Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Music to My Ears.

Over the years, you've had numerous friends and even more numerous acquaintances who were musicians.  Most of these, although versed in classical music and quite literate in it, were essentially jazz musicians.  A number of these learned to play and were immersed in harmonies and constructions right out of church and gospel music.

One of you closer and longer term friends helped you understand two important connections between the writing you did and the music he played.  Connection one:  Even though you are in a relative illiterate in musical notation and theory, you are nevertheless a hearing person.  This does not mean you do not see well or are, say a five or six on a scale of ten relative to being observant.

Connection two:  It is easier for you to get into or become one with a musical composition you don't understand than it is for you to merge with some narrative or story you don't relate to, much less understand.

"You need to learn to identify the tools you have, then learn to use them," you musician friend said.  "You are ear oriented, which is neither good nor bad, any more than being right- or left-handed is good or bad.  It does not mean you should stop watching or looking for things.  There's every possibility you will hear and see inner things rather than outer things.  But there is no reason why you should stop looking and listening in the outer world."

You were not far enough along in your collection of pairs of opposites, of dialectic, of argument and conversation to give you leave to realize this observation from your friend was just what you needed at the time--another splitting into the inner debate team, another pair of opponents, willing and able to duke it out, sometimes in all-night sessions, sometimes even while you were plunked down in some live jazz venue or at home, moodily sipping beer and listening to the arrival and spread of the new evangelism, bebop.

Your friend also suggested that you try listening to music, any kind of music, before you began your day of writing.  Then he gave you a list of classical composers to listen to, suggested that if J.S. Bach had lived long enough, he would have begun composing in a manner similar to bebop.  And then, he disappeared from your life, meaning whenever you wanted to retrieve that sense of friendship and shop talk, you had to dig up and listen to records on which he was a player, or you had to listen to some of the many classical musicians he'd more or less thrown at you, or you had to listen to composers you were attracted to, imagining you were your musician friend, doing the listening.

Music has, for most of your life, been the door opening to the place you like to be when you compose.  That place is focused somewhere in the mid to lower chest, a blues-based sharpness seeming to rise up through the higher notes, the ones well above middle C.  Your blues are the blues of a middle class white kid from a middle-class, loving family, with no surface or covert hostility or cruelty.  Your blues was for stories that would not come, for male narrators too literal and introverted to be able to engage bright, airy, driven women in conversations or challenges of any sort, meaning someone always went home unsatisfied or bewildered.

The more you spoke of craft with musicians and, later, with actors, you reached levels of unbearable frustration from your attempts at evoking rather than overwhelming your scenes and characters with landslides of description and stage direction.

If a musician or actor could, through concentration, transport himself/herself to the desired place where anyone hearing the effects would be drawn along, why couldn't you see how to achieve it for story?  Because, the answer came, you are still acting like the crowd outside, milling around, wondering about the jam session going on right now inside.

There is, you are quite sure, no sophistry in the notion that the musician has to become the composition or improvisation, the actor has to give up self, then become the he or she for whom the story was constructed, coping with the self of the character, rather than the long hours of study a musician or actor needs to become a fully realized composition.

You not only have to become the characters of whom you write, you have to understand what they are liable to have in their pockets or purses or wallets.  You have to understand the connection between these imaginary persons and their imaginary possessions and the imaginary friendships they have with their imaginary friends.  Except that for these individuals, there is neither time nor space for make believe and imagination, these nouns, these persons, places, and things are tangible reality.

No matter if music is happy or uplifting; those qualities are only ultimate destinations.  No matter if writing is uplifting and affirmative of life and spirituality; those, too, are destinations the reader must tread on the way to closure and that negotiated settlements to be made with the cosmos.  To reach these destinations, the characters must have their heart broken, their faith shattered by being accidentally dropped, their codes of empathy and behavior misinterpreted, often by the mere happenstance of some natural disaster.

The writer must take a breath to sympathize, then hurry on toward the resolution point which, as it often is in reality, is not resolved enough, if at all.  As the musician composes and the actor acts, the writer must experience worlds he neither knows nor understand.  You can at times be plausible without any understanding of why; you simply are present, not as your writing self but at the persons out on stage,  You must be present as the dishes the characters throw at one another, the barbs they exchange, the hurt looks and misunderstood gestures.

You must throw out the things you cannot be or are not willing to become.  If this is not enough, you can try listening to music, the tail end of The Fire Bird, or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, or John Coltrane's take on that sentimentality of My Favorite Things.  You can catch the power and rhapsodic upward swirl of Nat Cole's Jazz at the Philharmonic solo on Body and Soul.

For you, the music has been the ladder to the high diving board, which you climb while listening.  Then, you walk with assurance to the end of the board, and rise on your toes before you jump.

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