So Far….

We’re almost a month into 2021 and I’ve had some revelations…

…starting with a piece I wrote when I was 19, which I thought was pretty good, but which was decidedly NOT. It didn’t sound like me. Rather, it sounded like the work of a young woman who was trying to impress her teacher by writing something she thought he’d like.

I suppose it was all part of the learning process. But, I would never play it for anyone. In fact, it left me wondering how I believed I could write music in the first place.

Then, I took a breath and listened to some of my vocal performances from when I was around the same age.

You should know, I never liked hearing myself on recordings. My voice always sounded babyish and insubstantial to me—too light, too high, too Minnie Mouse. So, it took a giant leap of faith to listen to myself sing, particularly after hearing that piece.

But shock of shocks, I wasn’t awful.

I also listened to some of the recordings my husband made of me playing the piano—Brahms, Berg, Chopin, Schubert, Mendelssohn—and was equally surprised to find they were okay.

I think one of the hardest things any creative person can do is find their voice—that genuine expression that rises from the gnarled recesses within them. Even harder, is the ability to recognize it when it emerges, and appreciate its deeply personal sound and form.

So, where will these revelations lead?

There are many possibilities….

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One? Or Two?

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Choral Fantasy (From one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s sketchbooks)

If you wear glasses, you’re familiar with that part of the eye exam when your doctor lowers a phoropter into position in front your face and starts flipping between lenses, asking, “Which is better? One? Or two? One? Or two?”

***

I finished my novella about seven weeks ago, and immediately started working on what I assumed was going to be a stand-alone sequel.  Five thousand or so words in, it occurred to me that maybe I should merge the two short books into a longer one, to make my work more marketable.

So, I cut and pasted and combined, wrote lengthy notes to myself and revised my notes, and forged ahead.

Then yesterday, I spent an hour giving my reimagined novel-in-progress an honest look.

Have you ever seen a movie that veers off in a new direction midway through, abandoning the original story line, and, occasionally, characters, leaving you feeling like you’ve just seen two completely different movies that have been stuck together with library paste? That’s the way I felt reading my draft.

***

So, now you’re probably wondering why there’s a page from one of Beethoven’s sketchbooks at the top of this post. Well, as you can see, Ludwig scratched out a lot of what he wrote. And I can envision him, at points during the creation of this sonata/symphony/concerto/quartet or that, flipping between pages of his books and thinking, “Which is better? One? Or Two? One? Or Two?”

***

Sometimes, one is better. And, other times, two are better than one.

(Stowing library paste.)

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An Imperfect Stitch

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There is an error in Shadows and Ghosts.

During occasional battles with an ongoing obsession over symmetry and accuracy, I’ve considered correcting it…but only momentarily.

~~~

In 1975, Leon Redbone released his album, On the Track, which contains a rendition Of “Ain’t Misbehavin” (lyrics by Andy Razaf and music by Thomas “Fats” Waller and Harry Brooks).

Redbone’s interpretation is slightly off-kilter: the intonation struggles in places, and there are extra beats sprinkled throughout. But I love it. Its off-balance rhythmic irregularities, the nasal grit in Redbone’s voice, the imperfect instrumental tones and pitches feel fresh and authentic.  They transform a great song into a greater one.

~~~

My mother was a perfectionist. Today we would likely say her attention to detail was compulsive. But that compulsiveness got her far, made her successful at everything she did. Although I’ve spent most of life as an unapologetic underachiever, I have no doubt that some of her “perfectionism” rubbed off on me. You can’t spend hours practicing scales and arpeggios, isolated musical passages over and over without being at least a little compulsive. It’s the only way to train the brain, develop fine motor skills, make the muscles remember.

But it’s not always enough.

Along with compulsive tendencies, creation demands an oblique and often fractured perspective, a willingness to look at subject matter, construction, sideways and through a prism.

~~~

When I think of the thousands of books I’ve read, pieces of music I’ve played, I realize most of them contained errors and/or irregularities, some degree of strangeness in small or large ways that established the works as fresh and unique, that transformed and elevated them.

So I keep my error in place, because in important ways, it acts as a type of cipher.  And to reinforce its importance, I put a prism in plain view.

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