I realize we are nearly a month an a half into the year, but I am still reeling from a pretty intense six weeks. Just before New Years, Joy Music House took on the project The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and I had the pleasure of orchestrating Emile Mosseri’s beautiful score. He’s a very talented composer and a really wonderful guy. We had recording sessions that entire week, including a brass quartet on New Year’s Day and a remote string session the day after. The film was very well received at its Sundance premiere.
I had the opportunity to participate in the Helix Collective’s new series Pulling Back the Curtain, a concert featuring the music of the assistants, the people behind the scenes who often assist other composers, but don’t often have the same opportunities to share their music. I have spent the last couple of years serving on the score production teams for several composers, which earned me the consideration.
The score and parts were due in mid February, which only gave me about three weeks to either rearrange an older work, or compose a new 10-minute piece for chamber orchestra. Of course I wanted to challenge myself to write something new.
But the blank page is hard enough when I have inspiration to propel me forward. Without it, it is more challenging. I like parameters, a visual or a story of any kind. Limitations can be illuminating, provide guidance. It was helpful knowing that I had a palette of nine players: solo violin, viola, cello, bass, piano, marimba, flute, clarinet and horn.
In mid January, I went to northeastern Nevada for a couple of weeks to see my dad. He lives in the high desert which was covered in snow and was seeing nightly lows of about 10 Fahrenheit degrees. He decided it was time to move to a retirement community, to downsize. He had been living in the house alone since my mom passed away in 2014, and at 93, it had become overwhelming. He used to take care of everything, but no longer had the same energy. So my brother and sister and I spent the weekend moving him and all his necessities, and cleaning out the house, the place we all grew up.
The last day before I came back to sunny—rather, rainy, but still a hell of a lot warmer—Los Angeles, I was in the nearly empty house alone ruminating on its 40-plus-year-history in our family. And even though it hasn’t been my home for more than twenty years, being there still fills my brain with intimate nostalgia. I know this place so well, and to see it empty… it was the end of something deeply personal for me.
I started writing a poem to capture the gamut of emotions, and as my rambling started to come together, I began to write the music. In four short sections, I sought to understand everything I felt in that last night: a seemingly bottomless well of grief, loneliness and cynicism, but also moments of wonder and joy, gratitude and happiness, even euphoria. I relived many wonderful memories flipping through pictures, and seeing time pass quickly. On that last night when all the lights were out, I moved through the echoey space, and mused to myself that I was the only thing haunting this place now.
And that is what Last Ghost in the House is about: a saying goodbye, of a sort.
I will be posting more about this, including the poem, very soon.