Wednesday, June 13, 2012


It’s not often that I am at a loss for words. It’s even less often that events leave me at a loss for emotion. Yet I found myself in such a state on the evening of May 18, 2012. On that brisk spring night, I reached an intersection of euphoria and anguish. 
Readers of this blog have been aware for sometime that I have been working on a new commissioned work for the Atlanta Ballet. The past several blog entries have, in fact, been devoted exclusively to describing my collaborative process with choreographer Tara Lee and composing for the ballet. I also had alluded to the fact that I would be missing the premiere performances of my work because of my residency at the MacDowell Artists Colony. Missing the premiere was not the cause of my anguish, however. Far from it.
Exterior of my studio, Sprague Smith, at the
MacDowell Colony
Being a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career to date. It’s hard to put into words how stimulating it was to be in such a creative environment. The property is draped in beauty and stillness and as such, I found it easy to focus on my work. My days were devoted exclusively to writing music. I wasn’t even interrupted for lunch. A basket simply appeared around noon daily without fanfare containing a delicious meal. Equally stimulating to creativity was my interaction with the other brilliant Fellows residing with me at the colony. These Fellows were from varied disciplines and thus I was surrounded by writers, poets, film makers, visual artists and, of course, other composers whose company I found to be quite inspiring. I learned a great deal through casual conversations over meals as well as at “formal” presentations of respective colonists’ work.
From "Pavo," dancers Christine Winkler and John Welker.
On the evening of May 18, I was still in residence at MacDowell and was spending the evening, as I had for the past two weeks, in my studio, Sprague Smith. On that very same evening, the premiere of my ballet piece, Pavo, was taking place back in Atlanta. I was elated by a steady stream of text messages from the musicians letting me know how things were going. The premiere seemed to have been very well-received. Although disappointed to be missing the performances, my disappointment was largely offset by a warm feeling of satisfaction knowing that the reason for my absence was due to my residency at MacDowell. It was one of those rare moments for a composer where all the hard work seemed to be paying off. It wasn’t just a single great premiere but the simultaneity of the premiere and my MacDowell residency that made me feel good about my career in general. 
Yet, earlier that same day, I received a phone call from my wife informing me that my mother was in serious medical condition and that I needed to cut my residency short and return home immediately. I could not get a flight back to Atlanta until May 19 and therefore found myself in my studio at MacDowell that Friday evening at the intersection of euphoria and anguish. It was a curious feeling to have such extremes occurring literally at the same time: the aforementioned joy about my residency and premiere coupled with anguished worry about what was going on at home. 
Interior of my studio at MacDowell.
For a long while, I lay motionless on my bed with a thousand thoughts and emotions swirling inside of me. At one point, I literally became numb. Then, almost without thinking, a got up and went to my desk and began writing. I had nearly completed the movement I was working on when I received the news from home and decided that I needed to finish my work before journeying home. It may seem like an odd reaction to everything going on at that moment. However, in retrospect, I think that that is where creative artists sometimes live: at the crossroad of joy and sadness; euphoria and anguish. 
It’s been several weeks now since my time at MacDowell and the premiere of Pavo. As of this writing, the summer looks like it will be a difficult one for my family and myself. However, I take solace both in my Faith as well as in the warm memories of MacDowell and my collaboration with Tara Lee, the musicians, and everyone at the Atlanta Ballet. It is also not lost upon me, after thinking about things for a few weeks, that on the evening of May 18, I not only experienced both joy and sadness but somehow found the strength to rise up from my bed and get to work. 
That’s the thing about being at a crossroad. One usually does not stay there. However, which way you proceed makes all the difference.