In some ways I’m one of the lucky ones. Being isolated in a life of terror for 18 years, cut off from family and friends, with a crushed self-esteem that obliterated any other possibility: none of that could be considered lucky. But I’m one of the few that survive. And I have two wonderfully loving sons.
The number of reported incidents of domestic violence escalated during the pandemic shutdowns; one in three women have experienced some form of physical violation. Unfortunately, most incidents go unreported so we can assume that the abuse of women is epidemic. My motivation is to shine the light on this pervasive issue in the direction of healing, not just for me, but for all those who are impacted, including abusers. The positive ripple effects will promote a world without violence for everyone.
All the stories of abuse are complex. Families are messy, and our memories are nebulous by design: part of the brain’s system of thriving is to disengage from painful experiences. Yet my background as a daughter of a philosopher/professor, and of a prolific songwriter/lyricist/activist, instilled in me the value of storytelling. I processed this story from the moment I finally freed myself, and shared it with whomever was interested. At a performance night in Fairfax, I remember describing the first violent act I experienced (Chapter One, I called it), using truth and humor to connect with the audience. Women came up to me for years, looked in my eyes, and told me their own similar truths.
Early on in my recovery, I was picking up my young son from a playdate and was enjoying a lengthy conversation with the friend’s parent, who at the time was running the Marin AIDS Project. We were discussing my future occupational goals and he said, “You really could help a lot of people with your story.” I mentioned this to my Jewish mom, who still held a lot of doubt about whether I’d go back to my abuser again, and she said, “Oh, Anny, you don’t want to think about this everyday!”
I took her advice and went back to school for a teaching credential instead. And guess what, I do think about this everyday! Trauma lives on in the body, and misguided folks commonly place blame on the victim, so I accept that my experience of abuse will always be with me. My only hope for a peaceful life is to practice healing strategies everyday, and continue to sharpen the tools for navigating my personal trauma. This opera is my most refined tool and serves as a healing device for me and my sons, and for our family, friends, and community.
Here I am, after decades of teaching music, finally in the fortunate position of returning to my roots as an emerging composer. I have spent the last many years transforming my horrific story and triumphant healing into a work of art to share with the world.
My closest friend of forty-five years, Kim Bender, birthed this opera with me. The first compositions debuted in several repertory concerts at universities around the Bay Area. With Kim’s encouragement, I decided to go to grad school to develop this project as a film, but the professors could hear the story evident right there in the instrumental music, and emphatically recommended that I develop it as a live performance, and specifically as an opera.
Starting in 2018, we began presenting works-in-progress performances in West Marin, with the goal of bringing the finished work to San Francisco. First we professionally recorded two instrumental pieces with Quartet San Francisco, Liz Prior, Principal Viola, Santa Rosa Symphony, Richard Worn, Bassist from New Century Chamber Orchestra, with national performing and recording artist Sharon Lee Kim on piano. We followed up six months later by showcasing four pieces at a house concert in Bolinas.
Our next event was at the Dance Palace in Pt. Reyes where we presented seven pieces, including the beginnings of a libretto, and introduced chamber musicians Jennifer Cho, Principal Violin, California Symphony, and Miriam Perkoff, Cellist, San Francisco Opera and Ballet. During the pandemic, the string quartet played several outdoor concerts in Marin, one of which was attended by conductor, pianist and composer, Michael Tilson Thomas, who afterwards told the audience, “Those were beautiful pieces!”
The opera began to take more shape, still in the outdoors, now with thirteen compositions including aerial and modern dance which enhanced the dramatic experience. My sons joined the creative team with script writing, sophisticated jazz and R&B arrangements, and helped capture the performances with on point video editing. The current production is a full drama with nineteen pieces!
For friends and family, this is sensitive material. So I continue to mindfully put one foot in front of the other, doing my best to always consider how each part might feel for each of them. My younger son Tony felt compelled to get up at the end of the first concert, and then again at the second, with a shaky plea for understanding, “That monster is my Father; he too was abused and I got to see his innocence in that situation. We, of this generation, must move past blame and towards forgiveness.” He and his viewpoint became a part of the opera from then on as we fleshed out the story.
My sons together lived through the reverberations of this traumatic tale. I am witness to the incomparable support they give to each other in their life processes. As a result, I highly regard their collective viewpoint and also their respective artistry. My older son Hobie implored me to separate myself from the story; to create this as an art piece rather than as an autobiography. Tony helped me see this opera as an archetypal story, loosely based on my experience, but with universal themes. It is my hope that surviving, and now sharing it as an opera, will bring value to a larger audience of men and women alike who yearn for forgiveness, healing and transformation.
So yes, I am lucky.
Composer & Co-Creator