Our long lost opera documentary won 3 more awards!

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Just wanted to give you a quick update on my project where we resurrected a long lost opera and made a funny documentary film about the adventure.

In the last two months we screened the film in five festivals from coast to coast (that’s a lot of Fs!). Here’s some photos from our recent adventures:

Along the way the film won three new awards:

  • Audience Choice Award – Nederland Music Film Festival
  • Best Documentary Feature – Georgia Latino Film Festival
  • Committee Choice Award – Tulipanes Film Festival
  • By the way, I’m doing a project where I take a photo every day this year and post it to my Instagram if you have any interest in following along.

    One of the most meaningful experiences I had on the road with the film was when an audience member approached me after a screening and told me “You know, I really wasn’t sure about this whole opera music thing when my friend dragged me to this screening…”

    I laughed and assured her that I completely understood where she was coming from and that I was pretty skeptical of “the whole opera music thing” when I started this project way back in 2013. She replied “But you know what? When I saw the end of the film when they were performing it, I was really getting into it!” We took a goofy selfie on her phone and said goodbye.

    In other news…

    My fellow documentary filmmaker Tristan Hanson and I also did 2 more screenings of our other new documentary Blueprint for Bronzeville about affordable homeownership in a historic African American neighborhood. We ended up winning the Best Feature Award at The Collected Voices Film Festival!

    The activist group we filmed in the movie is also starting to use the documentary as an organizing tool at church screenings in their community which is very exciting. I think this particular film has a great destiny in academia too so we’re starting to talk with professors about using the film in their classrooms.

    Signing off until next time,
    Arlen

    P.S. – If you have other ideas about where to screen either film, just contact me and we’ll make it happen. We’ve already gotten some good referrals and connections from this PS that I include at the bottom of every update.

    Our little documentary that could hits the road

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    Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

    Thanks for the support you’ve given my weird project where we resurrected a long lost opera and made a funny documentary film about the adventure.

    In the next few weeks our little documentary that could will be shown at 5 film festivals from coast to coast. (This is kind of a big deal for me and I’m a little nervous about it.)

    Here’s the full list of September screenings:

    San Francisco Latino Film Festival – Saturday, Sept 16
    Nederland Film Festival, Colorado – Saturday, Sept 16
    Tulipanes Latino Art & Film Festival, Michigan – Thursday, Sept 21
    Georgia Latino Film Festival, Atlanta – Sunday, Sept 24
    Boston Latino Film Festival – Friday, Sept 29

    I’ll be at the San Francisco, Boston and Michigan screenings in person to do Q&As after the film, the first time I’ve hit the road with a film. Please consider forwarding info about these screenings to anybody that you know in these cities who you think might be interested! Just send them to andinalives.com/screenings where they can watch a trailer video and buy tickets.

    What else is going on?

    Matching up some Qs with some As on a post-screening panel

    I also want to thank everybody who came out to see Tristan Hanson and I’s other new documentary film Blueprint for Bronzeville at its world premiere at the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Black Harvest Film Center in Chicago. (Wow, that was a long sentence!) We had a ton of fun and we’re already looking forward to future screenings of this important film about affordable housing in segregated neighborhoods.

    Until next time,
    Arlen

    P.S. – If you have other ideas about where to screen either film, just contact us and we’ll try to make it happen ūüėČ

    A new song and a new film

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    I hope your summer is going well! I’m keeping busy and my documentary about resurrecting a long lost opera will play at another slate of film festivals this fall. More specifics on that next month, but for now I wanted to share a quick update with you on two other fronts:

    First, we discovered and performed a new song by Eustasio Rosales!

    The song, handwritten on a scrap of sheet music in the early 20th century, is set for piano to the words of William Blake’s classic poem “The Tyger.” You can watch a video of a terrific performance of that piece on YouTube below:

    Second, I have a new documentary premiering in Chicago next week!

    There’s no opera singing in this film. Not even a little bit. Watch the trailer video above.

    Blueprint for Bronzeville follows a group of ordinary people who are demanding a voice in the future of their historic African American neighborhood, which is marked by thousands of empty lots. This 40 minute documentary film explores personal stories, struggles, and work of the citizen-activist group Housing Bronzeville, as it fights to create opportunities for affordable homeownership and revitalize their community on the South Side of Chicago.

    It’s screening as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Black Harvest Film Festival on Monday, August 28 and Wednesday August 30th. I’ll be there along with my co-director Tristan Hanson and participants from the film will do a Q&A session afterward. (It’s part of a double feature so you’ll get to see another Chicago related documentary too.)

    Anyway, I wanted to invite everyone out to come watch this important film. You can get tickets here.

    We won the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary!

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    Thank you for all the support you’ve given our project of resurrecting a long lost opera and making a funny documentary film about the adventure. We had a terrific series of hometown screenings at both the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival and also at the Chicago Latino Film Festival. Local audiences laughed, cried, and tapped their feet to the music.

    Oh, and by the way, we won the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Chicago Latino Film Festival! Woohoo. Or as the film’s Associate Producer Mario Contreras would say, Orale!

    So, what’s next?

    Our next screening will be at the Chicago Caribbean Film Festival:

    This Monday, June 12, 7PM
    Oak Park Main Public Library, just off the Green Line (map)
    834 Lake St, Oak Park, IL 60301
    Veteran’s Room (2nd floor)
    Free and open to the public

    Watch our brand new trailer here below:

    I’d love to see you at this Monday’s screening if you can make it! I’ll be doing a Q&A after the documentary. We’re in the process of submitting to more film festivals, yadda yadda yadda. Of course the movie will eventually be able to download as well, though not for a little while still.

    Onward!
    Arlen

    Sometimes fortune cookies come true

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    About three years ago I got a fortune cookie that promised “an interesting musical opportunity is in your near future.” For some reason I kept it instead of my usual ritual of balling it up and throwing it away with the rest of the Chinese takeout trash.

    A few days later I found myself in a graveyard staring at the headstone belonging to my great grandfather, Eustasio Rosales, a man believed to be Chicago’s first Hispanic composer. An hour beforehand I had just laid eyes on an unperformed opera this ancestor of mine wrote decades ago. I decided to take a giant leap of faith and declared that I would put the opera on for a world premiere almost a century after it was written. Once and for all.

    I had no experience with producing operas. That’s putting it mildly– I didn’t even know if I *liked* opera music to begin with. And there were probably a million other reasons NOT to try and do this Very Difficult Thing. But it wasn’t long before I found brilliant musical accomplices like Pablo Santiago Chin and Chris Ramaekers and the Chicago Composers Orchestra who decided to roll the dice with me on the hopes that this music that nobody had ever heard before might be good.

    On that fall day in 2013 I left the fortune cookie prediction on the gravestone of my great grandfather as a kind of offering. Three years and one opera production later, we’ve answered the question that people in my family have been asking for generations: what does this music sound like? And because we made a documentary about this musical adventure, you can answer that question with us. I poured my heart and soul into this damn thing and I can’t wait for you to see the film. Watch the trailer below:

    “A Mother to her Son” by Eustasio Rosales

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    Three years ago I learned that my great grandfather wrote a long lost opera that’s never been performed. His name was Eustasio Rosales, and we believe he was Chicago’s first Hispanic composer. He came to the United States as an immigrant in the early 20th century, having been born in Bogota, Colombia. Despite not knowing anything about opera, I decided to try and put on his long lost work called Andina for a world premiere. Implausibly, the project was quite a success and we made an opera documentary film about the adventure and released the music.

    A few months after we performed Eustasio Rosales’ long lost opera “Andina”, a group of Colombian musicians here in Chicago got in touch with me. They wanted to know if my great grandfather had written any other music that might be performable. I was curious about the musical archives too, so we returned to my aunt’s basement and dug out the two boxes of Rosales’ music.

    Among the memorabilia was a tattered piece of handwritten piano sheet music titled “A Mother to Her Son.” Here’s what it looked like when we found it:

    The group of Colombian musicians, Mulati ensemble worked with Crossing Borders Music to perform this piece as part of a showcase of Colombian composers in spring 2016 at the Chicago Cultural Center. It was a terrific event and I was excited to hear this vintage song by Eustasio Rosales (my great grandfather), in English no less!

    Up next: The Chicago Latino Film Festival!

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    Our team had a great time at CIMMFest this past weekend showing our long lost opera film “The Way to Andina.” Nobody expects a documentary like this to be funny. People are surprised at just how much they laugh when they see it. And I think you’ll like it too.

    Recently I’ve been hitting the local talk show circuit to promote our upcoming screenings at the Chicago Latino Film Festival this Saturday afternoon and Monday evening. Over the last several days our project has been featured on WGN and WCIU’s morning shows where viewers got a taste of what the documentary and the music is like. Doing these is fun but getting up super early for a live appearance is a little bit tough.

    Upcoming screening information:

    Saturday, April 29, 3:30PM – Chicago Latino Film Festival
    Buy Tickets – AMC River East

    Monday, May 1, 5:30PM – Chicago Latino Film Festival
    Buy Tickets – AMC River East

    These events will include our 70 minute music documentary, a Q&A session afterwards, plus 3 great docu-shorts directed by another local filmmaker, Esau Melendez.

    See you soon!
    Arlen

    P.S. – If you have other ideas about where to screen the film, send me an email and we’ll make it happen ūüėČ

    Newsletter 14: What critics are saying

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    This is a bit uncomfortable for me. Like most people I have a healthy allergy to self promotion. But this documentary we made about resurrecting my great grandfather’s long lost opera is apparently starting to get traction. So I have some stuff to share.

    What people are saying…

    Today’s edition of The Chicago Reader includes a long profile piece that has my mother blushing:

    “…The Way to Andina is an upbeat experience. Parsa shows great affection for the people who supported the opera’s creation, including the singers, the conductor, and the public relations specialist who helped him promote it. His use of illustrations to visualize the opera’s research and transcription (inspired, he says, by Errol Morris’s documentaries) is witty and engaging. And the movie communicates the excitement of recovering history and of putting on a show.”

    Third Coast Review writes about the mission to put on the opera:

    “Parsa is clearly in over his head, and he‚Äôs charmingly not afraid to admit it. His endearing self-deprecation is probably what convinces singers, stagehands and an orchestra to pitch in on the production, and it‚Äôll keep you cheering him on as well. Though clearly made on a budget (the film and the opera), Parsa‚Äôs generations-in-the-making mission is an underdog story with depth and sincerity, deserving of a bravo moment or two of its own.”

    Remezcla calls the film a “must see”:

    “Chronicling this ambitious tribute, this documentary may be the most touching gift a young great-grandson could come up with.”

    So, can you make it to a screening?
    The first local one here in Chicago is this Sunday, as part of Chicago International Movies & Music Festival’s Spring Fling. Buy tickets here.
    Onward!
    Arlen

    P.S. – If you have other ideas about where to screen the film, just send me an email and we’ll make it happen ūüôā

    Newsletter 13: Come See Our Documentary’s World Premiere!

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    I am pleased, happy, excited, OVER THE MOON to announce that my documentary about discovering a long lost opera and giving it a world premiere is finally finished. And not only is it done, we’ve got three film festival screening dates to announce in Chicago. Can you make it to any of these screenings? Tickets are super cheap and this will be a lot of fun!

    Sunday April 23, 3PM – Chicago International Movies & Music Festival
    Buy Tickets – First Ward/Chop Shop

    Saturday, April 29, 3:30PM – Chicago Latino Film Festival
    Buy Tickets – AMC River East

    Monday, May 1, 5:30PM – Chicago Latino Film Festival
    Buy Tickets – AMC River East

    I recently showed the first 10 minutes of the film at an event called Doc Talk and I was (pleasantly) surprised by how much people enjoyed it. The documentary turned out to be quite funny! And sweet.

    I’ll be at each screening event doing Q&As after the film and if you’re in Chicago I hope you can join me at one of these shows. We’ll try to gather as many people who were involved in making the film and putting on the opera together, so it’ll be like three parties.

    I can’t wait to see you soon!
    Arlen

    Newsletter #12: Almost finished

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    A bit more than a year ago you joined me on a weird and fun journey to give my great-grandfather’s long lost opera a world premiere. The opera, as you may remember, is calledAndina. Today I wanted to share with you some good news: the documentary I’ve been making about that adventure is almost complete!

    Right now I’m working with a team of creative pros to finish the doc and make it look and sound awesome. Here’s a snapshot of Clark the colorist and Stephen the sound mixer, in their natural habitats, hard at work on the film:

    Many of the people on this email list helped make the opera happen and I think you’ll enjoy the quirky film that I’ve made about it. I look forward to sharing more about when and how you can watch the film soon.

    Onward!
    Arlen

    Newsletter #11: One month later

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    It’s been one month since we performed the world premiere of Andina. It was a once in a lifetime event, and your support throughout this entire journey has been incredible.

    Now I’m digging myself out from under a small mountain of footage.

    I have two editing tasks ahead of me. The first is compiling the full edited concert video. Then I will complete the documentary film chronicling the entire behind the scenes journey of bringing this long lost opera to life.

    It’s both exciting and exhilarating going through all our footage and discovering great little moments I had missed in real time. One thing stays the same though: each time I listen to the music, I love it more and more. And I hope you’ll like it too.

    I think we’ve got a pretty incredible story to tell, and I can’t wait for you to get the chance to watch it and experience the music.

    All right– enough from me– I’m going to put my head down and get back to editing. Thanks again for your support.

    More updates soon!
    Arlen

    Newsletter #10: Thank you!

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    Well, on Friday night we performed the world premiere of my great grandfather’s long lost opera Andina, 80 years after it was written. Wow.

    Our conductor Chris Ramaekers, our singers, the Chicago Composers Orchestra, and everyone behind the scenes rocked it. Don’t just take my word for it, read Newcity Stage’s glowing review¬†of the show.

    Thank you so much for all your support throughout this journey. Your words of encouragement, advice and contributions have been tremendously meaningful and sustaining to me and the whole team.

    I can’t wait to share the behind the scenes documentary, concert video and music¬†once they’re ready. There’s still a few hours left to contribute to our Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign¬†if you’re interested in getting those rewards (it ends at 10pm today). And those of you who were involved in this adventure firsthand will of course be getting copies as soon as it’s over.

    Onward!
    Arlen

    P.S. – Very soon I’ll be posting a bunch of great photos from the other night on our¬†Facebook page. So if you haven’t Liked it, now’s a great time to do so!

    Newsletter #9: Are you going to be there tonight?

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    Tonight’s the night. After two years of hard work, we’re going to finally resurrect my great grandfather’s long lost opera, Andina, for a world premiere concert 80 years after it was written.¬†Buy tickets here. (Promo code “amigo” saves 25% off the normal price.)

    After 80 years, we’re¬†going to discover what this music sounds like together.¬†I guess I should probably say something meaningful here.

    But I think I’m going to let our singers and musicians speak for me instead. Let’s do this. Let’s make some magic happen.

    Arlen

    Newsletter #8: Did you see this?

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    Well, this final week is¬†pretty crazy already. The other day my quest to¬†resurrect my great grandfather’s¬†long lost opera for a world premiere concert here in Chicago this Friday was¬†featured on a location TV show.

    Speaking of this Friday, are you coming to the show?¬†Have you got your tickets yet?¬†Tickets are on sale here— use discount code¬†“amigo”¬†for 25% off!


    I was at an orchestra rehearsal with our principal strings last night and they sounded fabulous. This thing is finally coming together, it’s incredibly exciting to watch and be a part of.

    Once again, here’s that ticket page¬†for Friday. The¬†discount code amigo will net you 25% off the normal price. If you’re already coming, invite some friends! The more that can join us on this adventure, the merrier. It should be a weird and fun adventure.

    Hopefully I’ll see you this Friday!
    Arlen

    Newsletter #7: 10 days left

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    Ready or not, here we come! We’ve got less than two weeks left until we put on my great grandfather’s long lost opera for a world premiere concert here in Chicago on Friday, September 18th (tickets on sale here— use discount code¬†“amigo”¬†for 25% off!)

    I’m a bit taken aback by the amount of support you’ve given this project already. It’s been humbling to have you all be so generous with our Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.And it’s equally exciting to get contributions from people I’ve never met from places as far flung as England and Australia, who won’t be able see the show in person but are excited about getting video rewards afterwards.

    We talked about all the generous support we’ve been getting at our cast meeting yesterday. Please take a moment to check out our donor rewards if you haven’t already. Kickstarter recently featured us as an official “Staff Pick,” whatever that means… We just added some stretch goals too, because we’re going to need all the help we can get.

    In the past week I’ve done four press interviews with different media outlets: one with a radio show, another two with news websites and even one over Skype with a publication down in Colombia where my great grandfather (the composer) was originally from. Here’s a bit from the first article to come out:

    [Arlen] Parsa, a 28-year-old documentary filmmaker who describes himself as “a naive Millennial who knows nothing about opera,” was determined to have the work performed. […]¬†

    When the opera premieres on September 18, some 80 years after it was written, Parsa will finally get an answer to a question that has been nagging him this whole time: What does the music actually sound like?

    We’ll find out together. Read the full article at Classicalite.com.

    The team also had their first opportunity to check out the theater space recently too. We reflected on the size of the theater– and how many seats we have to fill. We’d love to see you at the event if you can make it. Once again, here’s that ticket link; discount code¬†amigo will net you 25% off the normal price. If you’re already coming, invite some friends! The more that can join us on this adventure, the merrier.

    Thanks so much again for all your support along this journey.

    Hopefully we’ll see you next Friday!
    Arlen

    Newsletter #6: I don’t know the last time I felt this nervous about anything…

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    On Friday, September 18th, we’re going to put on the world premiere of the long lost opera that my great grandfather wrote back in 1934. It’s going to be wild. (Thanks so much to all of you who have bought your tickets¬†in advance!)

    But in order to put on this show, we’re going to need to raise some funding first. That’s why we’re doing a kickstarter campaign. It just went live: Watch the video here.

    I’ve never done anything like this before, but I know we’re going to need all the help we can get. Here are three things you can do right now to give us huge a boost.

    1. Check out our donor rewards and consider donating yourself. A modest donation gets you two premium tickets to see the show! And if you can’t make it in person, we’ll send you an awesome video of the performance afterward.
    2. Share this project on social media. You can paste the kickstarter link on Facebook to embed the video in your timeline. Be sure to let your friends know why you’re a fan of this project. If everyone who gets this email shared the kickstarter video once or twice over the course of the campaign, tens of thousands of people would see it.
    3. Send our our campaign link to a specific friend or two via email. If you know somebody that might be particularly interested in this project, send them a quick personal note with the link and let them know you know this poor fool who’s on a weird mission (that would be me!) and you think they might get a kick out of it. Or, share it directly on the Facebook profile page of a specific friend or two.

    Thank you, everybody, for all the kind words and encouragement you’ve given me so far on this strange journey. It’s humbling, and your support means the world to me. Now it’s time to make some magic happen. Let’s do this.

    Arlen

    Newsletter #5: OMG this is actually happening

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    I have some pretty big news. You know how I’ve been working to resurrect my great grandfather’s long lost opera that’s never been performed?

    Well, we now have a performance date. Friday, September 18 at a gorgeous local Chicago theatre. Take a peek inside:

    Wow. The Athenaeum Theatre was built in 1911, and it is absolutely gorgeous…

    … But it’s also got a lot of seats for us to fill for this one night only show.

    So I hope you’ll join us in this crazy adventure on the evening of Friday September 18th at 7:30PM. This music has never been performed– it’s been sitting in a box for 80 years. Will it be amazing? Will it be a disaster? We’ll find out together.

    Tickets are on sale now; you can purchase them online, or by calling the Athenaeum Theatre Box Office at (773) 935-6875.

    I can’t believe this is actually happening. I think I need to lie down.
    Arlen

    Newsletter #4: Next Steps

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    In my newsletter last month, I talked about how¬†I need to get the score for my great grandfather’s long lost opera in performable shape– if we’re ever going to have a shot at hearing what it sounds like. And that means creating what’s called a computer engraved version. But right now, all we have is an 80 year old handwritten manuscript.

    So step one is creating a digital scanned version of the manuscript itself.

    Since this antique sheet music is larger than a normal sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper, it won’t fit on a normal flatbed scanner. I used a special kind of book scanner, which projects a light beam on to the pages. It’s a little bit like something out of Star Wars.

    Music scanned? Check. And that’s where I ran into a dead end. I don’t know the first thing about music so I needed help. Luckily, I was able to enlist the help of a local expert!

    Meet¬†Dr Pablo Chin. Pablo is a composer himself from Latin America (just like my great grandfather was!). And he’s helping us out by transcribing the handwritten score into a computer version that can actually be performed. It’s not easy reading faded ink and tiny handwriting, but he’s doing a fantastic job.

    With the digital scanned version of the score, Pablo can zoom in to read tiny notations in the score that would otherwise be unintelligible, or tough to read even with a magnifying glass.

    And here’s the fruit of his labor, printing out for the first time:

    Nice!

    Next month, I’ll share with you some more of this journey to get this opera performed for a world premiere, 80 years after it was written. Who knows, I might even have some good news to share. But that’s all for now.

    Arlen

    Newsletter #3: “Kind of a disaster”

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    Is it the end of the month already? I wanted to give you a quick update on my odd little¬†project,¬†bringing my great grandfather’s long lost opera to life. Last month I sent out an email¬†about how I rediscovered this opera to begin with.

    So, how am I going to get this thing performed for a world premiere, 80 years after it was written?

    First off, I want to say that I know nothing about opera. And if you had asked me my opinion of opera music before I started this project, I probably would have scrunched up my nose. But that’s changing.

    Meet Chris Ramaekers. He’s an award winning conductor, and¬†I met up with him a little while ago to figure out what kind of shape this handwritten opera manuscript is in. Music is like a whole other language to me.¬†And to make things worse, the manuscript we have is in Spanish, so it’s literally a whole other language. Luckily Chris speaks both of these languages.

    “The full score is old but in pretty good shape,” Chris told me. But “the piano-vocal score is kind of a disaster.” He’s right. In order to get a sense of what this music actually sounds like, it’ll need¬†to be in performable condition. And in the 21st century, that means a computer-engraved score, not a¬†handwritten draft.

    Converting an entire antique opera into something we can actually¬†hear is a big task. I’ll tell you how we’re doing it in my next email update. I can’t wait for you to see what we’ve got lined up. Until then, if you want, you can Like¬†the Facebook page I’ve set up for this project, where I’ve been posting some great photos of the composer (my great grandpa!) that were taken 100 years ago. This month, I posted about the kindness of some random internet sleuths who managed to figure out where one of those old photos was taken. Super cool!

    Arlen

    Newsletter #2: How I rediscovered my great grandfather’s long lost opera

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    I wanted to give you an update on my odd little project– bringing my great grandfather’s long lost opera to life. Last month I sent an email about how I’m just starting this journey. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who emailed me back to wish me good luck, and by the people who liked the little Facebook page that I set up for the project.

    One question that people asked me over and over again was: How did you learn that your great grandfather left behind this old opera manuscript to begin with?

    It’s a great question, so I thought for this month’s email update, I’d share the story with you. Not long ago, my mom called me and said she found something I needed to see. “Go to Google” she told me, “And type in your great grandfather’s name.”

    Whoa. My great grandpa is on the Internet. Or at least his music is.

    It turns out, there are a bunch of videos of people performing a song that my great grandfather wrote for the marimba. Nobody in my family had ever heard his music before– we thought none of it was ever recorded. But there it was, on YouTube!

    If you’d like to hear that song, “Bolero,” check out this video, where it is performed by a group of high school percussion students. Crazy, right? And there’s tons of videos just like that one.

    That’s the discovery that got the ball rolling. We wondered: if one of his songs was apparently good enough to still be performed a century after he wrote it, what is the rest of his music like? What if we brought some of that to life?

    And that led us to a box in my aunt’s basement that held a faded opera manuscript.

    Next month, I’ll share some more of this journey with you, including the steps we’ve been taking to finally bring this opera to life, albeit 80 years late. I think you’ll really get a kick out of it.

    Until then, if you want, you can follow the Facebook page I’ve set up for this project. I just posted two neat old photos that we discovered hidden away in dusty boxes.

    Arlen