What do you get when you combine a 47 year old composer, a 27 year old music score, a 2000 year old story, 6 members of a church band, 1 future Lutheran Bishop, 1 dancer and 1 computer? No, it's not a riddle, but this numbers game came together as the premiere performance of a new Rock Opera called "40 Days: Resurrection to Ascension" in 2001 ... six years ago.
I won't keep you in suspense; the 47 year old composer was me, and my journey to May 6, 2001 began in 1974, 27 years earlier. At 20, I was beginning to compose music on guitar and piano. I was heavily influenced by the Rock Opera form popularized by The Who's "Tommy" and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's "Jesus Christ Superstar." I conceived of a song called "Only Golden Fingers Could Play So Heavy" about a bass guitar player, and began writing my first rock opera around that concept. Twelve months and 20 songs later, it was complete, then it languished on a shelf for more than 25 years. Until ... six years ago.
I kept the typewritten lyrics and guitar chords in a binder and the melodies I carried in my head. From time to time, I would play and sing them to an audience of one, myself. In January of 2001 I decided to finally hear what my compositions would sound like if they were more fully instrumented. Over the next month, I produced arrangements for each of the twenty songs on the computer and saved them in a format that would play back on the electronic piano at my church. That was ... six years ago.
I had in mind to adapt the melodies I had written 27 years earlier to new lyrics, thinking in the direction of an Easter theme. "Jesus Christ Superstar" had pretty much covered that territory, at least the events leading up to Easter. What hadn't been covered was the period after Easter, a period of 40 days where, according to Christian beliefs, Jesus continued to appear to his friends after his death until he ultimately ascended to Heaven. That happened nearly 2000 years ago, but my retelling of the story began ... six years ago.
I sat down with Bethany, a member of my band, and together we listened to the melodies I had written. With a Bible in hand as our reference, we worked out the basic themes to explore, matched them with the existing tunes, and sketched out a few key lyrics. For the next three months I worked on completing the lyrics and eventually used 16 of the original 20 songs. In addition, I had to construct the songs so that the vocal parts could be assigned to each of the five singing members of our band, and invited our Pastor David to play the key part of Jesus. We set a premiere date of May 6, 2001, three weeks after Easter that year, and right in the middle of the period depicted in the rock opera. It was now the end of March ... six years ago.
The main characters in the basic story from the Bible are male, with a couple of exceptions. Marti, our female lead singer, took the part of Mary Magdalene, and Ted, our male lead, sang the part of Simon Peter. Bethany and Janelle were assigned other supporting female and male parts, and I sang three minor parts: John, Thomas and The Angel. Everybody was given a CD of the music and a copy of the lyrics, and they began their private rehearsal of their parts. We would get together a couple of times each week to work on the entire group's performance. I played along on guitar, and our only non-singing member, my son Matt, played the bass. It was finally coming together ... six years ago.
What remained was the actual staging of the performance. Our director was also a dancer, and she agreed to perform a dance to the opening instrumental overture, giving it a visual aspect. As for costuming, we decided to go for abstract rather than period. All of us began dressed in black, but when Jesus made his surprise entrance during the third song, he was dressed in white. As each principal character encountered Jesus over the days following Easter, he or she acquired more colorful clothing, until, at the last, Doubting Thomas finally encountered Jesus and accepted his resurrection. The last few songs led us to the 40th day, when Jesus and his followers gathered for the final time and witnessed his ascension to Heaven. A rousing finale, a few curtain calls and our first and only complete performance of "40 Days: Resurrection to Ascension" had ended ... six years ago.
In the years to follow, the cast would move on to other pursuits. Our Pastor David was elected to be Bishop for the Lutheran Church in Northern California and Northern Nevada. Marti and her husband moved to North Carolina, Bethany married and moved to another church. Matt left the group and our new bass player, John, replaced him. Ted, Janelle and I continued singing together until a couple of years ago and occasionally performed some of the songs during Sunday worship. When I began producing my cable TV program, we performed a song from the Rock Opera on the show; only two original members remained. Our journey together had ended, but for the memories of that time ... six years ago.