Sunday, March 12, 2006

An American in Topeka

As I moved into middle school, my interests seemed to shift more toward journalism. I had abandoned my musical development and composition, stopping my improvisation activities for about three years. I had always had a romance with the fifth estate, starting a neighborhood paper when I was about nine, and then a newspaper for my scout troop, and then a homeroom newspaper in junior high school known as the 205 Home Rumor. This newspaper created such a scandal that the school was disrupted by students at homeroom period massing around room 205 trying to get the latest copy. This reached crisis proportions in that the homeroom paper was in greater demand than the official newpaper of the school.

The faculty sponsor threatened to resign unless I agreed to stop publishing the Home Rumor and serve as editor of school paper. This added to my background as a journalist, which I continued to develop through high school. It was quite an education. We would collect and write the news, type and edit the copy, and deliver the edition to a town about twenty minutes away where a printer specialized in school papers.

There was to be a journalism convention in Topeka Kansas, and my faculty sponsor made arrangements for us to attend over the Thanksgiving weekend, leaving Friday by train and returning Monday. At the last minute, a family emergency made it impossible for the faculty spnsor to attend, and so I struck out for Topeka alone.

The train ride was magical. The rhythm of the wheels against the tracks was intoxicating, and as a fifteen year old journalist, I was living a Gershwin fantasy in real life. Fascinating rhythm!

The conference was terrific, and I was dazzled by the lights of the "big city." On Sunday I went to a film that had opened that weekend called An American in Paris, and suddenly my life was changed. I drifted out of the movie house in a haze, dazzled by the flim and the lights of Topeka. Returning to the hotel, I strolled to the elevator, and once in, I impulsively pushed the button for the Penthouse.

The elevator door opened on a darkened deserted ballroom. Across the floor was an opened grand piano silhouetted against the lights of the city. I hadn't touched a piano for more than three years, but I took my place at the keyboard and began to play. I improvised throughout the night, recreating the music of the film and then delving into new ideas and new regions of sounds I had never known before. I played for hours, fueled by Gershwin, the film, Gene Kelly, Oscar Levant, the city lights and my fantasies.

Although I continued to pursue journalism, music resumed as the major driving force in my life, and I felt as though I had discovered my true last in touch with a part of me that had been in denial... an American in Topeka launched on a new trajectory...

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