Hero's Course

You can download the synthesized demo of the song in mp3 here.

A tab of the happy theme that opens it, "Afternoon", can be found here.


In 2012, a good friend I knew primarily but not exclusively online posted in a forum that he had discovered that he had a brain tumor. We'd all known Eric for 10-15 years, usually by his nom de guerre: "Hero".

Hero received the usual supportive comments from the community which primarily exists to tear each other apart except in such unfortunate circumstances as this. They were pretty good at such times.

We continued to hear from Eric for eleven months or so on the dull matters we deemed important. Only seldom did he share a dry update on his prognosis, and these were never encouraging. The tumor was malignant, and a bad one at that. Chemo and radiation and experimental treatments at some very fine hospitals failed to make an impression. A photo of a horrible zipper-like scar on a shaved cranium. Eric's occasional lapses in posting became more frequent and longer. We offered him the only medicine we had: "mojo". Its efficacy was what you'd expect, but sadly with this sort of cancer, it was as effective as any medicine. Eric appreciated these outpourings, I think, but he did not wallow in them or solicit sympathy. He acknowledged his plight in laconic terms and kept his place in our regular discussions of politics, life and tomfoolery.

One day after a long absence, we read a post on Eric's account that was the sad one we didn't want: it was his wife at the keyboard, saying that he'd passed away two days previously. We were pretty devastated though we could not say that we were surprised. One person posted a beautiful poem he'd written for Eric, rich with bittersweet imagery of aviation and transcendant departure. The harmony of this expression inspired me to capture something of Eric's stoic example. I took two and a half musical fragments I'd been wrestling with and combined them to convey a simple life, a terrible trial and the consoling transformation of the man to the memory of the man which celebrated the example he'd provided us.


Initial Theme and some Inspiration

On April 22, 2012, I started by playing a bright little blurb I had as a basis for discussion. I wanted this to be serve, in a slightly abbreviated form, as the intro, and in full as an embellished ending. But I wanted something beyond the "guy with a guitar" treatment for all but the intro.

I knew another member of the same online community, Vellu Halkosalmi (aka "Domina"), was a professional musician able to shape musical work such as what I had in mind. On April 23, I sent him the sketch recording I'd made the day before, saying I wanted that simple theme to open the piece and close it, but that it needed a dark interlude in the middle. To my surprise, I awoke the next morning to see that Vellu had crafted and recorded his entire take on my vision! Wow. It was superbly crafted and had a nice voyage in the middle, but not as dark as what I was looking to get. It did, however, inspire me with how it came back to the bright theme, with three measures of the dominant chord building tension behind it. Powerful. I swiped that structural idea and got my keyboard out to express my own version!

Adding the Second Part

On April 28th, I started on my middle part. I had one really dismal, tense bit I wanted here - a chromatic alternation. I prefaced it with a sphinx-like air that wanted a flute and recorded a good stretch of the alternation for illustration and let it wind down. How to get it back to the bright piece? I knew I wanted to have those three measures, but had I done enough with this center section to have even bothered with the excursion? I didn't think I had.

I picked up the playing again, resuming with the same flute passage as before and then a tiny variation leading to a much different final phrase. Suddenly, it seemed painfully obvious, and four measures of arppegiated magic spilled out and I landed it squarely on those three measures of G, like so. The synth patches were hell, but it was exactly what I was looking for.

At some point in here, there was a very Casiotone-sounding demo which ranged into the third part of the song a bit, perhaps taking data from Guitar Pro. Ugly!

I did a quick edit of the Garage Band version to conjoin it with the playout of Domina's piece, improving the G part a smidge in the process, and sent it to him for comment. I was on the right path, but needed to do the hard work of making the third part sound as nice as the second.

Arranging the Third Part and Scoring

This was just hard work. I took a breather, and then see that I have demos from May 17th through June 5th, the last of which was to be the one I had Vellu score for me. I fussed a little more on September 5th, adding a regrettable swirl of voices at the end of the second part, but producing a better balance.

Status

I ache to play this one with a full ensemble, which would be cello, two viola, alto flute, classical guitar and percussion, but have been lucky to play it with Michael Dahlberg of the Boston Public Quartet on cello.

The first performance with Michael occurred on December 8, 2012 at the Lizard Lounge. It was encouraging and felt great.

A video showing a performance on February 9th, 2013: