Guest Post: Get Your Opera On.
When Michael Park emailed me about the opera he was writing that centered around diabetes, I couldn't say no. Because, aside from picturing him wearing a giant hat like this while he emailed, I also loved the idea of a musical version of life with this crappy disease. Michael, a fellow person with type 1 diabetes, is looking for some input from the DOC for his amazing project, and today he's guest posting about the how, why, and whoa of his diabetes opera ambitions.
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As Kerri's tagline implies, we are all more than our diabetes, but it's fascinating to think about the role diabetes plays in how we define ourselves. Lately, I define myself first and foremost as a composer. Nevertheless, I spend so much time thinking about diabetes, that I would feel insincere trying to hide it. Like it or not, growing up and living with diabetes shapes who we are. As an artist, I feel compelled to explore that influence through my creative process.
The music I write is about experience – the experience of writing music is never the same from piece to piece, I constantly think about the experience a performer will have with my music, and finally, I want the audience to experience more than just a succession of notes.
I think it's only natural for artists to want to explore their own experiences, so for years I've been looking for a way to musically portray diabetes. Specifically, I don't want to write songs about diabetes, rather, I want to bring the experience of diabetes to life. This is not the first time I'm approaching a medical condition through music; in fact, one of my most successful pieces brought another condition to life through music.
After watching my grandmother go through and ultimately succumb to Alzheimer's Disease, I was inspired to write a set of piano pieces that I called the Alzheimer's Variations. I wouldn't have been satisfied paying lip service to the disease by just slapping on a title or dedication. I needed to write something that brought both my grandmother and the disease to life as a piece of music. I did things like asking the performer to actually make mistakes - involving them as an actor, not just a pianist.
After I finished writing the piece, I doubted myself, “what if this is just self-indulgent drivel?” Thankfully, my fears were silenced. After the performance, the pianist described how powerful the experience was for her; she felt that she understood what it was like to go through the stages of Alzheimer's. I had audience members come up and thank me for perfectly encapsulating what they had gone through with their own loved ones.
If you can spare about 11 minutes and want to listen, please go here.
As it's been mentioned all over the diabetes blogosphere, diabetes is an invisible illness, and the things I want to illuminate about type-1 diabetes can't be shown in a straight forward way. Can you imagine the headlines if I tried to portray it like I did in Alzheimer's Variations...
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Instead, what I have in mind is an opera with three main characters: Charlie (accompanied by his parents) is a young boy, newly diagnosed with diabetes; Heidi is a professional woman, obsessed with maintaining the tightest control over her condition; and Frederick, early in his retirement, struggles with complications developed over a lifetime with diabetes. The opera follows their stories through interactions with their Endocrinologist, nurse educator, dietician, waitress, and friends.
While I have a starting point and loads of ideas, I need the help of the diabetes blogging community. If you've ever read or written a blog, please go here to see how you can be a part of what promises to be an incredibly exciting project!
Considering this project will be a while in the making (as part of my doctoral studies in music), I'm trying not to let myself get carried away, BUT I've gotten nothing but support and excitement from everyone I've talked to so far! There's a summer opera program that wants to workshop a scene or two this July, and that means I need to get cracking! I hope to get as many story suggestions from the blogging community as possible within the next month – that way I can get some good writing done for the summer, get some musical feedback, and hopefully have a video recording to use for promotions and gathering further support for the opera.
By starting with real-life stories from the blogosphere, I see this opera as an opportunity to try and define the diabetes experience. While many of us avoid defining ourselves as diabetic, I put this forward as an opportunity to define 'diabetic' as ourselves – both as individuals and as a community.