Paul Lewis can’t play the song — but he wrote it.
Such is the life of some composers, including this one.
Lewis is a musician and the owner of Prelude Academy of the Arts, a music school in downtown Dade City.
Over the course of two years, he composed and wrote a beautiful cello/electronic music piece — titled ‘Xenon’ — which was selected to be played in the 7th New Music on the Bayou Festival from May 31 to June 3 in Monroe and Ruston, Louisiana.
Lewis, a talented musician, plays several instruments, including the double bass.
But he can’t play this song he composed.
“It’s a great honor to be chosen for the festival, but, sadly, no, I can’t play it — it’s way above my level,” said the 35-year-old Dade City native, who also plays in the Dade City Orchestra. “I wrote it for a very talented cellist, Eduard Teregulov, who will do a chamber performance in Monroe.
“When I was writing this piece, Edward asked me to write him the piece for the cello and had no idea what it would be about. As a composer, I really feel the need to have hooks (in the piece), otherwise, I don’t see the point, and I don’t think anyone is going to remember if it doesn’t have interesting hooks,” the composer said.
He acknowledges as he sat down to write the score, he was still trying to figure out what direction he was going in, the motifs, rhythms and hooks.
But then he stumbled upon inspiration.
“I came across this wonderful Greek proverb,” Lewis said. “‘A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.’ … That’s powerful. I wanted this piece to be about that, and it’s a little political, but I really do believe in that phrase … and the biggest issue I have is the stifling of innovation — that I don’t understand and I think this piece is about not doing that.”
Xenon is a dense, colorless, odorless noble gas found in Earth’s atmosphere in trace amounts. However, xenon can be used to balance out nuclear fission, which inspired the innovation part of Lewis’ piece.
In the end, it was the Greek proverb that moved him.
“I don’t like to be practical with music — I like to hint subtly in it,” he said.
The festival received 337 submissions from 180 different applicants from 34 states and 18 countries. Lewis became one of 50 composers whose work was selected for the weeklong celebration.
Lewis and his wife, Charlotte, who is co-owner of Prelude Academy, attended the festival so they could “get to see it played and played well by someone who is good and someone we know,” she said.
It was a musical trip worth the wait.
“I heard it through all its stages of development — from ‘What do you think of this?’ and ‘What do you think of that?’ Every part,” Charlotte said. “I make the noise — I don’t write it, so I only know composing through Paul, but it’s nice to see his project where he has all this creativity pouring into it and I can just look at it from the outside and offer a gentle critique.
“We joke because I tell him, ‘I would tell you if I didn’t like it,’” she continued. “It’s a delicate balance being the married couple and working partners, because if something doesn’t sound good, we want to be supportive, but still give real feedback.
“So, he might pout and then rewrites.”
The couple opened their flourishing music academy in November 2021, and have seen an influx of local musicians walk through its doors. Those learning music there are both experienced and aspiring, and they use all kinds of instruments to create classical to pop.
Students range from age 80 to 18 months.
The academy’s growth has happened faster than its owners expected — creating the need to hire three more instructors to respond to the demand. Paul teaches percussion and piano, while Charlotte gives guitar lessons. One of their instructors gives lessons on trumpets, bagpipes and other brass instruments.
And the reception from the Dade City community has been music to their ears.
“We love that Dade City is invested in us,” Charlotte said. “And the music.”
‘Xenon’ by Paul Lewis
Details: Paul Lewis’ piece for cello and electronics was featured in the 7th New Music on the Bayou Festival from May 31 to June 3 in Monroe and Ruston, Louisiana. The festival received 337 submissions from 180 different applicants from 34 states and 18 countries. Lewis became one of 50 composers selected for the festival.
To hear the score, visit Soundcloud.com/plewismusic/xenon.
To learn more about the festival, visit NewMusicOnTheBayou.com, and to learn more about Prelude Academy of the Arts, 14249 Seventh St. Dade City, visit PreludeAcademy.com.
Published June 14, 2023