A Composer's Adventures

80 Laps Around the Sun

90 LapsI can hardly believe I’ve been on this Earth for 80 years this April 22nd. I used to think of 80 as really old, and looking in the mirror I can see some things have changed. I’m not as agile, but mentally I feel ageless and free to create. I’m at home with nine-year-olds (and sometimes act like one, says my wife) and teenagers, when I teach them how to write music.

As a young man, I read that Verdi wrote his most popular operas between ages 80 and 84. I wanted to be like that — using all those years of experience and keeping body and mind in working order in my 80s. So I stopped smoking and started eating right.

I jogged until I was 70, then turned to swimming and even found a trainer to add cardiovascular workouts to my routine. Actor James Cagney inspired me with his secret to long and healthy living: “Never surprise your heart.”

One difference with age is that I value my time more — it’s becoming more precious as the last years draw increasingly near. Though I don’t believe it, there is solid evidence that my life on earth will actually end one day. Or I should say my “lives,” because I feel I’ve had several already — from being a kid in Brookfield, Illinois, to young jazz musician to percussionist, composer, husband, father, mentor and friend.

From the start, my life has been about creativity. My subconscious is my greatest ally, which may explain why I don’t always seem totally present in conversations. The ability to look like I’m paying attention when I’m really mentally elsewhere started way back in elementary school, when teachers tried to interrupt my attention with things like math, history and geography. “Michael, pay attention!” was the mantra of my teachers. But how could I explain to Miss Markwell that I was much more interested in things that didn’t yet exist. If I was that kid today, they’d have me on Ritalin from the first day of school.

And now I have eight decades behind me and excellent health, so I’m ready for some new projects. Move over Giuseppe, here I come!

Michael Colgrass

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