Life is a series of Open Doors and it is up to each of us to choose which one to walk through. In my case, one day, a door marked “Show Biz” opened up and I walked through. That door led to others and I ended up spending about 25 years conducting musical theater in Chicago.
As a composition student at Northern Illinois University, I had summers off and would seek employment to help pay for my tuition and boarding costs. As an unskilled laborer, an assembly line job in a factory was usually the best job I could find.
In 1976, a brand new theme park opened up in Gurnee, IL—Marriott’s Great America. It was about 35 miles from NIU—and they were hiring musicians for the summer! The idea of getting paid for playing music was a dream come true. So I auditioned.
I had never played in a band before or played pop music of any kind, being strictly a classical pianist, but I could sight-read just about anything, including chord symbols. Great America hired me as their Piano/Conductor for the Grand Music Hall, and I conducted a 22-piece orchestra for 3 summers.
After graduating from NIU, I continued working as a Music Director and Conductor for musical theater productions and sometimes I wonder where my life might have gone if I hadn’t walked through that door back in 1976.
Composition still being my creative focus, it was only natural that I would write music for musical theater. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have several musicals produced in Chicago, New York, and across the US and Canada.
Recently, I have become interested in writing opera. Not traditional opera, with its 4-hour running times, huge sets, casts, and orchestras; but smaller, shorter works which tell a story much like a play might. Called Chamber Operas, these shorter works are also completely sung, but utilize smaller accompaniment ensembles, shorter running times, and smaller casts.
Taking the Chamber Opera one step further, I have written several pieces I call “Micro-Operas.” Anywhere from 13 minutes to 45 minutes long, with casts of 2 to 4 singers and piano accompaniment, I incorporate structural elements of musical theater storytelling into a show with no spoken dialogue. This summer, I’ll work on a new Micro-Opera; in my next blog, I’ll discuss it specifically.
Creative Pinellas has opened a Door for me by awarding me this Professional Artist Grant. By walking through this Door, I will be able to create something new and put it on stage in front of an audience. Being a performance art, opera or musical theater requires an audience, but more importantly with a new work, this first audience is very informative to the author.
After all, audiences have one advantage over the author; they are seeing the work for the first time. They don’t know what will happen next and thus, react in ways that the author can only imagine when writing it.
Thank you, Creative Pinellas, for opening this Door for me.