Emma Gonzalez

When I see pictures of Emma Gonzales and her companions on the Internet, or on the cover of Time Magazine, or in the news, something wistful stirs inside me. And shame.

I am a tail-end Baby Boomer.

I was born in 1956, so I wasn’t even a gleam in anyone’s eye when the Korean War — the US involvement in conflicts in Korea — ended. I came of age just as the Nixon presidency crashed and burned.

The entirety of “the 60’s” — Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, Star Trek, the Apollo missions, the rise of rock-and-roll, hippies, the sexual revolution, mind-expanding drugs, the dawning of the New Age — all this was part of my civically-unconscious, small-Western-town childhood. I knew only a little of it, understood none of it, and parroted my parents’  prejudices.

I came of age as a new adult, a barely-conscious being, just as unrestrained capitalism was once again gestating: that rough beast my grandparents had survived, and my parents had seen in their youth, and that everyone thought had been left for dead in the Second Great War. But it was not dead. It had been re-born and re-branded in the 1950’s: it claimed to be responsible for all the benefits of the democratic socialism we then lived under — what was perhaps the first genuinely functional democratic national socialism in the modern world — and then, beginning with the Reagan Revolution, slowly began to dismantle everything that worked in America to restore the bread-lines and business failures and monopolies and extremes of wealth and poverty that my grandparents generation had known and fought and died to end.

I never protested. I voted, but I never engaged the system.

Like most of my generation, I never quite grasped what was happening, caught between a child’s understanding of history, and the relentless, glossy, sugar-coated propaganda of wealth and power.

Now, we are here: with a bloated national embarrassment in the White House, and Death walking the halls of our schools.

Adults blame the Millennials. Blame flourishes in the soil of guilt.

I look at Emma Gonzales, and something wistful stirs in my heart. And shame.

We failed. My generation failed. We had a future: we let it slip away into the hands of con-men and thieves.

I don’t think I have the right to offer Emma, or David, or Jaclyn, or Alex, or Cameron, or any of their companions or contemporaries any advice. But they have my respect, and my admiration.

And something wistful.

Guns and Freedom

I’ve been looking at some of the comments made by the Founding Fathers regarding arms and freedom, and what strikes me most powerfully is how different the eighteenth century was from our current times.

Theirs was a world in which only 5% of the population was classified “urban.” The other 95% lived in the country, and worked the land, in a world where it took a gentleman in a light, fast carriage three days to travel from Philadelphia to New York City.

Central to their idea of “freedom” was the idea of self-sufficiency, an ideal that goes back to the Medieval serf, and was carried up through at least President Lincoln. But the idea of self-sufficiency in the eighteenth century US involved an entire household, which included smiths, foresters, cooks, and farm laborers, many or most of these being slaves. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, at the age of twenty-four inherited 5000 acres of land and fifty-two slaves, many with specialized skills such as smithing. George Washington inherited ten slaves at the age of eleven, and at time of his death, his Mount Vernon estate housed 317 slaves. Both men were “self-sufficient” in the sense that their estate could produce its own food, its own clothing, its own tools. If well-managed, it could become prosperous, even wealthy — that, at least, was the dream. These were the free men of eighteenth-century America.

Not every landholding was this large, of course. But original voting restrictions in the fresh-minted states required that a voter — a citizen — own land, as well as being male, white, and so forth. Delaware, for example, required that a man own fifty acres of land to vote. Other states had similar requirements.

The idea of a citizen militia was based on the premise that free (white, landowning) men would “naturally” protect their property. They would be motivated to fight for what was theirs in a way that no conscript, mercenary, or professional soldier would or could.

It seems doubtful that the Founders intended to arm servants (indentured or otherwise), slaves, “savages” (indigenes), or wild beasts.

This raises an interesting question: how would the founders view most people in the modern era? Free men, or property?

Let’s start with landowners.

The last summary I found in my quick survey of census data was for 1993, at which time there were about 3 million owners of farmland, which is about 1% of the population.

Only 20% of the population in the US currently lives in “rural” areas where they could conceivably own fifty acres of anything. Most of those don’t own any land at all: they are really suburban dwellers who live outside city limits, and commute to work in a city. If they own their property — many rent — the land parcels are quite small, perhaps up to five or ten acres, much less than the fifty acres required to vote in Delaware. Ownership often does not include water, logging, or mineral rights, and may include restrictive covenants that prevent owning chickens, or pigs, or making any use of the land that is “disruptive” to neighbors or wildlife.

There are 28.8 million small businesses in the US, which is only 10% of the current population (at one owner per business), which is another kind of property that the owners might defend.

The vast bulk of the US population owns neither land, nor a small business. We are employees, pensioners, welfare recipients, criminals, or bums. We own, at most, a house, a structure on a tiny scrap of land just big enough for a shrubbery and a tiny lawn; in larger cities, it might be an apartment with a balcony where we can grow tomatoes. Most of us don’t actually own property at all: we rent, or we are indentured to a mortgage for the next fifteen to thirty years. We set down no true roots: we wander from place to place, seeking “jobs.”

I’m pretty sure the Founders would consider most of us to be indentured servants or common laborers, or even slaves in a kind of corporate slave-pool, where we are “free” to change owners “at will” (assuming we can find a new owner that wants us), but we can never actually get out of the pool, short of dropping out of the bottom and becoming destitute. We are certainly not their vision of free men.

Under the Founders, almost none of us would have the right to vote. I think it’s reasonable to suppose that we would also not have the right to bear arms, save as enlisted soldiers in the Continental Army. We would have no natural right to serve in a “citizen militia” because we are not citizens: we are laborers, servants, and slaves.

Now, it’s conceivable that we could be deputized by our masters to bear a weapon against their enemies. But there’s a risk in that.

How many CostCo employees would take up arms to defend a warehouse from looting? How many employees would leap to the defense of a Monsanto factory? Or the Fidelity Mutual Home Office? Or a Comcast service center? How many would instead just drop the weapon on the ground and run the other way? You’re not paid to be shot at, after all.

The entire appeal of a citizen militia is that the citizen has a natural interest in protecting his own property. A servant or slave has no such interest in that property: they don’t own it. And as slave uprisings throughout history have always reminded us, servants and slaves often bear deep resentments against their masters, and may turn that weapon against them. It’s very risky to arm servants and slaves.

It seems to me that the Second Amendment was never intended to apply to us, the servants and wandering laborers

It applies, rather, to the ownership class. They used to be the landowners and shopkeepers, then the industrial owners. Now they are the corporate owners. The majority stockholders. The ultra-wealthy. The oligarchs. The real citizens. Theirs is the right to bear arms in a citizen militia. Except….

At this point, why would they bother?

There are no more savages lurking in the long grass. Wild beasts have (mostly) learned to avoid humans. The British left these shores a long time ago. Slavery and indentured servitude are gone, along with the resentments they breed. The threats that the oligarchs face now can’t be tamed with a gun — they are better-served with a team of lawyers, and a few senators in their pockets. If they have the occasional need to shoot someone, they have trained professionals (servants) to do that for them. The local police and the FBI exist to protect their property, paid for by taxes levied on the public. In a pinch, the US military machine will protect their holdings in the name of “national interest.”

Why would these true citizens even want to belong to a “citizen militia?”

Something to think about….


The Second Amendment

My last post was about the verbal rubbish that stands in the way of simply making guns illegal, much of it clustered around the infected, suppurating appendix attached to our US body-politic, the infamous second amendment to the Constitution: an obsolete relic of the slave-owning, genocidal past of our country in an age before mass production of munitions.

You have to turn your mind back in history to understand the real sense of the second amendment.

The year is, say, 1770. Fast transportation is by horse: nearly a century later, a tag-team of Pony Express riders will be able to travel 180 miles in a 24-hour day, changing horses every ten miles: that’s an average of 7.5 miles per hour. A carriage with two horses can manage 30 miles in an eight-hour day, just under 4 miles per hour. You can walk at 2-3 miles per hour. From Philadelphia to New York is a three-day journey for someone with a fast, light carriage, and six days on foot.

Roughly 95% of the European population in the Colonies is rural: the 1790 census will count about 200,000 citizens living in towns or cities, and nearly four million living rurally.

The land had once been occupied by indigenous peoples, now all but wiped out by European diseases (one reference puts the overall death toll on the American continents at 90%). The surviving indigenes, demoralized and largely broken by the catastrophic collapse of their numbers and the incomprehensible greed and violence of the new invaders, nonetheless resent being continually pushed off their traditional lands, and often fight back with deadly force. Given the indigenes, new and potentially dangerous plants, reptiles, insects, and large predators, plus the inflexible annual deadlines of planting and harvesting, founding new settlements or living on “the frontier” is terrifically dangerous.

In the southern states, the economy rides on the backs of black slaves and white indentured servants. The European elites in every slaveholding community live in constant, low-level fear of a violent uprising of their own servants: many such uprisings have occurred within the past two centuries, more than a few within living memory, and all tales have grown more gruesome in the telling. Villages and towns are roughly a day’s journey apart. If there is an uprising, it will take a day for news to reach the nearest town, and another day for any help to come, assuming they have any help to give. The nearest true force — a contingent of British soldiers — may be weeks away; in winter, months away. You are on your own.

Guns are hand-made, and precious. Interchangeable parts won’t be introduced until 1840, and full mass-production even later. In 1770, the flintlock barrel is still drilled down the length of a solid piece of metal, precision metalworking of the highest order. While gunsmithing is a prosperous trade, guns are expensive and passed from father to son as heirlooms. Firing a single shot is an arcane and complex art; black powder is fickle and dangerous; musket balls generally kill anything as large as a man by means of  gangrene.

The slaveowning communities have armed citizen militias, with service required of every able-bodied white man (with exceptions for politicians, clergy, and others), for the purpose of keeping the slaves under control. The militias are informally known as Slave Patrols. Lynchings and other cruel acts of “vigilante rough justice” are common, but seen as necessary to keep the slaves terrorized and under control.

This is the world of 1770.

Eight years later, George Washington’s war is over, and it’s time to ratify this new Constitution.

The slave trade has been dying for nearly a century, though that might not be common knowledge to anyone but slavers. What you do know is that prices are rising, while quality of the slaves falls. There’s too much competition for your goods, and profits are declining. The War has turned everything upside-down, and the British peacekeepers have withdrawn. Now there’s all this talk of “freedom” in the air — freedom from the British, mind you, but it makes the slaves restive. You need those slave patrols more than ever.

Now there’s this Continental Army being proposed….

An army needs flintlocks. An army needs people who know how to use a flintlock. We’ve got both, and they’re going to want them for their Continental Army.

Half those damned Northerners are Abolitionists. Slaves run North, and good luck getting them back.

Dammit! They’re going to use this Continental Army as an excuse to break up our militias. Let all of our slaves run North, to work in their damn factories and harbors and farms for cut-rate wages. Our slaves will cut our throats in our sleep when they run. If we survive at all, we’ll be ruined.

Hell, no! We’re not signing this Constitution. Not unless we have an explicit assurance that we have the right to keep our militias, and our slaves, and our way of life. We demand the right to bear our own arms, independent of whatever these Northern fools want to do with their Continental Army.

Got a good feel for the times?

Fast-forward to 2018.

Less than 20% of the population is rural, and only 5% are involved with agriculture. The 95% are completely in thrall to a complex, interdependent system of petrofuel, electrical power, trucks, trains, and airplanes. Slavery was abolished well over a century ago. The original indigenous peoples in the US have been effectively destroyed. Guns are now mass-produced, mass-marketed, and available for less than the cost of a bag of groceries. While they do require skill to use at peak marksmanship levels that would have been considered unthinkable in 1770, at close range a curious child can shoot a grown man dead between one heartbeat and the next.

But the change with the biggest practical consequence is transportation. Many people can and do have breakfast in Philadelphia, drive to New York City and do business before lunch, take a client to dinner and a Broadway play, and drive back to Philadelphia to sleep in their own bed: a round-trip that was considered a week’s journey for an affluent gentleman in 1770. You can fly from Los Angeles to New York City in six hours. You can go entirely around the world in the time it took a Pony Express rider to go 300 miles. You can buy anything, from anywhere, and have it delivered to your door within forty-eight hours.

That Continental Army can reach any place in the US, in force, within a day, perhaps within hours.

Today’s world is nothing like the world of 1770, and the second amendment has become a matter of purely historical interest, much like the third amendment.


The second amendment has become embedded at the center of a cultic belief system.

It’s a belief system that has been romanticized in The Western. One of the more iconic expressions of this belief system is the novel, Shane, initially published in serial form in 1946. It is the classic hero-story, the man who defies social custom and breaks the law to serve a higher good. It has deep roots: the legend of Robin Hood follows this theme, as does the ancient story of Samson in the Bible. One of the distinguishing twists in the Western is that the hero is always nameless, anonymous. Indeed, the original title of Shane was Rider From Nowhere. The hero of the Western rides into town, saves the day, and then rides off into the sunset. He is not Samson, or Robin Hood, or King Arthur. He is not famous — he is a nobody. He is Everyman.

Near the center of every Western is the six-gun, the six-shot revolver patented in 1836 by Samuel Colt. The Everyman of the Western does not organize a community march, or write letters to the editor, or even run for political office. He loads up, saddles up, and does what a man’s gotta do.

The six-gun is his talisman and source of power. It is Samson’s hair. It is Robin Hood’s unerring aim with the bow. It is King Arthur’s Excalibur. It is the means by which he rises above being a nobody, an Everyman, to right what is wrong.

The second amendment to the Constitution has become enshrined as protecting the sacred right of Everyman to rise up and right wrongs. To load up, saddle up, and do what a man’s gotta do.

It’s the same belief system that fuels the Libertarian movement in the US.

I loved Shane. I liked the so-called Spaghetti Westerns I grew up with, and now they’re tinged with a deeper appreciation of the form, and a nostalgia for my youth. I even used the images of Everyman with a gun to frame my Saint Jake story.

But there’s a little-remarked feature of the Everyman of the Western: he is always right.

It’s the old Black Hat/White Hat trope. The hero of the Western always wears the White Hat. The villain always wears the Black Hat. The villain usually has the law on his side, if he isn’t, himself, The Law. He is corrupt, the Law is corrupt, the System is corrupt, and that is why the Everyman in the White Hat, the man with the six-gun, has to appear and destroy the man in the Black Hat. Because the system has failed.

This is, I believe, at the core of every shooter’s beliefs when he picks up an AK-47 and mows down school children, or pedestrians, or churchgoers. He is the hero. He is the man in the White Hat: he has loaded up, saddled up, and done what a man’s gotta do.

He is Everyman in the cult of the Power of the Gun.

Glowing at the center of the Rightness of his Cause is the Second Amendment, enshrined in the Holy Constitution. The Second Amendment is the Divine Right of Everyman to take up The Power and blow away Evil.

It’s grand fiction. It’s SHITTY in real life.

In real life, Batman is just another psychopath out for a thrill in a dark alley. Or worse, he’s just a low-level enforcer for the mob: a common thug with a penchant for tights.

This is the real problem with the second amendment. It’s why it needs to go.

Gun Control

I’ve yet to hear a single argument in favor of private gun ownership that makes one whisker of sense.

So I’m going to propose a flat-out ban on all private ownership of all guns, and see where it takes us.

Let me start by pointing out that possessing a bong — a marijuana pipe — has for decades been grounds for long jail sentences roughly equivalent to sentences for manslaughter (or longer). You can’t kill anyone with a bong. Well, theoretically you could, I suppose, if you shoved it down their throat and they choked to death on it. It’s one of the more difficult ways I can imagine to kill someone.

So there’s apparently nothing untoward in legal theory or practice with throwing a citizen’s ass in the slammer for decades because they possess something that someone, somewhere, thinks they just might somehow abuse. If we can make bongs an offense punishable by years in prison, we could make owning a Christmas fruitcake a capital offense. We could certainly make guns illegal. We could even make toy guns illegal.


Well, newsflash, dearhearts: the fourth amendment went quietly down the toilet during the Reagan years. The first amendment is currently hanging by a heavily-interpreted thread, and has been effectively abolished in some parts of the country. No one even knows what the third amendment is about. There’s no particularly good reason to obsess about the second.

But I agree. We ought to do this properly, if only once in our modern history. We should amend the Constitution, perhaps with a clarifying amendment that emphasizes that you have the right to bear arms while actively serving in a “well-ordered militia.” Then, if you go on a school-shooting rampage, your affiliated militia is deemed “not well-ordered,” it gets disbanded, and everyone in it has to turn in their guns. Or we could just rescind the second amendment outright, the same way the eighteenth amendment (Prohibition) was rescinded by the twenty-first (Repeal of Prohibition). Since the second amendment is a relic from the slave-owning days, which ended with the thirteenth amendment, it doesn’t have any real reason to exist any more.



It’s bullshit from a practical perspective, in that no rag-tag mob of civilian gun-owners is going to prevail against a real well-ordered militia in the form of the U. S. military machine. You’d have exactly as much chance of winning that war if you used spitballs, which is to say, none at all. Though you’re more likely to live through it if you use spitballs.

But it’s also empty posturing bullshit. Consider that the people who consistently yell the loudest about tyranny almost lost their minds in 2008 when we got a black president. They worked themselves into a creamy froth over the Injustice of Taxation, and Death Panels, and Benghazi, and E-Mails, and all the Intrusive Regulations of the God-Damned Government, and that black man in the white house.

So where was the armed uprising? Come on, guys: you were all squealing like a pig that sat on a cactus over the God-Damned Government. Where was the armed uprising? What does it take to get you off your beer-soaked asses and out from in front of the television?

Oh yeah — there was that Bundy thing up in Oregon. And that other Bundy thing down in Nevada. And the Gabby Giffords thing. And a whole lot of dead schoolchildren. It certainly makes me proud to be a self-reliant, freedom-loving American.

These days, as we edge toward actual fascism, we hear these Rebels Against Tyranny post Internet screeds about how guns protect us from Government Tyranny, but then they about-face with a cowardly little apology at the end of the article and say, “Hey, I’m a law-abiding citizen, I’m no threat to anyone.” Make up your minds. You are a threat to tyrants, or you aren’t. If you’re a threat to no one, then you’re no threat to tyrants, and this whole defense-against-tyranny thing is empty, posturing bullshit.

“HOME DEFENSE!” the cry goes up. “IT MAKES ME SAFER!”

I posted a long article on this a few years back, in the wake of a different school shooting.

Sorry. It doesn’t make you safer. General prosperity makes you safer: people don’t try to steal from you if they already have everything you have. Psychotherapy and anger-management make you safer, by encouraging you to act out your Inner Asshole less often. Strong communities make you safer. A strong, just government with a sound economy makes you safer. Guns don’t even come in fourth.


I don’t even want to waste words on this. Smoking pot is a hobby. The government sure as Hell has been regulating it. And unjust, stupid, and corrosive to civil society as that policy has been, it isn’t tyranny.

I’ve heard only one argument for private use of guns that isn’t complete bullshit, and that’s as a tool used by hunters, ranchers, farmers, and people living in certain rural areas. It’s for use on animals, most of which are going to take off running at the loud noise made by pretty much anything. A pair of cymbals, for instance: which, like a bong, could theoretically be used to kill someone, but even more awkwardly.

So let me turn this around. If you take guns away from these self-reliant, inventive, enterprising rural citizens, I presume they are just going to lie down and be eaten by coyotes. Just like their ancestors did before the invention of gunpowder. Helpless and lost in the face of cruel nature, poor things….

Do I really need to keep mocking this rubbish?

There is no legitimate need for guns within a functioning civil society.

Which brings us to the question: do we have a functioning civil society?

Yes, we do. It’s under considerable stress, but it’s still there.

How do I know this? Because when it breaks down, no one gives a rat’s ass what “the government” says. Let the government declare guns illegal. Let the government declare Christmas fruitcake illegal. Let the government declare peeing illegal. We will all nod, and applaud wildly through the military parades, but we don’t really care what’s illegal — everything is illegal. In a dysfunctional tyranny, people go underground, make their own rules, smuggle contraband, and avoid the government like the disease it is. Until one day, as in the former Soviet Union, people get so tired they just stop playing the game, and the government falls.

Here is the deep paradox of guns. They are of no use in a functioning civil society. If you care at all about the second amendment, or the constitution, or the rule of law, then you believe in a functioning civil society, and there is no need for guns. If there is a need for guns, then civil society has failed, and you’re wasting sentimental breath arguing about the Constitution.

I’m going to run just a little deeper.

The one constant in human history is the rise in human population, a mostly-steady trend for at least the last 10,000 years. Periodically, human society has gone through what a physicist would call a “phase-transition,” a fundamental reorganization, like the shift of water from gas (humidity) to liquid (rain) to solid (snow and ice). Human society reorganizes and finds a true “new normal.” We go from hunting/gathering to village life. We go from villages to warring city-states. We go from city-states to empires. Empires gave way to nation-states. So long as the population keeps rising, we are going to have to keep adapting.

In the last century, we passed through warfare played out on the biggest scale possible: the whole world. That kind of tribal warfare is no longer possible — we are intertwined economically with all of our potential enemies. If we go to war with China, both nations will fall. If the Chinese go to war with Russia, both nations will fall.

We have already moved beyond the possibility of war in the old sense: if we initiate World War III, it will not be a war, it will simply be a catastrophe, like a village that goes insane one night, and half the village tries to murder the other half, leaving alive too few to plant for the next harvest. There are no winners: everyone loses.

We can legitimately argue about whether the present is closer to Heaven or to Hell than where we were a century ago, when war was still possible. I certainly don’t know. I have very little confidence in people: I think we’re going to have that catastrophe, one way or another, and we’ll move back into the more familiar, comfortable place of a dramatically reduced population of feudal overlords and starving peasants. Guns might be useful during that collapse, though I suspect a long knife and knowledge of how to use it would be the better investment.

But if we assume that we continue to move into this strange new world where war, as we’ve known it, is no longer possible — where at a global level we have to “be careful whose toes we step on today, because they may be connected to the ass we have to kiss tomorrow” — then we really need to weigh the role of private ownership of guns.

It think it’s time to call for an outright ban.

The Muse

Winter Dreams was daunting for me to write.

The theme, which appears first in the English horn, was something that came to me in a dream back in the early 1990’s. When I have dreamed music, it comes to me in its full form, at tempo. I’m just listening, as if to a radio station or a live concert. It’s a strange dream-state: it feels different. I’ve had a few lucid dreams, which is a dream in which you are aware you are dreaming — and as most people recount, it feels quite different from a normal dream. This is similar, but it has an entirely different feel than a lucid dream, or a normal dream.

The tragic part about the Music Dreams is that I cannot remember the melodies when I wake up. Wherever that space is, I can’t bring it back with me. I remember at best only fragments.

In this dream, I was in a blue space: deep blue evening sky overhead, the color of that short moment just before the first stars appear. There was some kind of open pergola or gazebo around me, with an open, circular roof through which I could see that blue sky, in a gentle, restful space. In this space, a voice sang: a clear, pure soprano voice, singing a beautiful, somewhat sad melody. As I listened, a single French horn answered in harmony, balanced perfectly against that voice. Strings joined, and held the duet like a woven fabric. I could tell that the fabric was shaping itself to my own mind — I was actually composing the harmonies as I listened, but only the harmonies. The melody stood on its own.

When I woke up, I wept, because the music was gone. All but the memory that there had been music.

And one phrase.

One musical phrase that I clung to like a sailor clutching a spar after shipwreck. I wrote down that fragment, and it appears here, in the English horn, as part of the melodic line.

Writing this into a full piece of actual music was daunting because I wanted to get it right. To capture something of the sublime beauty of that solo voice singing in the deep cerulean darkness.

I think I came pretty close. And that feels good.

That’s where the real gratification comes from, for me. It isn’t seeking fame, or praise, or remuneration, though if something I wrote were to make me rich, I’m not going to turn it down. But I don’t expect it will — I’m in entirely the wrong style for that — and that doesn’t bother me at all. The gratification comes from getting it right.

Or close enough.

Winter Dreams Revisited

Two weeks ago, I fell in love with a piece of music. I posted it on the web. And then I fell out of love with it. I didn’t like the mix. I didn’t like the flute passage. I couldn’t listen to it.

This weekend, I reworked it, and I’m back in love with it.

I rewrote the flute passage, this time as a trio for solo violin, solo cello, and flute.

I also rebalanced everything. It sounds MUCH nicer, now. Check it out on the Music tab, in the “Other Works” playlist.

A Dream Realized

I’m in the midst of processing a complex blend of emotions.

We’re coming up on three years since our initial investigations into moving into this small-town community up in rural California wine-country. We came for a lot of reasons, but one of the plusses was what appeared to be a very active music scene.

In the last three years, I’ve been increasingly astonished by the depth and excellence of this music scene. I got to sing the Bach b-minor Mass in Mendocino with professional soloists and instrumentalists from San Franscisco, and the Mozart Requiem here in Ukiah with the Ukiah Symphony. There’s a Christmas sing-along at the Presbyterian Church a short walk from my home that packs the pews every year, and has featured harpist Anna Maria Mendieta, principal harpist of the Sacramento Symphony and well-known soloist, who comes up because she loves the community spirit of the sing-along; I found this out because I had the final rehearsal time wrong and showed up early, while she was sitting in her car waiting for someone to open the church, and we talked for a bit — a lovely, gracious woman, and a fabulous musician.

It’s just that kind of place.

Last night we went to the 26th annual Professional Pianists’ Concert. This was established in 1992 by Spencer Brewer, a well-known recording artist who lives in these parts, founded because — as he explained — he hated piano competitions. Instead, this concert is an informal and intimate inclusive affair, with a large, comfortable living-room set on the stage, and around a half-dozen pianists. Spencer says they all spent “moments and moments” rehearsing for this concert, and the general rule is, while they know who is going to play first, they have no idea who will play next, or what they will play. The pianists themselves decide; and sometimes, at the last minute, they change their minds and play something else. Or they drag one of the other pianists to the other piano and they do a mash-up.

It’s a very eclectic mix of styles, from boogie-woogie, to swing, to jazz, to New Age, to ragtime, to classical, and all of the pianists are well-seasoned performers who compose, improvise, do a little stage-theatre, and crack ad-lib jokes. Last night’s performance featured Spencer Brewer, Elena Casanova, Sam Ocampo, Tom Ganoung, Chris James, Elizabeth MacDougall, and Wendy DeWitt.

Last night, I heard my piano concerto from the stage for the first time.

Only snippets: as Elizabeth mentioned while introducing the piece, it’s 20 minutes of music, and she wasn’t about to play the whole thing. But it was my music, and it wasn’t coming from me, or my computer. Someone else was playing it. On stage.

She called me out as the composer from the stage before she began; the house lights came up, and I stood and bowed briefly to friendly applause. Then we all sat back and listened.

Though it was only snippets, Elizabeth did a magnificent job, and the audience loved it.

So many complicated emotions.

I think the closest I can come to describing it is to talk about watching my sons graduate, or get married. It’s the point when you realize that you are done raising them. They are really, truly all grown up. You’re still their father, and always will be, but it’s different — they are making their own way, now. You are so happy, you are so proud, and yet you are also sad. A phase of your life has ended.

The concerto was a surrogate daughter: I might as well put it that way. We lost a real daughter to SIDS in 1985, and it was sometime in 1986 or 1987 — I think, memories from that period are a bit fractured — that the first notes of the third movement popped out of my fingers one late night and surprised the heck out of me. I’ve been nurturing that music for thirty years, completing the movements, adding the orchestration, rendering again and again with ever-improving MIDI sound samples.

While I always knew it was good music, I never expected it to be performed in my lifetime.

Even in the heady days of the great piano concertos, it was almost always the composer who performed it first, and while I could play the piece in the late 1990’s, there are also issues of endurance, showmanship (the ability to mess up royally and just keep going with a smile), and stage-fright. This last is, for me, crippling, and it’s always worst when I’m out there playing at the edge of my ability.

Those heady days are gone, however: no one writes piano concertos any more. That’s not exactly true, but they’re quite rare, and the Western classical-romantic style of my concerto — with a tonality and emotionality drawn from all the music I loved most — is definitely out-of-vogue among the contemporary musical literati.

Plus, maybe it wasn’t really as good as I thought it was. After all, every child is beautiful in the doting father’s eyes.

I made a few tentative attempts to move the concerto toward performance in the 1990’s, which were generally rebuffed without interest. It wasn’t personal: it was business, and music, like writing or acting, has always been a difficult business for newcomers to break into. Unlike writing, there isn’t a lot of logistical support for the budding composer.

I think what kept the dream alive for me is that not even one of the gatekeepers I approached was actually interested in the music. I contacted one publishing house, and they explained that they were interested in following a composer’s career, not a single work by some unknown composer. Academics and web-based articles suggested that I go back to school and get a graduate degree in music, or submit my work to various national contests, like the Aspen Music Festival.

As with nearly everything in this time and place, it’s all about revenue streams. It’s about money.

For me, it was never about a career. The concerto was something sublime that had introduced itself into my life, unbidden. It was something I wanted to do justice: not just in terms of trying to reduce the music in my head to harmonious sounds from cat-gut, wet reeds, and brass tubes, but also to at least make an effort to let the rest of the world hear it. To give it wings. What a father would want for a child.

Over time, I wrote other music, and some of it has been performed. In the back of my mind was the idea that, if I could get a foothold as a composer, I might someday hear the concerto performed. But my hopes weren’t high.

When we moved out here, I decided to give it another push. I approached Les, conductor of the Ukiah Symphony, and pointed him to my website. I’d recently finished my Summer Symphony, and thought it might be of interest. He listened, and instead decided he liked the piano concerto. He wanted to perform it. He even lined up a soloist.

Last night, I heard bits of the concerto from the stage for the first time. In three weeks, I will hear it again, the whole thing from beginning to end, this time backed by a full orchestra.

It’s a little overwhelming.