One of my greatest joys- and challenges- in taking up fiction writing has been describing music.
I make a point of setting my stories in the rich and varied world of classical music: from student lessons, to orchestra performances, to auditions, to chamber music concerts.
I have chosen some of the greatest composers of centuries past, including Bach, Rachmaninov, Mozart and Haydn– as well as some of the greatest composers of the the past century including Samuel Barber, Eric Whitacre and Mark O’Conor.
So, how, exactly, DO you describe music? Seriously- try putting it into words. Adjectives. I’m not talking about academic language here. Forget about key signatures and modes and sonata allegro form…
blah blah blah, my eyes are glazing over already!
Besides, my goal in these novels has been to portray classical music in such a way that it will appeal to the layman, the novice, the NON-listener. Because, hopefully, every once in a blue moon on alternate parking days of the Chinese New Year, someone might just say, “Hey! That sounds like it’s a really great piece of music! Let’s hear what this Bach guy is all about…”and proceed to investigate the music a little bit further.
What I wanted to show you here is how I find the inspiration for my descriptions of music. Once a month, I’m going to excerpt a scene from one of the Reverie Trilogy books and include the video or audio that I used to write my descriptions around. My thanks to the amazing performers who didn’t even know they were helping to write a book!
Below is a scene from book one, Reverie. Julia James has had a devastating event transpire moments before she takes the stage to compete for the biggest classical music competition in the world. In describing her encore, I wanted to find a piece that she could just melt into– someplace where she could channel her heartbreak and sorrow and disbelief. I found my inspiration on YouTube in this absolutely gripping video of brilliant cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing “The Swan” by Camille Saint-Saens.
From Reverie by Lauren E. Rico
“Julia,” he whispers, “we should do your encore now.”
I nod and sit once more, and the audience joins me, a hush falling over them.
I don’t hear the harp right away; it seems to come from out of nowhere. And then slowly, oh so slowly, I pull a gossamer thread of sound from my cello. It is The Swan by Saint-Saens. I don’t need to read the music for this; I know it by heart, so I turn my eyes upward, as if looking to heaven. In my right hand, the bow barely skims the strings. All the while, the fingers of my left hand slide easily up and down the fingerboard to find their pitch. They rock back and forth in place to create the slightest quivering vibrato in each note.
I shift and wrap myself around my cello, embracing it, clinging to it as if it is the only thing keeping me afloat. Actually, at this very moment, that’s exactly what it is doing. I turn my eyes to its top scroll as it rests on my shoulder, staring longingly at it as if it is my lover. Actually, at this very moment, that’s exactly what it is. When the last note comes, I draw it out, stretching and stretching and stretching, until it simply isn’t there anymore. Until I’m listening to its shadow.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Does the description match the inspiration? What pieces of music do YOU think would make for a good scene in a book?