525,600 minutes… How do you measure a year?
January 3, 2023
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes… How you measure, measure a year?
In January 1996 the song which these opening lyrics are from – along with dozens of other songs – opened off Broadway in New York in the musical Rent. The production turned out to be a big hit, running for a dozen years. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:
“On Broadway, Rent gained critical acclaim and won several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical. The Broadway production closed on September 7, 2008, after 12 years, making it one of the longest-running shows on Broadway. The production grossed over $280 million.
The success of the show led to several national tours and numerous foreign productions. In 2005, it was adapted into a motion picture featuring most of the original cast members.”
The bigger story, I believe, is about the visionary behind the musical. Composer Jonathan Larson was living in New York City, working as a waiter, when he began collaboration with playwright Billy Aronson. Over the course of the next two years, the pair continued to create the musical. Aronson, however, lost interest in the project and Larson made a proposal. The Infallible Wikipedia continues:
“In 1991, he asked Aronson if he could use Aronson’s original concept and make Rent his own. Larson had ambitious expectations for Rent; his ultimate dream was to write a rock opera ‘to bring musical theater to the MTV generation’. Aronson and Larson made an agreement that if the show went to Broadway, Aronson would share in the proceeds and be given credit for ‘original concept & additional lyrics’.
Jonathan Larson focused on composing Rent in the early 1990s, waiting tables at the Moondance Diner to support himself. Over the course of years, Larson wrote hundreds of songs and made many drastic changes to the show, which in its final incarnation contained 42 songs. In the fall of 1992, Larson approached James Nicola, artistic director of New York Theatre Workshop, with a tape and copy of Rent‘s script. When Rent had its first staged reading at New York Theatre Workshop in March 1993, it became evident that, despite its very promising material and moving musical numbers, many structural problems needed to be addressed, including its cumbersome length and overly complex plot.”
After many changes, the show was deemed ready after its final dress rehearsal on January 24, 1996.
Then tragedy struck. Sometime in the early morning of January 25, the show’s creator and composer, Jonathan Larson, died. It was later determined that he had experienced an aortic aneurysm.
Despite this, the show opened and was an immediate hit, made all the more poignant by the tragic death of Larson.
Seasons of Love – the song referenced at the start of the article – became the de facto theme song for the musical. It ended up being given a place of prominence in the production with the entire cast standing in a single line and singing it at the beginning of Act II. A reminder of not only Larson but also of the transient nature of life. Larson had, literally, invested his life into this one project, leaving behind a legacy.
I first became aware of this song in the late 1990’s and ended up using it for a presentation at the Washington Idaho Rainbow Girls convention in the early 2000’s. It seemed fitting as a reminder that each of us has these same number of minutes to use each year, a message I wished to impart to the young women: that each of them had time which they could use to help other people and promote the organization.
For me personally, however, it prompted the question of how to put those 525,600 minutes allotted each year to good use to reach my own goals and achieve my dreams.
Certainly, the sentiment of the song – that we should measure a year in love – is one way. But to do that you must first define love. It can be the love of another person, of family, of friends. But it can also be the love and passion one puts into those things which bring them fulfillment and joy. The thing – or things – I would call someone’s mission in life.
That, ultimately, is what I like to think Larson meant when he wrote the song. Spend your precious minutes doing the things which inspire you and never lose your passion for whatever it is that motivates you. That’s how you should measure a year.