering at Parma recording headquarters in North Hanover, New Hampshire is set for May 23 and 24, and my plane tickets are purchased for both trips. (If you haven’t purchased plane tickets since the price of fuel went up, get ready for a shock.) The album is now scheduled for release in October, 2022.

plantsLast weekend, although it was still chilly, we could not resist buying a few plants to mark the coming of spring. Crystal brought home a Daisy and some Violas and baby Romaine lettuce plants (not shown here), and I bought a “Husky Cherry Red” cherry tomato plant, on the far left. Will buy more flowers and veg as soon as it warms up a bit more.

Life never ceases to bloom anew, and I have always liked the saying, “Bloom where you are planted.” Even if you hope to go global in what you do, I like the idea of starting at home with people you know, and let your work spread organically from there to people you don’t know, if people like it enough to spread the word.

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