Much is written in these spaces about mega-talented upcoming music students, visionary faculty, and even prodigal alumni who come “home” to lecture. But here’s a slightly different story about (Eastman Ph.D.’79) composer Dr. Michael Isaacson who after meriting an archive at the Sibley Music library, decided to reinvent himself at age 70.
One day, the Los Angeles TV and film composer who wrote sacred music, chamber music, and large concert works — in between high end, stressful media assignments, inane rewrites, and inevitable rejections — parroted Peggy Lee’s mantra of aging and asked himself: “Is that all there is?”
After collecting, sorting, and donating his most cherished and proudest original music to the Sibley Library Collection, he sold his estate in Encino, California (a suburb of Los Angeles) visited his sister Ronne in South Florida and impulsively bought a home in a well-manicured and expertly run 55+ community in Boynton Beach. His wife Suzy and he immersed themselves in giving away, donating, and “throwing away” stuff that only took up room on the moving van. His childhood studio piano was given freely to a young deaf boy who had a cochlea implant and fell in love with the sound of the piano immediately. His Yamaha grand was the only California piece taken to their new digs.
While buying new furniture, making new friends, and recounting old, cherished stories, he occupied their first transition year, weaning himself from his intense past compositional and arranging productivity. He only wrote and produced one CD of his music SEEK NO FURTHER with able South Florida performing artists and studios. Then he sat in front of his Sibelius program and wondered: What else can I do for fun besides put dots on lines?
Isaacson decided that he would try his hand at writing a novel from bits and pieces experienced first-hand and would make up the rest. Thankfully, he wasn’t in it for the recompense but the joy of the process. “After all, wasn’t that what third acts should be about?” The result is a highly entertaining read that supposes an Eastman love affair, Los Angeles and South Florida foibles, a film music tragedy, and Showbiz, all seasoned with Jewish humor and philosophy. It’s entitled People of A Prayer and can be found on Kindle and entertainingly read by the author on Audible.com.
“Hey words are fun” Isaacson thought, “and a lot less labor and financially intensive to produce than concerts and recordings!” He was both amused and amazed that so many of his stories recalled and referenced his lifetime of music making and artistic revelations.
“What’s next?” he self-inquired.
While reading the South Florida Sun Sentinel each morning over coffee , he perused the columns on the Op Ed page. “I can write as well as these contributors” he thought and put together a few seven-hundred-and-fifty word essays and sent them in to the editor. He learned two invigorating things from these submissions: First, they approved of and published his pieces both in print and on-line (Sun Sentinel/Michael Isaacson), and because they didn’t pay for these columns, he was free to write whatever appealed to his sense of meaning and literacy at the time. No more negotiating “the art” of film music, endless deadlines, or the stress. He was at liberty to share his adult perceptions as much or as little as he cared to.
Then, Isaacson, who became “newly discovered” by the Floridian natives reading his Sun Sentinel columns, was approached and then commissioned by Music Director Dr. Patricia Fleitas for the Schola Cantorum of Delray, Florida to compose. Una Vida Cubana -A Cuban Life Cycle SATB Choral Suite with introductory dramatic monologues accompanied by piano, woodwinds, guitar, marimba, xylophone, congas, and small percussion. With a twinkle in his eye realizing the irony of the process, he gladly accepted and created a half-hour choral and solo work scheduled for a 2021 debut at Florida Atlantic University.
Joyously, reinventing himself in his early seventies, he now savors composing in between lecturing to a myriad of charitable and social clubs and organizations, socializing within his new community, promoting veganism, running a community film series, emceeing a humor stand-up evening, swimming, attending cultural events (of late on-line) and his new found journalistic activities.
He recently began a sequel to his first novel with the working title UnderBiz, which sets out to explore the particular and unique creativity in Los Angeles media and how it impacts upon and changes the entire world.
So much of his self-motivation and understanding of innate boundless individual creativity was taught to him by his Eastman composing teachers Samuel Adler (still a dear friend) and the late Warren Benson and Rayburn Wright. He cites his now favorite poem - Robert Browning’s Rabbi Ben Ezra - “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, 'A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”