How did the lyrics come together?
"It wasn't until I started writing musical plays that I began to feel proud of my lyrics. The situation in the story-line would dictate the type of song and lyric for the character, and the lyrics seemed to write themselves."
Gary had spent most of the 1980s unhappy with his accounting career, opting to pursue a teaching degree in 1986.
"I was making a decent living, but there was very little fulfillment in what I was doing. My parents suggested that I give teaching a try, so I kept working accounting jobs while I took education courses at night. It was hard work, but I knew early-on that teaching would be a much more rewarding career for me."
Gary also became involved in community theatre during those years.
"Since my undergrad background was heavily into business, math, and finance, I was required to take several 'artsy' classes to give me a well-rounded academic background for teaching. So I took a few theatre classes, and the acting bug really hit me hard."
"I got involved with lots of suburban theatre groups during that five-year period, even though I was still working full-time, and taking my teaching classes at night. The classes, play rehearsals, camaraderie, and performances got me through what were essentially drab days at work."
Gary earned his Master of Arts in Teaching degree from National-Louis University in 1991. His first teaching position was teaching sixth-grade Language Arts at a suburban Chicago middle school.
"This opened a whole new world to me. I felt I was making a difference in childrens' lives. I could see firsthand their physical, emotional, academic, and social growth during the nine months they were under my leadership. It's a totally different environment from the 'real world,' and I often drew upon my nine years' experience as an accountant for practical applications and simulations for problem solving and writing activities. When the kids read silently, I read silently; when the kids wrote, I wrote along with them. As a result, I experienced a renewed appreciation for writing. "
Gary spent most of his summers writing musical plays, which helped him conquer his lyric-writing problem.
"I was still tied to the furniture-piece organ in the living room, though. Writing songs was not yet what I would call 'fun' in those days. It took much longer for me to finish a complete song back then, but the more I wrote, the stronger the material became."
After four years of teaching middle school, Gary switched districts, moving to Butterfield School in Lombard, Illinois for the 1995-96 school year. Gary became the lone male classroom teacher there, teaching fifth-grade.
"It was a tremendous change, going from a large, middle school environment to a small, neighborhood K-5 building where the community and staff are a close-knit family."
Gary had purchased a guitar the previous winter. The following summer, his writing really began to take off.
"I bought that guitar to force myself to play it. I knew about six chords, but it made songwriting much easier. When inspiration struck, I just pulled it out and jotted down lyrics and chords on a lead sheet. Anything worth keeping I would record onto a cassette tape on the portable player conveniently located at my bedside."
Gary continued to write plays and musicals during the summer months, and the newfound ability to write with his guitar sped up the creative process.
"I could change strumming patterns and melody notes on the fly, and I was able to find lyrical matches for some of the tunes I had written back in the early '80s. I find it easier to write musicals than straight-plays. Non-musical plays are usually 100 minutes of strictly dialogue. A musical is roughly twenty songs, surrounded by another hour's worth of five or ten minute scenes. I finished VILLAGE OF ROSES in six weeks."
VILLAGE OF ROSES, a family-oriented musical about events which may have led to the establishment of the Village of LaGrange Park in 1892, was the maiden production for VORTEX, the theatre group Gary founded with his sister Linda Lee Metz and Rob Pold in 1996. The show was a huge success, and VORTEX has been an established, cutting-edge theatre group ever since. VORTEX has staged five additional plays and musicals Gary has penned.