Thu September 25, 2003 04:07 AM ET
By Tamara Conniff
Composer-arranger Michael Kamen has had a busy few years. He wrote and directed the music for the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics, served as the musical director for the Queen's Golden Jubilee at Buckingham Palace, scored Kevin Costner's "Open Range" and has plans to bring Bob Dylan together with an orchestra for a few rare performances Stateside.
No one would think that Kamen has multiple sclerosis.
Diagnosed with the disease six years ago, Kamen has not publicly spoken about his illness until now. He says it was time. He wants people -- those who have MS as well as those who don't -- to see that you can live with the illness and have a successful career.
Thursday night, Kamen will stand in front of a crowd of his peers and be presented with the Dorothy Corwin Spirit of Life Award by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society during a gala dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel.
"This is a bit like coming out of the closet," Kamen says. "I think it's probably the best thing I can do is to just be honest about it and just say, 'Yeah, I've got this, but you've heard a lot of my work and I haven't seemingly written anything bad."
Kamen says the first time he heard of MS was as a boy when a friend's father died of the illness. He therefore equated MS with death.
"When I first saw the diagnosis, I nearly hit the bottom," Kamen recalls. "But I just bounced right back. I thought: 'Well, I don't feel so bad, and I'm not about to feel so bad. And, if I do, I'll get better."'
Kamen says, as with many illness, MS -- which attacks the central nervous system -- is fraught with misconceptions.
"People in general ask me, 'Are you all right? Are you in pain?' There is really no pain," Kamen says. "There is some discomfort and my walking isn't as good as it used to be, but I'm still able to conduct; I'm still able to get onstage and offstage; I'm still playing the keyboard and playing the oboe and singing. I'm writing music, and that hasn't slowed down. They talk about (MS patients) being overwhelmed by fatigue, but I think my life is so filled with stimulating things to do that fatigue just doesn't enter the equation."
Fatigue is not an option for Kamen. He is working on translating two films into stage musicals: "Don Juan DeMarco" (in collaboration with Bryan Adams) and "Mr. Holland's Opus" with producer Marty Richards. He also has plans to reunite with rock band Metallica for more orchestral performances next year. Their 1999 collaboration resulted in the live album "S&M: Metallica With the San Francisco Symphony," which has sold more than 4 million copies.
Kamen -- who has done orchestrations for such rock greats as Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Queen, Alice in Chains and Pink Floyd -- says he can't wait to work with Dylan again. The two first worked together to transform Dylan songs into orchestral pieces for the Great Music Experience at Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan, in 1994.
As one of the few composer-arranger-conductors to fuse classical with rock, Kamen says it was a natural creative evolution for him. He began his musical career as a folk singer in a blues-influenced band and went on to study oboe at the Juilliard School of Music before delving into composition.
"The affection for classical music and the involvement in rock 'n' roll
and popular music has somehow never been permitted to become two different
things for me," Kamen says. "They were always one and the same. Singing
rock 'n' roll or singing Bach is something I love to do."
Copyright © 2003, Reuters