let your light shine  -  1990  -  song notes

click the link here to see photos of Edison's laboratory on Ft. Myers, FL.


the music          

each of the numbers in this show has a specific relevance to some aspect or event in Thom. Edison's life and times.  since the show has no 'book', and the only indication of that relevance is suggested by the song lyrics themselves, i'll give a brief thumbnail here of how i thought about each part of the show.  in the actual performance there was a loosely constructed narrative thread, supplied by the choreographer, but i think my own remarks may be more helpful.

click song title to go to lyrics for each number.

1) dynamo [the overture] -     this instrumental dance, which opens the show, is meant to capture the spirit of the 'machine age'.  the turning of a giant dynamo, if you will.  Thom. Edison invented the dynamo, the prototypical electric generator, among his many feats of technological prowess.                                

2)  strange notions  -     this song refers specifically to events in Alva's early life.  he was a rambunctious, undisciplined boy, who didn't do well in school.  but he and his pals were always ready to try some new prank which often involved the kind of substance combinations associated with boy's 'chemistry sets' in the 1950's.  in one of these incidents, he is reputed to have set the family barn ablaze, which resulted in its total destruction.                                     

3)  experiment  -   here we see an important element in Thom's early development.  although he was ridiculed by friends, neighbors, teachers, and other family members,  as possibly retarded or mentally unbalanced, his mother always continued to staunchly defend her young son, and  maintained and unwavering faith in her special  little 'genius' child.                                           

4)  telegraph man -   as a young adult, Edison struck out on his own.  fascinated by the then new technological wonder,  the telegraph, he spent all his spare time hanging around the local telegraph office.  the telegraph operators, a special breed of independent free spirits, were the 'computer geeks' of their time.    they liked Edison, and shared their esoteric expertise with him.   when he was ready, Edison took up the itinerant lifestyle of the operators for himself for several years, traveling from town to town, sleeping on telegraph office floors, and working short stints, and then moving on.  it's good to be young.  and travel.                                        

5)  inventor  -      by the early 1880's, Edison had made his way to New York City, where he was determined to establish himself as an 'inventor'.  Alva Edison was no scientist, per se.  he never had the academic credentials to claim to be a theoretical innovator.  what he possessed was a rare insight into how theoretical concepts could be combined in practical ways to make socially useful things.   he combined the wide ranging interests of an autodidact with solid 'hands-on' mechanical aptitude.  his first 'invention' was a prototype of the modern 'stock ticker'.   it failed to catch on.   undaunted, Thom. moved his 'laboratory' to Menlo Park, NJ and moved on to other ideas.  he he a lot of them.                                               

6)  wizard  -     after a few years Edison had begun to establish his reputation as a brilliant inventor.  he was also a 'genius' at self-promotion.  [ he kept a firm eye on the 'bottom line' as well  ]  Edison delighted in organizing tours of his Menlo Park facility, to promote his new projects, and himself, and to keep press and public in a state of bemused wonderment as the marvels of the modern age unfolded there.                                                  

7)  skeptics  -    once established, Edison finally took on a challenge that had so far resisted all efforts at a solution; namely the creation of a durable appliance to convert electricity into LIGHT.  perhaps the easiest thing in the whole universe of modern man to forget about himself is the fact that for 10,000 years prior to the 20th century, mankind lived in semi-darkness, with only the flickering light of fires to relieve the gloom.  fire gave way to oil lamps and candles.  candles gave way to 'gas' lights.  but still, in the mid-19th century the man who afford enough light at home produced by any of these means was very wealthy indeed.   and yet that man would be laughed at by the most indigent pauper in 2010 who has a single 100-watt light bulb.   Edison was not without his detractors.  people had been trying and failing  to solve the problem of electric light for some time.  when he began his own experiments he was scoffed at by many.    he was not discouraged.  before arriving at a viable solution himself he is reputed to have conducted 5000 individual trials and failures.                                                

8)  never give up  -   the point of this song is obvious.  it emphasizes the one single quality of Edison's character most likely responsible for his success.  the man simply would not quit.  once on the track of an idea, he just persisted until he reached an solution which satisfied him.   nevertheless, it's worth pointing out, as implied in this piece, another innovation which, strictly speaking, was not a tangible 'invention'.  T. Edison developed and perfected the concept of the modern laboratory; specifically, the idea of a 'research team'.  he realized early on that the kind of intensive trial and error of the experimental method could not be implemented by the solitary 'genius', working alone.  so he evolved the concept of surrounding himself with a group of talented individuals who would cooperate to carry out the needed work.  it was an invaluable tool, which in hindsight, transformed the way 'research' is routinely carried out ever since.  Edison is also the 'inventor'  of a another related concept which is now taken for granted.   he understood that something as complex as electrification required an integrated system if it was to be practical.  accordingly, he addressed himself to every stage of the process,  from the generation of electrical power, to the network for it's transmission to the point of use, and finally to the appliances themselves that would utilize the new form of energy.  in each area he designed & made  the principal elements of a total system that would bring usable electricity to the world.                                      

9)  phonograph  -    Edison was well aware to the magical possibilities of his inventive genius for ordinary people.  he had literally hundreds of ideas along these lines.  if only the two commemorated here had come to fruition,  his place in transforming the modern world would be assured.  first, the phonograph....

in this number, an instrumental walze, we have a 'dream picture' of Alva dancing with his mother.   i wonder if Edison could have envisioned the hundreds of millions of people who would one day dance to a 'record'  spinning on the turntable of his magic box....

10)  kinetoscope  -  ....and then, the motion picture camera and 'movie' projector...

in this number, i've  tried to create music reminiscent of the 'keystone cops'  effect of people running around  crazily, in the speeded-up crowd scenes that so delighted early film-makers.

11a  edison's dream  -  
see 'golden jubilee'

11b  golden jubilee  -  
just a year before his passing in 1931, a magnificent party was given in honor of Edison by his long-time friend and fellow innovator, Henry Ford.  all the luminaries of the age were there to perform a ritual rare  in any era;  the acknowledgment of a towering human being in his own time & place, while he still dwelt amongst mere mortals.  [pretty neat.]  in the final sequence Edison has fallen asleep at his desk in the laboratory.   in his reverie, he sees the future, and its promise of achievement, fame and adulation.  he awakes, only find the problem of the light-bulb, still unsolved, on his workbench.   he is almost overwhelmed by despair,  but he hears once more the call to greatness that drives him on.....


11c)  let your light shine [the finale]  -   in this last number the voices of destiny reach Thomas Alva Edison's mind in a final summation of all he has dreamed of and hoped for and worked to achieve.  Tommy, can you hear me...?