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It might seem odd to journal about one’s life using instrumental music, but that is what this project purports to do. I have never been good about traditional journaling on a consistent basis - and am sure I never will be. I don't feel the need. However, I am always looking for inspiration and techniques for organizing my thoughts through new ways of framing a music project and journaling seems as good a way as most. Music as language deals in emotions, ones that can sometimes be complex. My emotions, in this case, are expressed through rhythm, counterpoint and tonal harmonies. My hope is that the stories will give you some creative context for the music and that some of the pieces will trigger imagery, emotions and even memories of your own. I'll be satisfied if they connect with you in ways that you find amusing, challenging or in some way compelling. Try playing the music while you're reading the accompanying accounts, and have fun.

This first set of stories is from a group called "Four Neighbors". The pieces feature classical guitar, viola and cello - three of my favorite instruments. I performed all of the pieces virtually (ie. using virtual instruments).

Four Neighbors

1. Mary Grant and Addie Caspel (from Four Neighbors)

Some of my earliest memories growing up in Newport, Oregon included two very elderly women. They attended the church my dad pastored and would frequently invite us over for Sunday dinner. They were always as jolly as could be. Mary Grant did the cooking and Addie Caspel was responsible for the yard work. Her tool of choice for edging the grass around their tiny plot and along their sidewalk was a simple pair of scissors.

Mrs. Grant baked something called marble pie, which we loved, and always served cooked parsnips, which I hated. I was always disappointed to discover they were not buttery potatoes.

I’ve occasionally wondered about those two women, attending a conservative church in a conservative community. I don't remember that they were sisters. So what was their relationship to each other? Just supportive friends or something more? Tasty food for thought - marble pie and parsnips...

2. The Antonucci’s (from Four Neighbors)

I moved from Newport, Oregon to Rome, Italy as a fourth grader. Leaving friends and relatives was challenging for all of us. I missed my grandma and best friend, Roger. But I learned to make new friends. The Antonucci’s were on assignment to Rome from the U.S. government. Their kids attended school with me at the Overseas School of Rome and Ricky Antonucci was in my sixth grade class. They had a horse farm and one weekend invited our family over for a visit. I had a crush on Ricky’s younger sister, Ellen. She seemed to reciprocate my feelings. I remember Ellen wearing a blue and white patterned dress, sitting in the back of our Pugeot and laughing with me as our families drove to their house. I also remember how she made me feel whenever I was around her...

3. Headmaster Brignola (from Four Neighbors)

By my seventh grade year, we had moved to Naples. I attended a tiny international school called J.F.K., started by a partnership of local American missionaries and U.S. government employees. I enjoyed my friends and cut up in class so frequently that I was offered an award by the assistant headmaster if I could stay out of detention for a week. Alas, the award was not a compelling enough motivator. 

One of the back alley vendors near our family apartment sold cheap exploding caps printed in rows on a roll of brown paper. The caps were a dark red color and could be ignited with friction by rubbing them on a rough surface like a sidewalk or…a textured school wall. On my way down the hall to class one day, I took out my roll of caps and rubbed them along the hospital green wall, creating a popping noise as I went. Great fun! I impressed my friends by doing it several times throughout the day.

The next morning when we lined up to enter the school, Headmaster Brignola, a stout, short man with balding head, bulging eyes and intimidating voice addressed the students. He was in a rage. Someone had been marking the walls with a red marking pen. If he found out who it was, they would be in immediate deep trouble. Anyone with knowledge of who it might have been, please report to him. This sounded ominous, but was not my problem…until, upon reflection, I realized that it was. I silently decided that confessing couldn’t possibly benefit anyone. I also stopped rubbing caps on the walls.

4. Eddie (from Four Neighbors)

Eddie has been my next door neighbor for at least 15 years. He’s an artist. His twin brother, Harold, paid for their house outright using crypto currency. He let’s Eddie rent out rooms to supplement his income. Eddie also has a condition that requires medication. Our houses are within 20 feet of each other and every so often, during the warmer months, I can hear a couple going at it - either making love or fighting, it’s not always clear which. Occasionally, Eddie forgets to take his meds - or takes the wrong meds -  and I can hear him destroying things in his room. Once, in the middle of the night, I had to walk over and shout through his window, asking if he needed help and warning him not to keep up the racket. The noise stopped. Next morning he came over and apologized.

Eddie, if you're reading this, we’re cool.

5. Twelve

I studied music composition briefly with a wonderful Czech composer, Tomas Svoboda. A couple of years out of college, I went to his house several times for private lessons. The first time I visited, he and his wife were busy canning pickles. I was eager, but not a very proficient composer. It took me forever to write anything. But Tomas was always upbeat, encouraging and inspiring. He loved life and creating music. And he loved teaching.

Several years later, I attended one of his classes at PSU. It might have been the same year that Czechoslovakia split into two sovereign states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. During the class I became particularly enamored with quartal harmony and twelve-tone serialism. One of my short compositions in the class was an original twelve-tone theme which has stuck with me and which I use in this piece.

I visited Tomas in a care home a few months ago after learning that he had developed dementia. I had not seen him since the mid-90’s. Turns out he was just up the road from me a piece. I visited several times before he died, taking the opportunity to push him in his wheelchair around the small confines of the property and sitting with him to listen to some of his own recordings. I even had the chance to play this piece for him. I mentioned that it was a theme I had composed during one of his classes years ago. It was hard to tell what was going through his mind as he listened. 

6. Cycles

I was recently visited by a best college buddy I hadn't seen in decades. We spent a week in a yurt on the Oregon coast hiking and catching up. We also shared memories, one of a bike trip we took the August before senior year classes - from the Black Hills, SD to Eugene. We had one change of clothing, no helmets, a pup tent and $50 in our pockets, cycling from dawn till after dark every day, over the Rockies, Big Horns and Willamette Pass. Some memories are so sweet they are often best described in ways other than words.