I have long thought that I have had two completely different lifetimes. My first lifetime began with my education and training to be a composer and music theorist. Having completed my PhD in music, I took a position at Iowa State University, where I chaired the music theory program, was made Distinguished Professor, had a full career as a professional composer, and later became the author of six university-level music textbooks. I lived a life where nearly every minute was absorbed with work. I was teaching a full load of classes, composing works for orchestra, band, chorus, and other media, creating and running an electronic music studio, and writing textbooks. I hired a small army of students and former students to help with research, production of musical scores, and computer data entry. In my spare time I was assistant to the head of the music department and a regular member of university committees such as “Promotion and Tenure” and various search committees for selecting new faculty and administration. I had fully subscribed to the 19th-century notion of the successful “larger than life” artist and tried to live up to that standard, which literally nearly killed me. I suffered from many stress-related health issues. In my personal life, my first wife and I raised two wonderful children and saw to their education and launch into the world.
At age 57 I retired from Iowa State University and divorced my first wife. I entered my second lifetime. My health improved, and for the past twenty-four years I have enjoyed a “grand tour” with my present wife, Elyn Aviva. We have traveled and lived in many parts of the USA and Europe. Upon retiring from Iowa State I left the field of music entirely. I was uninterested in musical events and in continuing my life as a professional composer. My only contact with music during those years was revising two music textbooks that are still in publication today. Instead of musical production, I became a publisher of books—those written by Elyn, myself, and a half-dozen other authors. In all, I published more than thirty books on a variety of topics in the years from 2002 to 2018. My second lifetime could not have been more different from my first.
For the past ten years Elyn and I have been based in Spain, but we traveled extensively all over Europe. We lived in Girona, Catalonia for eight years, but the climate heated up due to climate change and we began to look for an alternative home base in Spain. A visit to Oviedo in the province of Asturias was very agreeable and we decided to move there. The Atlantic coast of Spain has a rainy climate much nearer to that of southwest England. The summers are more moderate and the winters not too cold. We found an apartment overlooking the cathedral plaza, five minutes from the local opera house and barely ten minutes from the Auditorio Principe Felipe—the principal concert hall in Oviedo.
For the first time in twenty-four years I felt an urge to listen to music. I reasoned that after all this time I was once again an amateur. Feeling free from the necessity to be an “expert” has allowed me to enjoy a concert or opera without needing to speak knowingly or write a review. We purchased season tickets to the opera and concerts in the Auditorio and have begun attending regularly. I begin to feel that a new life is unfolding for me here in Asturias. I’m calling this my third lifetime—enjoying music again, traveling less, and deepening my spiritual practice.
A pair of recent concerts at the Auditorio started me thinking about how I had absorbed the 19th century trope of the” larger than life” artist early in my life. The first concert featured Rachmaninov’s 1st piano concerto, which the composer had written at age 18 to showcase his considerable talent, both as a composer and as a virtuoso pianist. This was followed by Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life) in which Strauss billed himself as the “hero” of the piece (how modest of him). Then we attended the concert by the Mahler Youth Orchestra of Vienna, which featured a performance of Mahler’s 3rd symphony a perfect example of musical excess. The work calls for a gigantic orchestra, off-stage percussion, horn, and bells, a contralto soloist, a women’s chorus, and a children’s chorus positioned in a high balcony. This work has the distinction of being the longest symphony in the symphonic repertoire, lasting over an hour and a half. It is a perfect example of late 19th century excess at its best (or worst).
Have I been cured of my addiction to trying to be extraordinary? I can only hope so, because at age 81 I no longer have the energy to live up to the challenge. How about claiming that I have had three lifetimes? OK, I’m still trying to be larger than (one) life. Guilty as charged!