Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Miracle Of Faith – Part 3A

Thursday, March 20th, 2014
Noah and Pete

Noah and Pete

Note: I suggest that if you haven’t yet read Miracle Of Faith – Part 1or 2, you start there.  This way you’ll get the whole story.

Installment 3A

The Boy:

So I admit it.  As a composer I wrote a far too difficult song for our boy, the boy who offers his five loaves and two fishes to Jesus.

I don’t know what got into me.  Perhaps it was the great length of the lyric that I started with, perhaps it was just the magical weaving of the story that swept me up.  I knew going in that the lyric was long, and that it would just not be your normal 3-4 minute song.  I knew that it had a very theatrical arc — think: the Soliloquy from Carousel.  Perhaps the breadth of the material and the largess of this wondrous character caused me to simply write it as I heard it and not consider the age of the performer.

But when the song was finished, I knew I had to find somebody very special to sing it.

So I started looking for a boy whose voice had changed – perhaps 14 to a young 16 – someone who would sound younger on the recording.

In NYC if you want to find youth talent, you can spend a fortune with a casting director or you can network it through your theatrical friends and contacts and try to find the right person through the arts schools.  I, wanting to save limited funds for the recording itself, of course, went with the latter.

After several days of calls we set up an audition to hear 5-7 highly recommended boys sing for us.  My audition pianist who is the pianist at the Broadway show, WickedPaul Loesel — lives right down the hall from us and played the audition.  The results of the audition were most disappointing.  The boys were either too old and not good enough or simply not good enough to sing this most difficult song.

I began to consider re-writing the song that had taken a year and a half for Dora to write.  Yikes!  Not a good idea …

But then Paul, the pianist, seeing my disappointment said, “Hey, I worked with two very talented kids who are better than these guys about a year ago.  Maybe you should see them.”

Desperate, I said, “Get me their names and email addresses and I’ll contact them.”

The first was a sweet kid and more the part, but again, just not good enough.  The second, was a very young 12-year old boy named Noah Marlowe who was unfortunately away for a couple of months around the Christmas holidays playing a leading role in the national tour of the musical, Elf.

I spoke to his dad, a lovely man, who explained that Noah was away until mid January of 2014.  I asked if Noah had any recordings I could hear.  Dad’s answer was “No, but there is a YouTube video up of him singing a song as a special guest in a cabaret act.”

I’ve never done this before, but being desperate, I actually cast Noah from that YouTube Video.  He was good, and I thought he might actually be able to pull it off.  But I had never heard him live and that was scary.

So we took the next couple of months off and waited for Noah to get back home.  We set up the first rehearsal with the stipulation that if it turned out that he couldn’t cut it, I would just pay him for the rehearsal and move on.

Jim: Tribute To A Big Brother – Part 3

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Two bro’

Note: The following is Part 3 of a 4 part series written especially for my close family.  It is pretty personal stuff, but, in retrospect, eminently shareable with this readership family

When I had graduated from college, moved to New York City and had some early success in show business, I lived alone, a bachelor.  Every Christmas for 5-6 years I would go spend the holiday season with Jim and his family in St. Louis.  Mom and Dad lived there as well, but it was Jim’s house that I stayed in.  He had three of the sharpest kids I have ever laid eyes on – Cindy, Tina and a little red-headed ball-buster named Travis.  In those years I became the Jim to Travis’s Pete – except that I was about 25 years older than Travis rather than 5.

Jim, Travis, Tina, Pete, Cindy

We had a love/hate relationship that usually ended up with Travis going to his mom crying, but he too just could not turn from the opportunity to try to wallop Unca Pete.  Sometimes he would crawl up on the bed and wake me up with a slug to the nose or the closed eye.  Ouch!  Anyone who has ever raised a 5-year old knows that their punch can really hurt.  Sometimes I would hear him coming and just as he reared back to let one loose, I would wake up and scream “AAAAHHH” and scare him half to death so that he would run crying to Mom.

Those Christmases became the iconic Christmases for me because they were my way of hanging on to my own childhood and playing with those beautiful children that I had fallen so in love with.  Jim and I would stay up till 4 or 5 o’clock every Christmas Eve wrapping presents for the kids and often talking about our own childhood Christmases and the great times we had together as kids.  Whenever we would tell stories of when we were kids to his kids; they would gather around wide-eyed and fully concentrated, excited to hear about when we were like them.  These were their favorite stories and we had to tell them over and over.

Christmas Eve Preparation

For the next 30 years or so, Jim, the accountant, did my taxes for free each year and advised me how to take my proper deductions, organize my business life, steer clear of shady deals and stay on top of my roller coaster financial life in show biz.  One thing you can say about show biz:  It is not financially consistent.  I never had a real consistent  job until Watchfire Music.  I never knew where the next job was coming from, and yet I’m proud to say that I never had to work at any other job besides making music.  That one thing is a success story in itself in this business.  But it is an up and down life – like most entrepreneurs. (more…)

As Memory Serves Me – Part 2

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

This is Part 2 of a 3 part series reflecting on an experience I had as a much younger man as an actor playing a lead role on CBS television’s daily soap opera, As The World Turns.  I recommend, for clarity’s sake, starting with Part 1 if you can.

A sub-title for this post might be “Christmas Dinner At The Hughes.”

One of my most memorable adventures as an actor on “As The World Turns” was one year’s Christmas dinner.  As CBS-TV’s number one leading soap opera, when the final show before Christmas came, they would pull out all the stops.  On this particular Christmas show we were to have an assemblage of the entire Hughes family, about 20 or so troubled souls, (it was, after all, a soap opera) all coming together for an elegant dinner.

No expense was spared as the long banquet style table was appointed with elegant china, crystal glasses, silverware and food – real food, not plastic turkey props, but two gloriously cooked 25 pound turkeys replete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables of every kind, cranberry sauce – the whole works.  The scene was to be a long one covering several commercial interruptions.

Technically it was difficult because with all those actors and all those dramatic stories all gathered at one table, touching each life problem for each character was a difficult objective.  But the scene was clever and well written and we were all excited to work together and pull it off.

We rehearsed it and rehearsed it until we had the dialogue down and the banter back and forth natural and the camera shots organized.  It was a massive rehearsal for a show that normally featured two talking heads discussing their life problems.

And please remember that the show was live – in front of 30 million people.  There would be no fixing in the editing room at a later date.  What was worse is that the entire scene, which probably ran nearly a half hour, ended with a total surprise, as drama would have it.

To digress momentarily, I loved working with Eileen Fulton, the star of the show, who played my mother.  She was always kind, considerate and professional to me, the youngster.  We developed a sweet friendship over the course of the show.

Don Hastings

But my favorite actor and person in the entire experience was the actor who played her husband, and my father, Don Hastings.  First of all he was a truly funny guy and kept all on the set constantly loose with his banter, enthusiasm and general good humor.  On top of that, he was the consummate pro – always solid on his lines and a natural actor to play with in scenes.  As head of the household, he, of course, played the role of a doctor and a surgeon at that.  He was the good guy in a field of bad guys or confused guys or cheating guys or sad guys.

At Christmas dinner he sat at the head of the table where he belonged, surrounded by wife (Eileen), grandparents of both, as well as nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles and their troubled spouses on down the table.

After all the toasting, Christmas cheer and drama while we lingered on the salad, we were then, after the second commercial break, to move into the climax of the scene – and the climax of the year, for that matter.

Grandpa, sitting to Don Hastings left, was scripted to begin to choke on a hard roll with butter.  Grandma would then discover him choking and begin to pound him on the back further lodging the supposed roll in his throat.  Someone then was to grab Gramps and try the Heimlich maneuver on the old guy to no avail.  With all hope lost and Gramps turning blue and dying in front of us all, Don (the surgeon) was to swing into action and save the day by sweeping the entire dinner — china, turkeys, and all — off the table onto the floor and hoisting Gramps, with the help of three others, on to the table laying him on his back. There Don would perform open throat surgery on Gramps with the turkey carving knife in front of us all and miraculously save the day … and Gramps. (more…)

Victory! – New Easter Song

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

“Thanks be to God,
who gives us the victory
through Jesus Christ
our Lord.”

We begin with a joyful celebration of gratitude from First Corinthians.  It is our victory, this rising from the dead.  It is Jesus’ victory over the cross that he bore, but ultimately it is mankind’s victory over the false belief of death.  The way-shower illuminated the truth of life for all mankind and we celebrate on this day.

…a sad supper
taken at the close of day,
in the twilight of a glorious career
with shadows fast falling around;
and this supper closed forever
Jesus’ ritualism
or concessions to matter.

We flash back to probably the most famous meal in the history of mankind where the Master said his goodbyes, not only to his followers, but also to his own illusion of life in the mortal state.  The music turns melancholy befitting the moment.  Mary Baker Eddy’s text from her book Science And Health beautifully sets the tone for the evening of farewells.

She continues…
The final demonstration
of the truth which Jesus taught,
and for which he was crucified,
opened a new era for the world.

No one knew it at the time, but the world had changed.  Now death was no longer the ultimate end to life, but we had an eternal future.  The most feared experience of life, the most eluded event of life on Planet Earth had suddenly become a lie and an event that was simply a transition, not the end.  And so we celebrate this wondrous fact.

“Thanks be to God,
who gives us the victory
through Jesus Christ
our Lord.”

Then Mrs. Eddy continues again…
Glory be to God,
and peace to the struggling hearts!

Christ hath rolled away the stone
from the door of human hope and faith,
and through the revelation
and demonstration of life in God…

hath elevated them
to possible at-one-ment…

Yes, the stone was the door that was opened and let in the light, the illumination of the truth that death is not real, and is a lie in life.  The revelation first came to Mary and then to Jesus’ disciples as they struggled to accept the concept of this new idea.  The music becomes like a child skipping down the lane lost in the energies and wonder of life.  As each of us accepts this revelation, we become at one with a new mankind, a new spirituality where the old inevitable no longer exists.

And so we proclaim through Mrs. Eddy’s words…
We acknowledge
that the crucifixion of Jesus
and his resurrection
served to uplift faith
to understand eternal Life,
even the allness of Soul, Spirit,
and the nothingness of matter.

Our Master
fully and finally
Divine Science
in his victory over death and the grave.

Here is the spiritual fact set forth.  Here is the meaning of Easter.  Here is the cause for celebration set purposefully in the woodwinds of the orchestra – simply, straight forward, matter of fact.  And so, once again we must celebrate.

“Thanks be to God,
who gives us the victory
through Jesus Christ
our Lord.”

Then once again Mrs. Eddy reminds us…
The periods of spiritual ascension
are the days and seasons of Mind’s creation,
in which beauty, sublimity,
purity, and holiness —
yea, the divine nature —
appear in man and the universe
never to disappear.

No, there was not just one ascension, only one miracle.  Instead, this was a new world being illuminated for all of us that choose to live it.  This is not an old story retold through the centuries, but a present possibility today.  Now is a period of spiritual ascension.  These are the days and seasons of Mind’s creation.  I choose to walk in this light.  Will you walk with me?  I choose to live in the divine nature.  This doesn’t make me better than anybody else; it is just a choice I choose to make.  I choose to live in the new world where death has no reality.  I choose life instead.  I celebrate this on this day of Easter and every day.

And the pipe organ begins to peel the paint from the walls of the old church and the orchestra fills the rooms of Mind and the timpani and cymbals crash through the barriers of human existence.

“Thanks be to God,
who gives us the victory
through Jesus Christ
our Lord.”

This new song, with lyrics from the prose text of Mary Baker Eddy and the Bible, and music by yours truly, will debut to the world Easter Morning broadcast via the Internet from Boston’s First Church of Christ, Scientist.  Sung by their soloist, Julia Wade, and played on its huge and wondrous 4 manual pipe organ by Bryan Ashley, it will also be released on Julia’s new CD, Solos, in early May of 2012.  The CD version will accompany Julia with pipe organ and full orchestra.

Easter is only and ultimately about the resurrection.  The rest of the story is the old picture.  We welcome in the new!

Sober St. Patrick’s Day

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Just last year, on St. Patrick’s Day morning, I left the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater where I had just taught a class in Auditioning For The Theater, and, walking west for several blocks on my way to the subway, I was struck by the saddest of sights.

Here I was, in Midtown, Manhattan, on its elegant East Side at 11:00 in the morning on a weekday and I was picking my way through the masses of people staggering the streets, all dressed in their Irish greens and already deep into their celebration of this hallowed day and 90% of them already falling down drunk.

Many were young people, probably skipping work, but the celebration was not limited to the youth for there were also among them, people of every age.  There were people vomiting everywhere, on the curbs, into the garbage cans of the brownstones, and some right onto the sidewalk where I carefully walked.  The party had spilled into the streets from the pubs and bars, the St. Patrick’s Day parade up Fifth Avenue hadn’t even started yet and I wondered how all these far-gone drunks could possibly make it through the whole day.

The NYC streets were full o’ the Irish green, the shamrocks, the funny little New Year’s Eve type hats signifying “Time To Party!”, sloppy singing and even sloppier laughter.  There was fun, but clearly fun in a fog of drunkenness that struck me as the height of the ridiculous there at 11:00 in the morning.

I remember thinking to myself as I picked my way through the hundreds of staggering masses, “What’s so saintly about St. Patrick’s Day?  It looks to me to be just an excuse for the Irish (and anyone else who cared to honor St. Paddy) to get falling down drunk.” (more…)

The Decline of Lyrical Craftsmanship – Part 3

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Note: If you have not read my previous two posts, “The Decline of Lyrical Craftsmanship – Part 1 & 2” first, I strongly suggest that you do that now, if possible.

Mary Baker Eddy

So here’s where we left off at the end of Part 2:

So now along comes a new project, a new and exciting challenge that throws much of this out the window for me and confronts the very fundamental in me with spectacular defiance.  To be continued…

I choose to write a series of songs from the text of prose – prose where I cannot change a single word because I am quoting an established author and her historic work – Science And Health — With Key To The Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy.

I’ve heard a few attempts at this in the past – attempts that I deemed unsuccessful because the songs obviously wandered in a through written, basically non-melodious style that did not capture my imagination.  Some ideas were more successful; however, it was an idea that did not tempt me, and I’ll have to admit to dismissing it somewhat haughtily as simply a bad idea.

It turns out I was wrong.

The Missus needed a song to sing Christmas morning at her church gig in Boston.  She came to me with the Biblical lines made famous by Handel himself – “And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace…” She also suggested to me that I look at Mrs. Eddy’s first paragraph from her book, Science And Health, which read, “The wakeful shepherd beholds the first faint morning beams, ere cometh the full radiance of a risen day.  So shone the pale star to the prophet-shepherds; yet it traversed the night, and came where, in cradled obscurity, lay the Bethlehem babe, and his name shall be called Wonderful…”

I’ve often worked with Biblical verses in composing Inspirational songs.  Though somewhat tricky with the original rhythms obviously lost in translation, at least the words of the Bible can be massaged and sometimes subtly changed to improve scan and even add rhyme.  After all, there are many translations besides the King James Version, so why not have my own version in lyrics.  No one has ever objected.

But the Mary Baker Eddy prose gave me pause because I knew that legally I could not change as much as a comma in her writings.

My first impulse was to throw out the Eddy prose and write my own lyrics that told the story of the nativity – until I re-read the above paragraph again, and then again.

Mary Baker Eddy was a poet herself in her time and she wrote often with a flowery sense of the prose style of the late 1800s, but also with her tremendous grasp of the vocabulary of the English language, she could write with powerful technical clarity.

The above paragraph is an example of her more poetic prose and it suddenly jumped out at me as a possible lyric.

The wakeful shepherd beholds
The first faint morning beams,
Ere cometh the full radiance
Of a risen day.
So shone the pale star
To the prophet-shepherds;
Yet it traversed the night, and came
Where, in cradled obscurity, lay
The Bethlehem babe,

And his name shall be called Wonderful,

In it, when laid out in this lyrical form, I began to see the inner rhythms of the writing.  This particular paragraph, when laid out, was surprisingly rhythmic.  It had real possibilities. (more…)

Goin’ Home – Digi-Book

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

When I was a kid and would buy an album, one of my favorite things in life to do, I couldn’t wait to rush home, plunk myself down in front of our Hi-Fi and give it a thorough listen – and, of course, while listening the first time, read the liner notes.

Back then, LPs were large enough – approximately 12”x12” – so that the cardboard cover they came in could have all kinds of information about the music and the artist.  I remember to this day literally paragraphs of my Ellington At Newport (Jazz Festival) that I played and read until the grooves wore out.

Back then they even gave a Grammy for “Best Liner Notes” each year.

Then the medium began to shrink – first to the size of a CD and now to nothing more than a digital download of the cover and the names of the songs if you’re lucky.  Lost along the way were other pictures besides the cover, lyrics and especially my beloved liner notes.

Several years back when I started producing CDs regularly I tried to keep the time-honored traditions by releasing CDs with 8 to 24 page booklet inserts.  Inspirational music depends a lot on its lyrical content and I always felt it necessary to include those lyrics and especially give credit to all the musicians, singers, designers, etc. who worked to complete the project.  But the cost of the booklet became prohibitive.

Today a 4 panel booklet CD will cost $1.14 per unit from the manufacturer if I buy at least 1000.  Take that booklet to 18-24 pages and the cost soars to over $3.00 per unit.  There go the profits.

So Watchfire Music and a few other artists turned to the Digi-Book.  What is a Digi-Book?  “A Digi-Book is an electronic version of an album’s liner notes and vital information.  This downloadable digital booklet contains photos, lyrics, and notes written by the artists and producers of the album as well as all sorts of information pertinent to the experience.” (more…)


Monday, November 28th, 2011

I’ve always loved Christmas songs.  Who hasn’t?  They are iconic references and symbols of one of, for most of us, one of the real highlights of childhood – and then we get to repeat it all in a slightly different fashion as parents years later.  These songs take us through these enchanting times and play in the background like a movie score.

Previous to this month I had only ever written one Christmas song – a song recorded by the Jenny Burton Experience called Christmas In My SoulThey say, in the music business, that the month of June is the month to write and begin one’s Christmas album, the preparation of such to be around 5-6 months.  Who can write Christmas songs in June?  What a silly notion.

This year the Missus has come up short in her search for the perfect Christmas song for her Christmas Day performance in church.  She had decided to employ a terrific Boston harpist and together with her organist, Bryan Ashley, keep it small and delicate in accordance with the spiritual implications of the morning.  Last year she used a brass quintet plus the church four manual pipe organ and blew the roof off, so this year she wanted to do something completely different.

But no song came to mind to fit the criteria.

While watching her go through her turmoil, I happened to mention one day several weeks ago that perhaps I could write one for her.  This was said in a fit of compassion for her plight while I was in the middle of the mad dash of the final throes of my own CD, Goin’ Home.

Seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, she grabbed at the offer and signed me up.  At first I thought, “Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?”  Where would I ever find the time to do this? (more…)

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