In the days preceding my flight across the Atlantic Ocean; to be farther away from home than ever before, I did not fully grasp the gravity of what this journey held in store for me. I experienced a combination of emotions: fear of the unknown, and a subtle excitement for the new Spanish life. I experienced some anxiety over being in a foreign country without a firm grasp of the language and living on my own. However, on the night before and the day of the flight, I felt a peace that squelched my fears. When I was thirteen years old, I was planning to travel with some friends to a ski resort that was about an hour-and-a-half away from my home. The night before the departure, I could not fall asleep to save my life due to the overwhelming excitement. This somehow was not the case for the trip that would have a much more profound impact on me than a day of snowboarding. I packed calmly the day before and slept soundly. I calmly checked in at O’Hare Airport where I calmly boarded my plane. My mother was not so calm, but that is completely understandable! Her eldest son was to be absent three months from home life for the first time, missing Thanksgiving and family birthdays. Regardless, on the day of the flight, I did not feel anxious in the slightest, but instead experienced peace in expectation of the days ahead. The reasons for this eluded me.
When I arrived at the airport in Madrid, it was 7:40 am Saturday morning. I remember seeing my first Spanish sunrise. It was almost surreal, due to the half-conscious state I was in from the sleepless eight-hour flight. It was at that moment I realized that I was no longer in the country of which I was born. It seemed as though I was in some halfway world; a limbo between the familiar and the foreign. Once I boarded the plane that was to take me to Oviedo, the excitement started to take a hold of me. As I watched through the tiny window, the sky went from completely clear to covered in a blanket of cottonesque clouds progressively as we approached the Bay of Biscay. As the cloud cover increased, so did my anticipation and excitement of living and studying in a new place, rich in new things to discover. When the plane began its descent on the airport, we broke through the clouds, revealing a beautiful view of the Spanish northern coast. I was now on the edge of my seat, snapping picture after picture in an attempt to capture this moment. After claiming my bags, I found the man holding the sign with my name on it, Rafael, a bassoon teacher at the Conservatorio. He was extraordinarily excited to receive me. During the drive from the airport to Oviedo, he gave me fascinating introduction to the Principality of Asturias; exposing some history, culture, tradition, and sights. We arrived at my flat and I finally got settled in. Being quite tired from travels, I laid down to sleep.
In the next two weeks, I did not have any classes to worry about so I took the opportunity to get to know the city of Oviedo. I walked all around the city. Every sight, sound, and smell was quite different and new. Even the cars smell different! I observed everyone: how they interacted with each other, how they carried themselves, attempting to find similarities and differences between my culture and theirs. I was able to go to the beach on the coast several times due to the inordinately warm weather in late September. During these weeks, I had a remarkable zeal to explore and discover. My last time on the beach, my attention was drawn to a small mountain that was overlooking the coast. I decided that I needed to climb this. It was like a pretty girl to whom you find your eye falling on time and time again. I commenced the climb, with only swimming trunks and tennis shoes. This mountain, I came to discover, in every way like the pretty girl, posed a much more difficult undertaking than anticipated. For deep beneath beauty is a complex network of unknowns and variables. How can humanity possibly explain or find a reason for the beauty that nature reveals to us? Additionally, how is it possible that beauty can cause not only elation but suffering as well? These new thoughts were running freely through my mind as my every step was being restricted by a thick coverage of thistle-like brush, cutting my legs, turning my trunks and my socks red with blood. Still, I pressed on, knowing that the panorama that awaited me at the summit would offer gratification. I was not left unsatisfied. I stood at the top for what seemed like an eternity. Just then, the sun was diving into the ocean, taking an evening swim to cool itself. As I watched the sun dip below the Atlantic, I realized there were so many things to see that I would not possibly have time to see everything. This of course was entirely true.
Classes began and I easily fell into a routine. I went to classes in the morning, excited about all the new things I was learning. Upon returning home and satisfying my physical hunger, I would walk through the city, unconsciously humming a tune and soaking up all the sensory stimuli, satisfying my intellectual hunger. I utilized the time I had away from my otherwise time-consuming responsibilities of a job, school, and social life to simply remain quiet and absorb life. Almost all nights and weekends were spent, instead of going out on the town to party with other students, contemplating my music and the music of the masters, attempting to discover, like the mountain, the unknowns and variables of the beauty displayed by music. It was during these times, that I became quite aware of the role of self-identity for the composer. I examined my past and present. I came to rediscover many melodies that I heard and loved as a child and they quickly became reasons for new, exciting projects in the future. My classes were going extremely well which contributed to the low level of stress. However, I was having a bit of trouble finding the proper way to begin my new piece. I had a fantastic concept but not the method to accurately depict this concept. Despite this hang-up, every lesson with my composition teacher, Fernando López Blanco, was better than the last. We became good friends, discovering that we connect not only musically but in other ways as well. At one lesson, he remarked with some surprise in his voice that even though he was born in raised in Spain and I in the United States, we had many things in common.
The weeks turned into months and in the blink of an eye, it was Thanksgiving. That day, I decided to climb the top of Mt. Naranco, at the summit stands the statue of “El Cristo” who spreads His arms over the city. I walked from my flat, in the center of town, around ten kilometers to top of the mountain. My goal was to climb Mt. Naranco the most direct way possible. I strayed from the paved pedestrian path and found a small trailhead. As I climbed through the woods on the face of the mountain, the trail became increasingly obscure. Eventually, I ran out of trail. I decided to traverse up through the brush in hopes of reaching another trail. No such luck. Again, I encountered the thick thorns as on the mountain at the beach. This time, the brush was completely impassible. There were vines running horizontally on the slope, making the possibility of tripping and falling quite distinct. I was forced to turn back and find another path. I managed to find an alternative route that seemed to lead me onward but only proved to be another dead end. As I continued to encounter different challenges, and subsequently solving them, I became increasingly confident in myself and my abilities to face obstacles and conquer them. I continued on, finding a small path that led up to a restaurant, “Parrilla Buenos Aires.” The view from this restaurant was absolutely incredible. The entire city lay below me as if to remind me how far away from the familiar I had walked. I walked the main road that followed from the restaurant, observing a clearly marked trailhead on the side of the road that went in descending direction. Noting to take this path upon my descent, I continued up the road where I found a paved path leading to the summit. I finally reached a park that is located just below the peak where the statue stood. I stopped to take some pictures and bask in the sun that was just about to kiss the mountaintops goodnight. Climbing the final slope to the top seemed more exhausting than the entire journey. However, I was elated to finally be within seconds of my destination after an hour-and-a-half of climbing. I reached the top to gaze upon the beautiful statue of my Savior, while at the same moment, the sun was laying down on its bed of mountain peaks, tucking itself under a blanket of purple mist. As the sun went to bed, night was just waking up from its slumber, capping itself in white, opaque, cloud. Clearly thinking that the night was no friend of a solitary foreigner on a tree covered mountain, I immediately began my descent. Navigating through the white mist, I found myself back on the main road. I remembered the descending pedestrian path and when I came upon it, I followed it down the mountain. As night was coming to full strength, I faced a fork in the path. One led up along the ridge and over a peak. The other went through a dense forest but seemed to lead down the mountain. I decided to choose the latter but as night was coming to, I no longer thought that following this path was a wise choice. Reluctantly, I turned back toward the main road, all the while knowing that it is the best move to make given the situation. Upon reaching the road, a sense of relief came over me in spite of the blackness covering the way ahead. Then logically, I understood the reason for my fears that preceded my trip. I had been completely comfortable and unchallenged in my life in the States. In learning, yes, but in existence, no. For example, I lived comfortably under my parents’ roof until the age of twenty-three. I had a good job; a close circle of friends that hadn’t grown in years. If I had a problem of any kind, I could rely on others around me to help me or even fix it for me. I went to the same places and did the same things for the past 5 years. I had become so comfortable in my life that the thought of a completely new existence frightened me. It was on this mountain that I completely dispelled all previous fear. I made my way down on the main road and with ease found my way back to my flat. Praising God all the while for keeping me safe yet showing me that He “has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and of a sound mind.”
Invigorated by this experience, a breakthrough came in the new piece I was writing. This music was to represent a transition, a paradigm shift, to examine two realities as one fades and another commences. Almost as if one was waking from a dream only to doubt whether or not what they were waking from was actually a dream in the first place. I looked to my own dreams for inspiration, where I have heard the most beautiful music but have been left with the emptiness of forgetting it upon awaking. My desire to write this piece sprang from the obvious, numerous mappings of the concept of transition not only in my life but in the lives of others as well. We know one reality and slowly, we come to know another. I was in the US, now I’m in Spain; for others of us, vice versa. I was working toward my bachelor’s degree, now I have completed it. The list is endless. It is a piece that marks transition and change in my life and I would not have been able to write it without the time to self-reflect.
It was also during this holiday season of Thanksgiving and afterward, that I began to identify more with my American nationality than ever before. My first generation Italian-American Grandfather told me that when he studied in Italy for a year during his college years, he felt like he was “home,” even though he was born in the US. His parents immigrated to America from Italy in the 1910s, so he grew up basically, “Italian.” I thought that perhaps I might feel something similar while in Europe because of my close European relatives. In addition, I did not feel as though I am the quintessential American young man. Surprisingly to me, I felt more attached to the United States than I expected. My very existence represents the opportunity our country offers for anyone looking for it. The United States has provided for my ancestors to become Jazz composers/arrangers, artists, scholars, novelists, business owners, fathers, mothers, grandparents, great-grandparents, and ultimately, leading to my own genesis. Why should I not love that land? I have made a journey back to the land my fathers came from, but it is not my home. My home is where my loved ones are now, in the United States. There, I can embrace my past and preserve my European culture while simultaneously enjoying the freedoms, for which my fathers fought and suffered to pass on to their children; to me and mine. As a part of my journey of self-realization, it was important to solidify my national identity as well.
After ninety days of immersion into another culture, to which I was quite foreign, I have come to realize a stronger self-identity: as a composer, as an American, as a man. It seems to me that art contains a piece of the artists soul. I am on a quest to know and understand the nature of my soul, for within is found the essence of my music. While in Spain, I have been able to have a taste of a life that was focused only on my personal and musical development. Of course I am far from my own goals and expectations however, I have certainly made leaping strides toward those goals. I love social interaction and consequentially, I fill my life with it. Without the support and love of those around me: my teachers, parents, and friends, I would not have been able to make the journey to Spain. However, it was my separation from these people that allowed me to make the journey inward. With this trip came the realization that I enjoy being in my own space, with adequate time and energy to self-reflect. What does Socrates say? “A life unexamined is a life not worth living.” I discovered many things about myself and through that discovery, I am learning to create a more genuine music. For me, there are two aspects of my composition: intuitive and intellectual. As just expressed, I have delved into the deeper, personal aspects of my intuition and my inspiration while outside the classroom. Inside the classroom with Professor López Blanco, I have learned many things on the technical aspect of orchestration, form, as well as acquired some new tools of how to translate an abstract concept into a concrete work. It is this journey, and subsequent ones that will ultimately lead me to the summit of my compositional voice. I will continue to tread through the thicket of the daily life that threatens to wound and discourage; and press on, only to discover a beautiful sunset at the sierra. Enraptured by its beauty such that, I cannot contain the outpouring of creativity; able to create that music which only eludes me in my dreams.