(Note: I originally wrote this nearly thirteen years ago, several months after the performance Hunter High School did of Travels. It was originally saved on my old Angelfire site, but I don’t know how long Angelfire will still be a thing, so I’m transferring this over to my current blog before it randomly gets deleted. If you don’t know what Travels is, this may help. This might too, if you have time. This probably won’t, though. Also, you may find this more interesting if you skip straight to the “Overview” section.)
Jeff Parkes’s Travels Memoirs
Written Fall 2000
Before I start, I must point out that there are basically three versions of the orchestrated Travels: the CD, the videotape, and the MIDI files. Technically there are more than one versions of the videotape, but they are very similar, so I will count them as one. The version that the orchestra can be heard the best is my mother’s tape of the Mar. 13 Monday performance because she was filming directly in front of the strings.
This was the first attempt at orchestration for the show. It was started mid-December of 1999 at Nate’s house when we were still trying to figure out how to work the whole process. This was even before it was decided that I do the orchestrations. It was mostly finished in December but touch-ups and other work were applied later before I printed it.
2. Day After Day
This was the second song attempted, but it was not completed as quickly as #1. I also wrote this song with a simplistic guitar part, and it and #1 were the only ones in which a guitar part were attempted. Frankly, it worked much better in #1. Although I never printed these parts, I left them in the MIDI files, so if you want to hear them you can.
3. Venice To Stay
This wasn’t the third song attempted. In fact, I put it off for a while because I didn’t want to deal with swing rhythms in Finale. Nate’s idea was to have the parts in Venice and traveling more like an old-fashioned Broadway big band sound, while the China scenes to have more of a rock opera feel. To recreate the old-fashioned sound, this song is heavy on the brass oom-chucks common in the style. To heighten the effect, I didn’t write a string part until the second-to-last measure of the song. This song was a monster, and when I finished it I was happy. In the MIDI file I added applause because I was relieved it was done.
4. You Will Go Far
A song that wasn’t too tough. I did write a rather neat woodwind section in the middle, but unfortunately it is hard to hear on both the tape and the CD. Listen for the countermelodies. This is also the first time the “regal” elder Polo theme appears; so keep your ears open for it.
5. Celebration/Our Journey Goes On
I avoided Celebration for a while for the same reason I avoided Venice To Stay. I think the big band sound worked much better in Celebration however. In Our Journey Goes On, the “regal” Polo theme makes up basically the entire song. When Nate sent this one to me there were some time signature problems, i.e. the downbeat actually fell on beat three sometimes. Some of these I tried to fix, but others I didn’t catch and that made it that much harder for the orchestra to play it. I apologize for that. This is just foreshadowing for the mess that comes later in song 17:Hunting. Otherwise, I think I caught the old-fashioned sound well, especially with the French horn, which is Niccolo and Maffeo’s main instrument. A good choice, considering Dan Omer (Maffeo) is a French horn player.
This is one of my more favorite songs. The reprise of Day After Day is a bit heavy at the beginning, but once the main theme gets going, you can feel the energy. Although many people like different songs better for different reasons, it is this one that really sums up the adventurous spirit I know Nate was striving for. After all, the song and the musical have the same name. The simplicity and intervals (fourths and fifths) of the section where they are saying goodbye doesn’t make the occasion happy or sad but leaves it wide open. In fact, the piece shifts from major to minor and back many times, heightening the adventurous spirit. This theme recurs many times.
7. As You Can See
This song is a good one in all three versions, but for different reasons. The CD version is the weakest of the three, but is still good. The tape has the rockin’ stylings of Rob Slater/Kody Burgess on the drums and you can feel the energy. The MIDI file has a great trumpet line during Maffeo’s speech that unfortunately can barely be heard on the other two. There is also some great clarinet work during the monks’ speeches that also can barely be heard on the CD and tape. At the beginning I added a bit of a “Super Mario Bros.” reference, right before the rock section begins. I made it very subtle in case Nate ever caught it, but you can hear it on the MIDI file. Overall, one of the funner songs.
8. Don’t Turn Your Back On Us Now
It’s basically an extension of #7. The same clarinet line for the monks. An interesting tidbit: On the CD when Maffeo (Dan) is singing, it is also him playing the horn in the background. He’s accompanying himself on the horn! Quite wacky.
9. Pages of White
This is the first of the “slow” songs I completed and one of my favorites. There is some more woodwind and French horn interplay during the second verse that begins, “Tomorrow will come and then go out when it’s done . . .” that is hard to hear on the tape and CD. There is also a bit of good glockenspiel work, but for some reason that part never got printed with the rest of the parts for this song, so you can only hear it on the MIDI file. A poignant addition to the musical and a personal favorite.
10. Town to Town
The second-to-last song I did during the first act. This song I put off for a very long time because I was nervous about turning out a good old-fashioned heavy sound. Turns out this song is the most “theatrical” of the whole show. The heavy brass oom-chucks are highly emphasized in this song, as are some great string lines. We didn’t obtain any concert cymbals for the show or the recording, so those cymbals you hear is the drummer crashing the hi-hat together. It’s not exactly the same, but it works. Of all of the songs, this one probably suffered the most from a lack of concert drums. My favorite part is the high-energy Pages of White reprise.
11. Walk Upon the Sky
Obviously a pivotal song in the plot, this song was done shortly after Pages of White, and the similarities are easy to spot. The musical color in this song is mostly controlled by the strings. Listen for the switches from the tremolo to melodic lines throughout on the CD and tape. This song also includes a homage to another song I wrote, “Lightning.” It’s easier to hear with the MIDI file. Just listen to the trumpet fanfare followed by the flute & clarinet. If you’ve heard “Lightning,” you’ll recognize it easily.
12. In These Mountain Tops
This was the last song I completed in Act One because it had a Town to Town reprise in it. This song is a bit weaker in the area of matching the song to the words. The lyrics have some disappointment in them, with Marco resenting his being alone even with his father and uncle. However, the music doesn’t reflect that very well, if at all, which is my fault. Only when you get to the Town to Town reprise can you hear any of that resentment in the music. Also, the ending was supposed to lead right into #13, which was impossible to do on stage, so it confused the audience.
13. Lonely, Lost, and Losing
This song accomplished its goal, which was to portray despair. However, I love the transition near the end when the escorts find them. Most of the song is minor, but when the escorts find them it jumps to major for an instant because they found relief. It then reprises the uncertain, pensive theme also found at the beginning of #7 and speeds into an embellishment on that theme, building to a climax, until. . .
14. Who Is This Stranger?
. . .they enter China, and with a vengeance. This is where the musical style of the show shifts from an old-fashioned musical to a rock opera. The energy level is high as the show gets rockin’. This is heightened in the MIDI file by the Square sound (the techno video-game sound) and on the tape by the slap bass line. Easily one of the songs that lost a bit on the CD, it still is a great entrance into China.
15. Stately Pleasure
Now we get to the real meat of the story as the group meets the Khan. First is a short reprise of As You Can See, and then it turns into the Khan’s excellent “official” theme. This song is aptly named as the brass and string lines add a definite stately feel. Notice the texture & color get lighter when Marco speaks. Then they go off into glory, as. . .
16. A Dangerous Sign
. . .our good friends the evil astrologers enter. This song was the first one I completed totally and my favorite MIDI. It also lost a large amount of energy in the translation from MIDI to real life. Some of the heavy rock sounds were impossible to duplicate without a guitar, and the singing covered up the saxophone solo. If you listen to this MIDI, you may never want to hear the live version again. Another personal favorite.
Now we come to the biggest mess of the show. This song never ever worked the way it should have. Conceptually it was just a plot-advancing song and therefore destined not to be a hit. The MIDI version was an OK rendition, but nothing special. However, this was another song on which Nate messed up the time signatures and I didn’t catch ‘em, so this song was utter hell for the pit orchestra. It also heralds the beginning of perhaps the dullest portion of the plot, which lets up around song #22, What’s Going On? Add to this the awkward vamps when the Khan outlines Marco’s job and the clumsy A Dangerous Sign reprise, and you have probably the worst song in the show. But then again, it never exactly had high aspirations. The only plus side is that it introduced the Khan’s “informal” theme, the acoustic guitar line.
18. Go Where You Go
A mediocre song, this one was another plot-moving device. It also started probably the most grating theme in the show, which was to be used way too many times over the next few songs, then thankfully dropped from existence. I think all of you know exactly what theme I’m talking about. If you don’t, it’s the one half of this song is made of. The part where Maffeo and Niccolo say their goodbyes and the reprises of Who Is This Stranger? are probably the highlights of this song.
19. Journey Of A Lifetime
I think this song lost a huge amount of energy in the transition from MIDI to real life. Nobody remembers this song, yet it was one of my earliest and favorite works. It probably would have worked better had there been more strings and a more consistent bass sound. The CD especially slaughters this song. This is where I introduce the clarinet for Marco and the Oboe for Mei Hwa when they are happy and together, an idea which I tried to keep consistent throughout the show. It’s up to you to decide whether I did or not.
20. When It All Comes Down To Love
This is Kjersti (my sister)’s favorite song, but that’s probably because #34: Anywhere wasn’t done before she left on her mission in February. Nate said this was one of the songs that I could leave unorchestrated due to lack of time, but I insisted, saying this song was made for strings. Unfortunately I carried that concept a bit too far, and the strings overpower the entire piece, especially near the end when they are raised into an octave usually reserved for dog whistles. This song probably would have been one of my favorites had it had a bit more variety, both on Nate’s and my parts.
21. In This Mystic Land
I love the deep bass at the beginning of the MIDI file for this piece, which unfortunately gets lost on the tape and CD. The reprise of In These Mountain Tops in this song was actually done before #12, leaving it as the last song to be done in the first act. I’ve had a few compliments about the end of this song. Most people thought it was definitely a romantic swell, or as one put it, “kissing music.” It doesn’t quite work in the MIDI, but the mood comes across very well on the CD.
22. What’s Going On?
Another personal favorite. This one dispenses the washed-out feeling we’ve had since A Dangerous Sign and sinks its teeth right back into the meat of the story. Accompanied by a rock organ instead of a distortion guitar, this one has a much more low-key feel than A Dangerous Sign. The beginning of this song is the happiest time for Marco during the entire show, and it’s a bit jarring to hear the beautiful string lines turn minor and sour right before the rock section. The oboe there also adds a bit of emotion. The MIDI file is a rockin’ one, as is the tape, but the CD loses a lot of the heavy bass that I love on this song.
23. When It All Comes Down To Love (reprise)
In my opinion, this was a bit too soon for a reprise of this song, but that’s OK, because I didn’t write this musical. This song is musically almost the same as #20 and I don’t have much to say about it. However, this song does introduce the Marco/Mei strife theme heard most prominently in #27: Time For Me To Go. Listen to the oboe line right before the electric piano.
24. The Battle
Arguably the most rockin’ song in the show, this is another personal favorite. In my opinion the best version of this song is the tape version. The energy radiating from the stage is audible in the music, especially during the What’s Going On? reprise. This song was great fun to write and I think I only spent one day on it, because I enjoyed it so much. After all, who doesn’t love a good stage battle?
25. To Come Forth
Possibly the most pivotal song in the whole show, although some of the second act songs could claim that honor. The low cello part adds a lot of atmosphere to this song. This ends the first act on an uneasy, but determined note as Marco vows to tell the Khan of his observances of mayhem. As the dead townspeople rise and sing, the song crescendos until it breaks once again into the unifying theme of the show, that of song #6:Travels.
A reprise of #14:Who Is This Stranger? See above.
(Note: 26-29 I never orchestrated, because I ran out of time and energy. So there.)
(Also Note: Unlike Act One, in which I did the songs in no particular order, I basically did Act Two in reverse: starting from #40 and working backward, with a few exceptions.)
26. The Parade
The song that Nate never wrote down. I have nothing to do with this one, except I sang, “Here they come, let’s cheer!” on the CD. There is no MIDI of this song.
27. Time For Me To Go
Basically the Marco/Mei strife theme, ascending until Marco kicks Mei out.
28. You Are the One
Another example of the Khan’s “informal” theme, used to good effect. Also reprises #16:A Dangerous Sign. This one would have been a good one if I had had time to finish it. I did the first few measures, but it’s nothing spectacular. It’s on the MIDI version.
29. No Better Timing
Both this song and the previous one start with a short reprise of #25:To Come Forth, as will #34:Anywhere. This song is basically the pentatonic scale over and over again. Not one of my favorites.
30. Who Do You Think You Are?
Two words describe this song: pep band. I could easily hear this song blasting out across a football field at the end of 1st quarter. Once again I used the rock organ instead of a distortion guitar to create a bit more of a sinister and less openly evil effect. This song has a lot of low instruments, and is the best song for the baritone sax. The MIDI is pretty good for this one, but it really rocks on the tape. This is the song that somehow mutated into “Hey Baby” during a rehearsal.
31. Still On My Own
A big tone and energy change from the previous song. The audience got pumped up, then suddenly was left a bit dry. That feeling hopefully evaporates as this song continues. The reprise of Day After Day is well placed, and the rest of the song builds to a climax in which the Kinsayians and the governors have a heated verbal dispute to a short rendition of #29 and #30. We are let down much easier this time as a flute note lingers into the distance. This song, along with #34 and #35, was not done in time for the actual show in March, so the tape versions of these three are not orchestrated.
32. Got to Go
It opens with the “regal” theme we haven’t heard since their first appearance, and you know which two characters are next to appear even before the servant finishes the line, “Two gentlemen are waiting to see you.” As Maffeo and Niccolo discuss things with the Khan, the main Got to Go theme is played. This is a theme I could have run with much more than I did, and the result is fairly repetitious. However, besides the songs I did after the show ran, this and its reprise were the last songs I did when I was on the brink of doom and exhaustion. On the good side, when Maffeo and Niccolo leave, there is a great two-measure theme that repeats that I think is one of my more successful translations from MIDI to real life. In fact, I think it sound much better in real life than on the MIDI. Check it out on the CD.
33. The Ballad of Kublai Khan
This song is one of my biggest regrets. There was plenty of powerful material for me to work with here, but by the time I got around to this song I was sick of the whole thing and therefore only added drums and bass. In retrospect, this is a song I would have done a lot more with if I had had the time and energy, As for how it stands now; it’s still not a bad little tune. The lyrics are better than most of the songs, and it introduces one of the two main morals of the show: You can make a wrong, you can make a right, it’s not always black and white.
I learned my lesson from #20 and decided to leave this one up to the piano. I only orchestrated the short reprise of #25: To Come Forth at the beginning, and I think I did a good job of it too. I still enjoy this song, as it’s the only romance part of the show that hits a bit close to home, at least until their “duet” at the end. (I put duet in quotes because they’re singing the same melody line.)
35. Venice Some Day
I didn’t touch this one much either. This is partly because of time and energy, partly because it was a bit of continuation of the previous song, and partly because I didn’t want to deal with the bad pun Nate inserted into the middle (heard only on the tape version, thank goodness). This one, besides reprising #3:Venice To Stay, also shows a bit of the Marco/Mei strife theme. Only near the end when the lovers leave their own little world and enter back into reality does the orchestra rejoin the show with another pensive clarinet and string line. This quickly turns into yet another #30 reprise as the governor seizes Mei Hwa and kicks Marco out of his house.
36. Got to Go (reprise)
It starts with a suspenseful glockenspiel line at the beginning, then goes back into the repetitious Got to Go theme. This is mercifully shorter than the previous incarnation, as the show leads into another rendition of the Khan’s “informal” theme, which is transformed into a haunting French horn line. It soon reprises #33:The Ballad of Kublai Khan, and this time I did something to the song, which increases the power of the Khan’s argument.
37. The Time Is Right
I love this short tune because it combines the two evil themes in a great way. Listen for when the governor mentions Mei Hwa and you’ll hear a three-note oboe motif (also heard in #35:Venice Some Day). The #30 theme crescendos at the end, leading straight into the end of #16 in a very powerful way. You know these guys mean business with this short but powerful song.
38. The Escape
First, a bit of explanation about these last three songs. Originally in the score, #38 ended right before Marco sang, “From China we crossed the great Indian Sea. . .” and #39 ended right before the final “Travels” motif. #39 was called “Walk Upon the Sky (reprise)” and #40 was called “Travels and Finale,” However, on the CD, it was necessary to change the places where one song ended and the next began. Therefore, #38 ended right before the “regal” Maffeo and Niccolo theme, and #39 ended right before the “Walk Upon The Sky” reprise. #39 was renamed “Epilogue,” and #40 was renamed “Walk Upon The Sky/Travels.” For the sake of ease for me, I will refer to them by the names on the score, not the names from the CD, because that’s how I wrote them.
With that said, The Escape was one of my favorites to work on because of the dramatic musical possibilities. After the short string intro where Marco talks to Niccolo, the entire piece builds to the climax at which point Mei Hwa gets stabbed. Most of this building-up section was part of a project Nate wrote for his AP Music Theory project in 10th grade. He had actually orchestrated it himself. However, the instruments and registers he used to orchestrate it made it impossible to use, and it also didn’t build to this particular climax. Anyway, when I wrote it I thought that the short section after Mei’s last words with the church bells should have been accompanied by a low thunder growl and a light fall of rain. It seems that it always rains after battles, when the survivors mourn the dead, and I thought it would fit there. Think “Les Miserables.” Also note how I try to keep a bit of a rock feel throughout this piece until the last part, when the “regal” theme of Niccolo and Maffeo plays. This is when Marco finally begins his journey home, back to the realm of Italy, Venice, and the old-fashioned orchestration once again. This once again leads into the playing of the main theme of the show, #6:Travels.
39. Walk Upon the Sky (reprise)
This song beats even The Battle for most people’s favorite song. Why? Although the plot climax was in the last song, the character development climax occurs when the young and old Marcos are singing their duet. Note the usage of high woodwinds such as the flute and clarinet underscoring the young Marco and the lower woodwinds such as the bassoon and bass clarinet underscoring the old. I’ve never really understood why the old Marco suddenly regains his zest for life, but then again, I’m a musician, not a scriptwriter. I also think the use of the #13:Lonely, Lost, and Losing reprise was interesting. While the usage in both #13 and this song is to outline Marco’s despair, in #13 it was to show his physical situation, while here it was to show his much deeper, more hurtful emotional situation. Finally, the song climaxes into:
40. Travels and Finale
The main theme of the show yet again, in the most spirited rendition yet. Once again, it sums up the adventurous spirit of the show quite well. More importantly, it drives home the second moral of the tale: you don’t have to discover a new country or walk four thousand miles to live an adventure. Life is an adventure itself, and it’s how you live that determines how much you love life. It all ends with a great gong crash that, while missing from the MIDI version, leaves the audience with a great deal of satisfaction for a job well done.
First, a note to the many critics of this show. Yes, it was quite amateur. Considering it was written by an 18-year-old and orchestrated by a 17-year-old, that’s not surprising. However, Nate, I, the cast, the crew, the orchestra, and various family members and friends have been working on this very intensely, and thus have a unique perspective. I believe it was one of the original creators of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that said that while critics and the public welcomed the show with open arms and loved it, all the people who worked on it could think of when they saw it was where there needed to be more color, where the plot ran a bit slow, which character should’ve had a smaller nose, etc. Yes, there are many criticisms one could place on Travels, most of which I’ve probably thought of myself. All in all, however, it was an astoundng piece of work, and when it was performed in March of 2000, it was something magical. True, there were many flaws, and almost every one of them either Nate or I noticed. That doesn’t make this a bad show; on the contrary, this show was quite extraordinary. So what if the clarinet couldn’t be heard in measure 32 of song 4? So what if Old Marco Polo was a little nasal, or the set creaked, or the percussionist made up half of his part, or that the trumpets were waaay too soft, or that the astrologers couldn’t quite walk in rhythm? That stuff happens in every high school show, not just this one. As a production treated like any other, it was mediocre. However, judging us by the same criteria as judging a regular, well-established high school musical such as Crazy For You is unfair, because they are two different animals. This show wasn’t only original, but very experimental. The show wasn’t even close to completion when the casting was made. Suggestions were made to Nate and I. Some we took, some we didn’t. As I was orchestrating the show during the rehearsals, the orchestra had to learn a new song almost every morning, instead of having the luxury of taking the whole show home and practicing it. Most of the songs the soloists had to learn off a tape made by Nate, not sheet music. “The Parade” wasn’t even written until about a week before the show. Add to this normal complications, such as people ditching rehearsals, blocking, prima donnas, quarrels between cast & directors, costumes, set design, and the fact that nobody really knew how we were really going to pull this thing off, and you have Travels. So please give us a break.
Travels was an ordeal for me. It was an ordeal for everybody in the show. When I first really started helping Nate in December of 1999 during my senior year of high school it was because I knew a lot more about Finale than he did. It had been decided for a while that I was to direct the pit orchestra, but the decision of who was doing the orchestrations wasn’t made until near the end of December. We had finally finished the first piano reduction for 1. Prologue/Overture at Nate’s house when I started playing with the orchestra parts to it. I asked Nate if I could also orchestrate the rest of the show, and he said something like, “Sure, whatever.” Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
As the weeks went on into January I began the orchestrations. Nate was working on getting the piano reductions into Finale, which was a large chore in itself. While not as spur-of-the-moment creative, it still was a slow and methodical process, especially if you weren’t an expert at Finale, as Nate wasn’t. We considered having Dan Omer help out with cleaning up the piano reductions before sending them to me so Nate would have less to do, but we decided that’d be too complicated of a process. With just the two of us working on the show, Nate on the reductions and me on the orchestrations, it was a slow and painful process.
Near the end of the second term, I knew that we couldn’t finish the whole thing in time for it to sound good in March, so I got permission to stay home on odd days to work on the show. My classes on odd days were AP Music Theory, Independent Study, AP Physics, and Concert Choir. I could easily miss Music Theory, Concert Choir, and Independent Study, but my AP Physics knowledge suffered greatly. I passed that term, but due to my utter lack of knowledge I failed the fourth term and didn’t take the AP test for the class. Just one sacrifice that went into the making of this show.
The first song I finished (besides 1. Prologue/Overture, which I revamped later) was 16. A Dangerous Sign. I liked it so much that I had everyone in the house listen to it several times. The next few songs I completed were some of my favorite orchestrations, such as 9. Pages of White, 19. Journey of a Lifetime, and 22. What’s Going On?. This was before the daily grind really set in.
At the very end of January pit rehearsals started. Dan had put together the pit for me because he knew the orchestra members much better than I did, so I thought I’d have many faces unfamiliar to me when I showed up that first afternoon. It turns out I hardly had any faces at all. Arrangements were quickly made to put rehearsals before school so less people would have conflicts, but it was always a struggle to get the entire orchestra at a rehearsal together. In fact, I don’t think we had the whole orchestra together ever until the Wednesday night performance.
February: the month of doom. It was early in this month that the novelty of orchestrating wore off and the mountain of work I had got myself into became clear. I had printed myself a list of the song names provided by Nate that I hung on the wall by the computer. Whenever a song was started I put a check by it; when a song was completed, I crossed it off. The harder songs slowly began getting crossed off, while the songs that were incredibly hard such as 3. Venice and 10. Town to Town remained unchecked for a very long time. Every time I started or completed a song I would tally up the percentage of the show I had finished and the percentage of songs I had started, just to log my progress. I cannot adequately describe here how taxing and exhausting it is to stare at a steadily growing file list of songs(Nate was still sending me the reductions as he finished them), each from two to five minutes long, and, one by one, add twenty-four orchestra parts that not only made sense logically, but sounded musical as well. Not only this, but get up very early in the morning, drive a half an hour to get to the high school at 6:00 AM for pit rehearsals at which the whole pit was never there, direct the pit with no prior experience of even being in a pit orchestra, much less conducting one, then still do my homework for my AP English and other classes. Add to this the fact that I had no training in this area and hardly any experience orchestrating(the only song I had orchestrated before this was a song I wrote entitled “Lightning,” which was performed at graduation later that June) and the things I kept hearing about fights between Nate, Carina, Eric, Katie, and the rest of the cast, and you will be getting close to what I had facing me this 29-day month.
February was also the month of my great percussionist search. Our original drummer was Kody Burgess; auxiliary percussionist was Matt Blunt. After the first rehearsal I scared Matt off and he never came back, so I needed to find another auxiliary percussionist. Kody came to a few rehearsals but was promptly kicked out by Mr. Lewis, the temporary band teacher, who had a personal vendetta against Kody and wasn’t too fond of me either. So I got two other percussionists: Rob Slater and Aaron Allgrunn, both of which had graduated the previous year. Then Kody told me he really wanted to do it, and we tried to work around Mr. Lewis, so I told Rob that we didn’t really need him after all. Then Kody told me that he couldn’t come to the last two performances, so once again I came to Rob for help. Luckily he was a good sport about it and agreed to play for the last two shows.
At the beginning of February my sister Kjersti left for her mission to Dallas, Texas. This deflated most of the directors, as they had all been close friends with her. Looking back I see this as both detrimental and beneficial. While she probably could have helped solve some of the show’s problems, it would have subtracted from the experience that Nate, I, and the cast, crew, and orchestra gained. It’s like a young child helping the butterfly out of the cocoon; the child means no harm, but the butterfly doesn’t have enough strength to live and dies not long after emerging. This is, of course, my opinion.
As the weeks dragged on so did the songs. I grew more tired and unsure of my abilities as an orchestrator. As a result, I started making mistakes. The missed meter change in 5. Celebration/Our Journey Goes On, the thin musical texture of most of the second act, and the entire song 17. Hunting are examples. I kept setting deadlines for when I would finally finish the show and missed every single one of them. On the short news piece that KSL Channel 5 did on the show in March I mentioned that I had put my heart and soul into this show. I truly meant that, because for these months and a large part of the time afterward it felt like I had indeed lost my soul to this show. The only real records I kept during this time period were my daily AP English “Writing for Fluency” exercises, which mostly show signs of a very tired, weak guy.
Finally, March began. As the performances neared I realized that at the rate I was going I would never finish the show in time, so I left a few songs unorchestrated and crossed my fingers in hopes that the audience wouldn’t notice and/or care. More of the pit was showing up to rehearsals, but one tragic fact was revealed: Chris Roy, the excellent pianist, could not make it to Thursday’s performance. Nate would have to fill in for him. After all, Nate wrote the songs, so he should know the piano parts hands-down, right?
I brought the Finale CD to school and finished some of the songs during Drama 7-8 8th period in the Drama room. Nate wrote 26.The Parade with Eric in the choir room, so I had nothing to do with it. He didn’t have music for it(and still doesn’t) so in the performances it is a recording of himself playing the song on a disk for the Roland KR-375 keyboard he brought in for the show. At this time I was incredibly close to the breaking point. Exhausted, overwhelmed, and emotionless, I just wanted it to be over. Once during those final few days before the show Mrs. Fields had asked me if, given the chance, I would do the whole thing over again, and I almost said no. The only reason I didn’t is because that wasn’t what she wanted to hear, but that was how I felt. Every time I directed the orchestra all I could hear were the mistakes, the missing parts, the wrong dynamics, the list goes on and on. If “hell” was a state of soul that you could be in during your life, I was there. But the show must go on, and the directors have to be brave, so I put on my best face and bore through. I cracked a few times, such as whenever the outrageously bad pun in 35. Venice Some Day came up, but overall I hope I did OK.
March 8th, 2000. The night of the first performance. Some news stations had advertised the show thanks to Amy Winder’s PR skills, so we got a modest audience of 200, which is more than Pygmalion got my junior year. I got some cards and stuff from different people thanking me for doing the show, but at that point I was too weary to care, as I think Nate was too. I could’ve shown more gratitude than I did, so those of you reading this who supported me, I’m thanking you now. The show itself this night wasn’t bad. There were several trouble spots, but overall it was the most mediocre of the performances, relatively speaking. Somebody had baked a cake with a frosting version of the Travels poster on it, but I didn’t get any.
March 9th, 2000. This night I almost lost it. Chris was missing this night, so Nate had to fill in. While Nate had written the show, he knew his version-which was never really the same twice. He kept leaving measures out because he didn’t remember exactly how long the fills were, and he played songs with so much rubato that the beat was lost. Since I had centered most of the songs around the piano(because that was the source material), this spelled trouble for the orchestra and consequently for the cast. Nate noted later that it was one of the hardest things he had ever done. At intermission it was all I had just to sit in the pit and concentrate on pulling together again. Luckily the second act went a bit better because most of it was piano, but it was still definitely the worst performance of the show. It’s interesting to note how, if even one person screws up, the entire show suffers as a result. Take this to heart, chorus members: even if you’re always the guy in the back that has no lines you are still very important and the show would not be the same without you, so give it all you got. That’s my inspirational message for today.
March 10th, 2000. Undeniably the best performance. There was a minimum of mistakes in the orchestra, the energy was high, and my mom was sitting in a great video camera spot in the audience. Best of all, Chris Roy was back for the piano part. It almost made up for the previous night.
March 13th, 2000. A tradition in the Hunter High School Drama Department was for the leads in the cast to give the directors gifts on closing night. I received numerous cards and a bouquet of flowers. I also received a large Chinese calendar and a framed Chinese kanji for “love,” with the message “An open heart sings a wondrous melody, bringing great blessing to whomever may hear it.” Then the leads gave some words of gratitude to all the directors and Mrs. Fields gave a speech about the spirit of the show that offended Dan Burk, the red governor and also the star of the official high school musical that year Crazy For You. After all these profound speeches I took the pit orchestra in the band room and said something to the effect of, “Well, I’m not much of a motivational speaker. I think you got enough of that in the other room. Just do good.”
The article for the show was published in the Deseret News that Saturday on the front page of the Metro section. Several news stations had also done short spots about the show at the end of their broadcasts. Even knowing that didn’t prepare me for how huge the audience was that night. When I stepped through the curtain a brief second before the spotlight was turned on, all I could see were rows upon rows of black heads, fuller than I had ever seen the Hunter High auditorium before. Then the spotlight fell on me and I was nearly blown away by the force of the applause because the house was so full. I couldn’t think about this much, however, because I had to concentrate on making my way past the front row, which was a mass of legs and handshakes-to-be. Finally, I jumped into the pit and tuned the orchestra, and Nate came out to an even larger response from the audience. He gave his pre-show spiel, thanking people left and right, and then the show started.
The show went fine, albeit with more mistakes than Friday night. Most of the time I was paying attention to the pros and cons of the performance, much as I had done since pit rehearsals started and the daily grind set in. However, during the final song 40. Travels and Finale, I remember suddenly thinking, “This is the end. It’s over. My life, my work, the project for which I gave my soul is about to conclude.” And for the briefest second, as I was conducting Eric singing the words, “Living to take a new experience, Living, adventures, being free. What is out there? Now I’ll see! Living and loving life, wondrously,” I felt a twinge of regret.
The moment quickly passed, though, as Rob got the beat wrong for a snare drum fill and my mind went back into its analytical mode. The show ended, bows were taken, the audience clapped and cheered, the curtain call music(just song #40 again without singing) ended, and the curtain closed.
I remember thinking later that night(or maybe it was earlier) that if the whole project were turned into a movie or a mini-series or something, the instant those curtains closed the camera would freeze and the “Executive Producer” credit would appear, the applause sound would slowly fade into a pop version of one of the songs(probably “Walk Upon the Sky” or “Anywhere”), and the story would be over. Real Life isn’t like that. Real Life goes on, and as much as you want to pause Real Life at a particular spot, you have no choice but to move on with Real Life.
And so it was. Travels was the talk for a while afterward at the school, but soon people started focusing their energies on other projects. This was, unfortunately enough, when Sherri Winder, Nate’s mom and a big helper on the PR work, called a meeting and announced that we were going to produce a CD. So once again I sat down at the computer, fired up Finale, and orchestrated song #31. I also did a bit of songs #34 and #35, but I was still entirely worn out and didn’t finish ‘em.
I also pulled the old pit orchestra out of retirement and had a few rehearsals. Unfortunately for the CD, some members of the pit had to miss the Saturday recording date, such as the excellent clarinetist Travis Cooper and the crazy tuba player John Huizingh, so we had to find some last-minute replacements to sight-read the parts. The French horn player we had used for the show, Tyler Holt, was from Bountiful and didn’t really want to drive down to Hunter for the recording, but luckily Dan Omer filled his place well. The result of these replacements? Well, listen to the CD and then the tape(if you have one).
The CD was mainly inferior to the live performances for several reasons. First, the above replacements had little to no experience with the music. Second, we recorded in April, and it had been almost a month since any of the members had played the music. Third, our recording engineer Marilee Webb told John Hawley the bass player to play very softly and as a result almost all of the bass on the recording was lost. Fourth, when it was mixed with the voices the singing ended up completely overpowering the orchestra and you could barely hear the music. There are many more reasons, but I won’t go into them.
Nobody ever really heard the show I wrote. The live versions were done well considering the circumstances, but the stuff I wrote was the MIDI version, and that is the version most dear to me. Whenever I play it for other people they think it sounds like video game music, at least until I play them 16. A Dangerous Sign, at which point they like the MIDI files, but they still don’t appreciate what they mean to me. Each one of those songs has a piece of myself embedded within them. For all of those songs I contributed not only notes, articulations, and markings, but a bit of my own being as well. While I criticize Travels as much as the next guy I can only dislike Travels as a whole if I dislike myself.
As for the experience? I’m amazed I made it through alive. Weakened and a bit empty, yes, but alive. As with all of life, I learned several lessons throughout Travels that I will take with me for the rest of my life. Reach for the unreachable. Stand up for yourself. Don’t just discuss your dreams, make them happen. At the same time, know your limits. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. These philosophies are extremely hard to keep in balance, but if you do you will become the most fulfilled person on the face of the planet.
In conclusion, I would like to say that Travels was amazing. An ordeal, but amazing. I’m still recovering from the emotional side-effects, but to accomplish something so grand and impossible is still a dream come true. I was “living to find the place I’d never been. Living to explore all the things yet to see. Living to take a new experience. Living adventures, being free. What is out there?” Now I’ve seen. And I’ll continue to see.