Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thank You Howard Zinn

Nobody lives forever. But Howard Zinn, who lived until today, and made the very most of his 87 years, will (in a way). He changed the way we look at history, and the way we think about history. He redefined the meaning of activism, and was the most eloquent of critics. His work will always be current, even if he is no longer here to do it himself.

I was introduced to the work of Howard Zinn by David Dubal. After he told me about A People's History of the United States, I immediately went to the library to find it. On the same shelf (in the Zinn section), I saw a small play called "Emma" which I hoped would be about Emma Goldman, one of my personal heroes. It was. I was very excited. I checked out both books, and read the play first.

The Emma Goldman in his play was the Emma Goldman I "knew" from reading everything she ever wrote and everything written about her. The play was deeply musical, but it needed actual music. I wrote to Howard Zinn and asked his permission to make the play into an opera, and he was very excited about the idea.

I sent him tapes of scenes as I did them (with me singing all the parts), and he was very encouraging. He loved to hear Emma sing (even if it was with my voice). When the opera was finished (it took nearly a year, and hundreds of email messages) he tried to get it performed in Boston, but was discouraged to find that nobody, even his close friends, even people who closely associated with the play, would take the financial risk to produce an opera by an unknown composer. I tried everything I could to have a performance in Illinois, but I didn't have success here either. I even sent a score and parts to an old friend who teaches music at a high school in Newton, Mass (the city where I grew up, and the city where Howard lived), but nothing came of it.

We donated the score and parts to the Emma Goldman Papers Project at the University of California, Berkeley, and put PDF files of all the music (full score, piano score, and parts) on the Werner Icking Music Archive with the hope that someone would consider performing the opera. I had hoped that it would be performed during Howard's lifetime, and it makes me very sad to know for sure that it is no longer a possibility.

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to work on this project with Howard.

Here's more about Emma.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I like this post, Mom!