It’s been a busy month

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Here’s a quick update on our project where we resurrected my great-grandfather’s long lost opera and made a documentary about the adventure:

This month I’ve been working on fulfilling our Kickstarter donor rewards. (If you donated to our Kickstarter campaign to help fund the opera and you haven’t gotten an email with your reward information yet, let me know!)

The “Andina” TV broadcast last month was a success!

Our film recently aired on WTTW, Chicago’s PBS station, and I got so many nice emails and tweets and Facebook messages from strangers who saw the program! I have to say, getting an avalanche of feedback from Chicagoans who enjoyed the movie is of the coolest darn things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Here is a tiny sampling of what people had to say:

“Watching and thoroughly enjoying #mymomiscrying” – Kimberly

“I’m glad no one was around…cuz a brotha was bawling by the end of the documentary!!!” – Mustafa

“The documentary that both my dog and I give two paws up, it’s ‘Andina Lives’ by @arlenparsa” – Mariah

The film will re-air locally later this year and I want to pursue other broadcast opportunities as well, outside of this area. We’ll see if anyone else is interested!

Celebrating Black History Month

Tristan Hanson and I recently had the honor of screening our documentary Blueprint for Bronzeville (about housing discrimination and affordable homeownership activists) at a private Black History Month event hosted by BMO Harris Bank for its employees and clients. It was truly a delightful event and we had some important discussions afterward about both our shared history as a city and the work needed to build an equitable future for all residents.

One more thing – my “video of the month”

In January I made a weird New Year’s resolution to make and publish one video every month of 2018. It’s sort of an experiment. After having completed two films that took many years to make (The Way to Andina and Blueprint for Bronzeville), I’m eager to experiment with making short work much faster. I think this first video was a success: it got about 10,000 views the day after I uploaded it!

So without further ado, I want to share with you my first of 12 videos this year from January. It’s about a topic I care about and I hope you’ll take a couple of minutes to watch it (and share it if you like it). I’ll send you my second video next month, or you can subscribe to my YouTube Channel to get notified earlier once I publish it.

Adios for now,

We’re gonna be on TV!

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We have some exciting news!

This Thursday, January 25th, the film will be broadcast on local PBS in Chicago! If you’re in the broadcast area, tune into WTTW, Channel 11 at 9PM Thursday night.

The film will also be rebroadcast on Friday at 3PM on WTTW Prime and on the regular main WTTW channel this Sunday at 5PM.

Chicago Magazine just listed our upcoming broadcast as part of their “The Shut-In’s Guide to Winter” wedged in between the Netflix show Easy and Showtime’s The Chi. We got a kick out of how they described the film:

This is very exciting for me, because I’ve never had one of my films air on TV before.

In other news…

Our documentary The Way to Andina will also be shown at the Classical Arts Film Festival out in Napa, California on Saturday, February 10th.

I’m busy putting together the DVD and getting ready to send out Kickstarter digital downloads to backers, etc. More on that soon.

Signing off until next time,

P.S. – If you have other ideas about where to screen this documentary, 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 post I write.

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,

    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 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,

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

    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.


    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!

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

    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’s 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’ll keep you cheering him on as well. Though clearly made on a budget (the film and the opera), Parsa’s 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.

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

    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!

    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.


    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!

    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.


    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.


    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!

    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

    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!

    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.


    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.

    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:


    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.