I was roaring with laughter watching a snippet from Seminar a new show on Broadway, because so many writers fuss over phrasing, lilt, rhythm, and musical nuance. I happened to single out this particular theatrical offering because the Director, Sam Gold, is married to my cousin, Amy Herzog, a playwright who boasts a growing stash of rave NY Times reviews.
In short order, a group of fledgling writers are gathered in a library setting within an apartment, it seems, and take direction from an astute and experienced professorial group leader. In this saucy preview, he absolutely takes the “sound” part of writing to an absurd but outrageously humorous extreme.
In the same spirit, I recall an education writer who formerly wrote for US News and World Report, whom I’d met up with in Washington D.C. when I was delivering a Keynote address on behalf of unjustly treated and underpaid substitute teachers. She’d hosted me at her Dupont Circle triplex and along the way read me a few opening paragraphs of a pre-deadline article, wanting feedback on the musical flow. Indeed very conscious of how the lines read, in addition to her riveted focus on content, she put together a glowing piece that was music to my ears.
I’m currently reading James Boyk’s first musically framed novel, Out of Tune Piano Blues which the author describes in his own words:
“I’ve written a short novel, a mystery/love-story, called OUT OF TUNE PIANO BLUES, narrated by a touring pianist and taking place during a week he spends at a (fictitious) Wisconsin university. In it, I attempt to portray the inner and outer life of musicians–not just the narrator, but the pianists and others among whom he spends the week. One aspect especially important to me is showing how the tension between self-image and sense of vocation, on the one hand, and personal and professional pressures, on the other hand, can lead to tragedy.”
Comment by a musicologist:
“Nodding over ‘Brothers Karamazov,’ I began this slender volume and snapped into wakefulness! I was strongly reminded of how visual in orientation so many authors are. My own vocabulary of choice reflects primarily auditory and secondarily kinesthetic modes of experiencing my world, and it seems to me that this book exhibits the same dual orientation and thus speaks to me in my own language of sound and movement rather than of visual detail. The story itself is a good one too, and I’m tempted to reread it in the future (something I almost never do). Such lovers, I tell you! ”
Well, the musicologist reader honed in on the very subject of this blog. And with that, I’ll close by confessing that I’m reading Out of Tune Piano Blues in partial segments as I travel weekly by Amtrak to the Bay.
Here’s a favorite paragraph selected for its potent imagery and sound:
“As I raise my hands to begin the Debussy (Reflections in the Water), the change in my world completes itself. Sound becomes everything: sight, touch, time and space, people and relationships.
“I begin. Through tree branches, I see a pond of chilly sunlight, wind, moving across the water. Reflections in the ripples make patterns too rich to follow. The core of the wind’s motion is elsewhere, moving through the bass line. It moves away in the distance, and quiet returns to the pond….”
With that, I’ll pick up where I left off, enjoying the nuances belonging to writing and music-making.
Please share your favorite books or plays that had particular auditory poignancy.
(More about James Boyk and his book)