Posted in composition, COVID-19, creativity, Fathers, holidays, writing

Shuttered Spaces

Painting by Philip Froman

The painting above has no title. My father completed this when he was in his eighties, after taking up a brush for the first time in his seventies. He was a genial man, my father, with torrents of unrealized dreams dammed up inside him. If you look closely, and listen, you can almost hear those dreams crash against the cliffs. Although I should have, I never thought to catalog his work. What I do know is that two of his paintings stood out among the dozens he produced: the one above, and an idyllic lake scene, a complete antithesis to it. Both represent the man he was.

***

For months I’ve found myself in an odd place—trying to sustain the appearance of writing, while not having any interest in writing. Other than the words on this blog, and the occasional letters to family and friends, I’ve produced nothing.

I can’t blame the virus, as tempting as it is. The ideas, and desire to shape them, started drying up long before COVID-19. It just took months of solitude to accept, and make peace with it.

***

Recently, a composer friend, who never heard any of my music, suggested I should start composing again—tentatively, gently, as though he understood he was directing me to a room I’d shuttered and forgotten. I stopped composing after graduate school, for many of the same reasons I don’t write now.

It was an unlikely suggestion, from an unlikely source.

But sometimes, the unlikeliest suggestions, from the unlikeliest sources, resonate in the deepest recesses, in the most organic ways.

Once, I followed a similar unlikely suggestion, from an unlikely source, because it felt right, and it led to love.

This feels the same.

***

I have no idea what will spring from my shuttered space. But, if the only music that comes from it is as indicative of who I am, as my father’s paintings were of who he was, then I’ll be happy.

***

I imagine this blog will undergo some changes before 2021. Information about books will remain, as will all the old posts. But, the focus will shift, as I reintroduce myself to my roots, and, to you.

***

In the meanwhile, I wish you safety, good health, abundant strength, joy, and love in the coming holiday season…

…and, of course, the New Year. I’ll see you then.

©2020 All Rights Reserved

Posted in Music and Prose

Music and Prose: Just Passing Through….

painting by Georges Seurat
painting by Georges Seurat

Lately,  I’ve been noticing details, small things—pinprick brushstrokes, over-and-undertones in color. Look closely, focus on one confined area, and you can see them.  Observe from a distance and they blend, form a single image, or hue. In cooking, spices behave the same way. If you hold a spoonful of a complex dish on your tongue and concentrate, savor it, you will recognize the underlying essences. On their own, each spice has a distinct flavor, but in the act of combining with other spices and ingredients, they become traces of themselves, they transform. And, they transform the whole.

Small things. In prose and music, too.

Consider this passage, the little words in service to the idea:

How, in a houseful of shadows, should he know his own Shadow? How, in a houseful of noises, distinguish the summons he felt to be at hand?  (From “The Beckoning Fair One” by Oliver Onions)

“In”-“a”-“own”-“to”-“be”.  Each article has a life, a character.  But set within the sentences, they smooth the transition from one word to another, shape phrases, clarify purpose.

In music, “Passing tones” perform this function.

In the example below, from a Mozart piano sonata, passing tones are marked by parentheses.  In some measures, particularly #s 3 and 7, there are many of them. And yet, when you listen to the excerpt, rather than passing tones, you’ll hear line, movement, progress. Listen to the sonata in its entirety, and you’ll hear the whole.

Mozrtnon2When you observe your writing closely, which little words shape your sentences into lines? Which little words give it movement? Progress?  When you stand back, what makes it whole?