The Debut of a Lifetime

On paper, he was a security guard. But in his mind, he was always a musician. At age 82, he gets to see his songs performed under big-city lights.
Richard Alan White

Say you’ve spent the last, oh, 40-something years — in the spare moments you found amid long nights as a civil servant and a security guard, first in New York City and later at the now-shuttered Daniel Webster College — toiling away on an opera inspired in equal parts by “The Scarlet Letter” and your personal ruminations on the criminal justice system. And say, retired and living in Milford, you finally find yourself with a finished score — well, almost finished, because you’re still going to keep tinkering with it, of course. And you’re looking at the 481-page libretto you’ve produced — more than 900 pages, if you include the full orchestral score — wondering where you go next. And, you think to yourself, “the clock is ticking.” If you’re Richard Alan White, your next stop is the local library.

“I would write down any performance of an opera that was being done in the metropolitan area,” White recalls of his daily trips to scan the periodicals for inspiration and leads.

 “I would write who the producer was, who the director was, who the conductor was, and where it was performed. I built up this reasonable stack of information.”

His next move: a bus ride to New York City, to enlist his daughter’s help getting his work in front of professionals. Together, they called it “Operation Opera.” After a few rounds of calls, Rebecca White found someone willing to take her father’s pitch. The Center for Contemporary Opera, based in Manhattan, agreed to stage the first act of “Hester,” White’s magnum opus, at a professional theater in October. White’s unconventional path as a composer has also since caught the attention of The New York Times, which gave his story a national spotlight in a recent installment of its “Character Study” profile series.

To say this milestone — seeing his work brought to life before a live audience — has been a long time coming would be an understatement.

Before pivoting to stints as a social worker, probation officer and security guard, White had his sights set on a career in music. He grew up singing and studying instruments of all kinds, first at Manchester Central High School and then at UNH. He took night classes at The Juilliard School and earned a master’s degree in music composition from Columbia University in 1965. For a time, he also studied under the tutelage of renowned composers in Germany. So you might understand why he approaches his professional debut with the cool confidence of a man who had a feeling he’d find a way to a big-city stage eventually — even if the road there was long, and full of detours.

“I guess it comes down to something like, I told you so!” White says, with an earnest chuckle. “You have a disposition toward trying to be successful, I guess.”

Now living in Brooklyn Heights, White also knows just how to put the grandeur of his latest act into perspective. “I feel like, if you’re from New Hampshire and you’ve seen Crawford Notch, you’ve seen it all before,” he muses. “So you can take on New York.”

Categories: Features