The promo for NOCTURNE begins:
“The worlds of medicine and music collide in NOCTURNE . . .”
During an earlier phase of my life, the worlds of medicine and music were not colliding, but the worlds of writing and singing certainly were!
My voice professor at the George Washington University demanded that I place my vocal training and operatic music above my ardent aspirations in literature and language, and, especially, above the inordinate time that I was spending with writing. Otherwise, he sniffed, I’d be an amateur.
The words stung, as well he’d intended them to. This man was a brilliant teacher of vocal technique and a shrewd master of attaining dramatic effect, at least from me. He once told me that I possessed a uniquely Shakespearean way of looking at someone when I was aghast, with a sudden widening of the eyes and pulling back of the head, ever so slightly. He was amazed at someone so young acting with such theatrical aplomb.
I wasn’t acting, in a Shakespearean manner or otherwise, when I informed this exacting professor that the art of writing, and not the art of singing, would reign supreme for me. I do not deal well with ultimatums. Most people don’t, and adolescents do not deal with them well at all.
The most dismal part of my decision at that point in my life is that the art of music, and the joy of singing, do supersede the art of writing for me. I was not, at that time, or at any time, prepared to shove any artistic love in the ditch for another one. I’ve since come to understand that those two loves are inseparably intertwined. Thus, for me, the prioritizing of literature and writing over music and singing was very temporary.
A year or so later, after I’d left the Ivory Tower, I returned to singing, not opera, but Tin Pan Alley, with a piano accompanist. I also departed the world of creative writing to begin the arduous and necessary task of earning a living in the real world through typing, waitressing, and cashiering. I would return to the craft of writing seven years later, when I worked as a salaried technical writer/editor.
My creative psyche was jogged by that job of analyzing engineering and geological documents in order to “translate” them into layman’s terms. I began once again to put pencil to paper — to produce poetry and fiction, with words that many years later became part of THE DAWN and the volume of poems entitled VOYAGE.
Throughout those seven years away from writing anything other than personal correspondences, music was my ever-faithful companion. I listened to songs from the past and from the present, on the radio, and on vinyl records. I adamantly refused to purchase “taped” music since that medium becomes stretched over time as well as degraded; the audio memory is thereby warped. The advent of CDs proceeded to bring me back to the world I’d left behind — of opera and classical music.
Those enriching sounds then shared a vast auditory space within my beloved vista of country & western songs and pop standards. My world of music became not only enlivened but brightened as I rejoiced in the vocal splendour of Leontyne Price and Maria Callas.
A world without music is dark indeed. The black hole of depression can pull in anyone who cannot listen to uplifting melodies, harmonies, tunes. The spirit soars with soul-filled songs of vocal or instrumental arrangement. The dispirited among us would do well to turn off the auto-tuned mimicry of music, and to turn away from the jarring yelping of ululated syllables.
The unquieted of this world might invite real music into their world of sound systems. The rhythms of a real harmonic convergence form music that more than meets the needs of the savage breast. True, such melodic modulations do not offer up soundtracks for the digital exposure of the mammary gland to mass dissemination and personal dissolution. But the anxiety level goes way down!
The words of William Congreve from his play, The Mourning Bride, sound apt:
“Musick hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
This English playwright and poet of the Restoration period knew a bit about banging one’s head against a knotted tree. The boy from West Yorkshire, England dealt with critics and carping and the changing tastes of a society that began to degenerate from cultivated and sophisticated sexual innuendo toward outright trash. His comedy of manners had manners! His writing was sound, and, after all is said and said and said, sound is what writing is all about!
The word “sound” also means vibrant, safe, sane, solid, stable, sturdy, vigorous, and right as rain. With beautiful music and bel canto, the rain in your heart turns right into the glowing break of day, and the sunlight of a smile warms your entire night, tho’ the darkness be soaked with cold pouring rain.
The writings of Congreve are often mistaken for those of Shakespeare, and the confusion is justified. Both gifted Englishmen wrote dialogue and verse straight from the heart, with stupendous satire. The wit of their wordplay is literary swordplay. Their penned works contain enough truth to have influenced and impressed not only their intended audiences but to grant wisdom to generations to come.
One eternal fact of life that is derived directly from the dialogue of The Mourning Bride is the much-paraphrased “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Shakespeare was no stranger to the charms of musick or to its potent use in all of his plays. In the writings of the Bard, the absence of music portends evil. Perhaps that truth of life was the lesson that my voice professor was ineptly attempting to teach me during a time in my life when this astute man knew that the black dog was plaguing me.
With deep devotion, duty, and desire, I place a high priority on the music in my life. It’s not quite an obsession for me, but the sound of music pulsates with the feeling of being alive. My writing work happily involves the study of music, of musical forms, of composers — and of songs from the past, songs that are very much a part of my present and will shape my future.
The future comes alive when the joy of music enters your life, and your heart, even your musical muscular memory. If you can’t tap your foot when you hear some mighty fine music, there’s something wrong, and it’s not with the music!