Sunday, October 16, 2011

Notes on Writing

Last night Sister Jo and I went to the symphony. We’d lucked out a couple of months back when she won tickets to the first concert of the season of the Glacier Symphony Orchestra and Chorale.

We weren’t disappointed in the performance. It was brilliant. Amit Peled, the renowned cellist, performed to the strains of Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of cellists play, but I’ve never heard one that did multiple harmonic chords simultaneously. That feat sent shivers up my spine. He definitely deserves his acclaim.

Sister Jo, much to her benefit, became overheated during the first movement of the final piece, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G major. She excused herself and headed out to the lobby. It was fortunate for her because while she sat in the comfort of an overstuff couch with plenty of elbow room, Amit Peled joined her. He was cooling off after his performance. I tried not to be jealous later when she told me of this encounter. I’m still not sure if I succeeded.

During the fourth movement of Mahler’s Symphony, guest soprano, Emily Murdock, sand a marvelous rendition of the German solo. For those of us in the audience who didn’t speak German, we made do with following along with the printed lyrics in the program via tiny pen lights.

The oddity of this symphony was that it held many passages in discordance. The glory of it was that though the discordance was held, harmonics surrounded and blended with it so that it was no longer a disruptive element. I’ll come back to this fact in a bit.

I tell you all of this because I have a habit. Maybe all writers have a similar one. I don’t know.

When I’m listening to a symphony like this, where several pieces are brought together for presentation, with each one having a distinct theme and sound, I pay attention to the different mental images evoked. I sit with my eyes closed and allow my mind to create whatever images it wants. If I work it right, I can begin by thinking of an unfinished story project on my desk and watch the rest of the story unfold.

That’s what I did last night. I began by thinking of my YA/Adult fantasy novel, “Wisher’s World: Composing an Apprentice” and slipped the reins on my imagination. By the end of the first musical offering of the evening--Josef Suk’s Scherzo Fantastique, Op. 25--I had the rest of the story, full-blown, complete with plot twists. The music was perfect for my purpose. My job at that point was to remember what I’d seen behind closed eyes.

I enjoyed the cello piece for itself, and then turned to my women’s novel “Dreamie’s Box” for the symphony. I got some great twists during that session. Remember that fact about the discordance? While I listen I realized that for me it symbolized those obstacles that the main character must overcome, solve, utilize to advantage. I began to see the interplay between discordant action and the harmony of other parts in a story as having an intricate relationship, built of both necessity and achievement at the end. They must both be present.

That lesson was an important one for me. I suppose it’s an important one for any writer. Learning from listening to that music brought the lesson home with impact and permanence.

I came away with more than the music ringing in my ears. I had new notes for writing on two novels under construction right now. What more could any writer want? What I wonder is whether other writers do the same thing when they listen to music.

Think about it. Let me know what you think. Until later,



  1. Hi! I am a fellow She Writes member and wanted to stop in and say hello. I love Mahler, I seem to find not many people know of him and his works. Kindertotenlieder is one of my favorites.

  2. Thanks, Cat. I've just discovered Mahler and was impressed. I have to take the time to learn more now that i know some of his work.

    Glad you stopped by for a looksee. Feel free to coome by anytime.