Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Celery and the Art of Story Composition

Of all the available senses, you are least likely to use smell in your own work, closely followed by taste. most apt to have a character hear something, then see it.  You are quick to acknowledge having nothing against smell, one of your favorites being the iodine tang of the ocean.


A recent event with a dozen oysters, arranged on an iced platter in a counterclockwise path, beginning with sweet at six o'clock, then progressing into saltiness,two of these at six twenty-five, made you aware that you do have excellent uses for smell and taste.  You need, in fact, to spend more time with oysters, considerable time with smell and taste.

Thoughts of smell immediately remind you of your mother's cooking abilities, taste being a close second in this context of ingesting from the array of foodstuffs that hold some parts of your sensory apparatus hostage. Any reflection on your senses of smell and taste remind you of the degree to which sound trumps these, even to the point where you are frequently led from a deep, dream-filled sleep in which there is some recognizable music or musical format in the background. 

The awareness of this music  seems to pull you, degree by degree, from the sleep and dreams, into an awareness of a specific composition--last week, it was the first, allegro vivace movement of Mendelssohn's Symphony Number four in A Major.  Prior to that, it was quite another matter and format, the Horace Silver Quintet's hard bop vision of a track of Silver compositions called Cape Verdean Blues.

As a matter of importance to this conversation, you do not play or read music; you can recognize basic configurations, whole note, half-note, quarter-note, etc, and you can recognize a few other minor signals, but not in any meaningful way.  Nevertheless, you often find yourself in situations where your dreams appear to have an accompanying sound track.

Difficult to reckon the degrees to which you attach importance to the various senses except to say you are in essence a hearing person rather than a sight or taste or smell person, and to add your belief that properly presented, each of these senses triggers a feeling response.  Does the Mendelssohn mean more to you than a plate of oysters?  

The last time you heard the Mendelssohn was not in concert; it was in your head.  You did not know the conductor or the orchestra.  You do know you awoke with considerable positive feeling, thrilled to be hearing music, thrilled to recognize it, deeply curious why, of all the things you could dream, you chose the Mendelssohn.  

Again the disclaimer--at least, you think it is a disclaimer--of liking as much of Mendelssohn as you know.  In all probability, your favorite composition of his is the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E Minor, which to your uneducated taste provides the third and thus Holy Trinity of violin concertos along with the Beethoven and the Tchaikovsky.  To be sure, there are other notable violin concerti, but you were raised on these.  Better yet to say you informed your education to its present state by listening to these three many times, then comparing them to others.

This is pretty much your pattern with the other senses.  Music remained something more significant and special for you to the point where you use it to put you in the proper mood for composing your own material or editing the work of others.  Given the broad, sweeping catholicity of your musical interests, you've used a wide variety of compositions and genera to help you focus your story-telling and/or editorial ventures.  

The one composer you know not to work for you under such circumstances is J.S. Bach, whom you enjoy listening to, but cannot do so when attempting to work. The best answer you can come forth with is because he is always so interesting that you can't get off on a daydream vector and compose at the same time; he's too interesting.

You'd think you'd have similar problems with Stravinsky and even more so with the twelve-tone compositions of Schoenberg, but no, they both work, in particular Stravinsky's The Firebird.  You can--and do--eat while composing, although the rule here dictates basics, such as peanut butter and jam, fruit, or chocolate milk rather than anything more complex.  Complexity tends to prove distracting. Coffee does not count.  Quite often, coffee is present, perhaps as a collaborative force.

The best solution seems to be waiting for the proper moments of the revision process to begin, then divide the senses up among the front-rank characters, where the contented munching of crisp celery by one character drives another to the edge of tidiness and civility.  Story is, if anything at all, not a civil undertaking.  Sometimes the appearance of a character who crunches celery or carrots is all that's required for a memorable sendoff.

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