Inspirations Behind the Writing: Russian Music

I split my time between writing and music (when I'm not splitting my time between kids and a big dog and ducking Nerf gun bullets).  This morning, I woke up wanting to get to work writing--time for a major printing of what is now a 275 page draft, with scenes all over the place, that need putting in correct order, which is hard to do when I can't see multiple pages at once.

I confess--I wished I hadn't agreed to go to the Minneapolis Music Teachers' Forum's brunch.  Not that I didn't want to go, but that there was so much to do at home.  And let's face it, sometimes listening to talks can get boring.  I ended up being very glad I went.  I enjoyed very much meeting Corey Sevett, composer and teacher, who invited me; Charlotte, a long-time music teacher who sat beside me at brunch, and Marie and Kathy who I talked to later.

And the 'talk' was not boring at all.  It turned out that the featured speaker this morning was Gabriel Quenneville-Belair, my fellow teacher at the Kramer School of Music.  But wait--his claim to fame is far greater than that!  I'm not even kidding!

Backing up for just a moment: teaching music lessons, like writing, can be a bit solitary.  My world consists largely of people under 5' tall, and the people of Shawn's world--whom some disparaging types like to call my 'imaginary' friends.  I think they're just jealous.  But I digress.  I like teaching at Kramer in part because there are many lessons going on at once, and I actually see other music teachers--yes, real adults, people over 5' tall!--although there's little chance to do more than say hello between lessons, or, "Can I get a chair from here?" or..."Can I please have my room back?"  So it was nice to meet Gabriel and learn more about him than that he's exceptionally polite to those who have taken his room!  (I don't really see a need to name names, do I?)

Gabriel is from Montreal, and has been touring not only the States, but the world, as a classical pianist.  He received his doctorate in music just weeks ago.  This morning, he spoke specifically on Russian composers of piano music.  Those who know The Blue Bells Chronicles know Shawn is a huge fan of the Russian composers.  They write the best trombone parts.

Being fairly familiar with Russian orchestra music (and of course the trombone parts), I really enjoyed taking this step from what I know well into another aspect of Russian music with which I'm not quite as familiar.  Gabriel spoke to some of the influences on the composers whose work he performed--Khachaturian, Scriabin, Tchaikovsky, Kabalevsky, Pachulski, Borodin, and, the biggest of them all (that's a little music humor there), Rachmaninoff.

He spoke a bit about the character of Russian music, the tendency toward chromatic descents, which summon up feelings of lament and sorrow, and the tendency toward strong, heavy basses.  Not that this really surprised me, but it ties directly to why the Russian orchestral music has such good trombone parts.  (Not that I have a one-track mind!  But it's really hard to write a good strong heavy bass part with the flutes.)

Among the pieces he played was Scriabin's Sonata Fantasie, the 2nd Sonata.  Scriabin writes deep music, he said.  A former professor of his made the comment that he wouldn't give Scriabin to anyone under 20, as it simply requires life experience to understand, to really play.  Gabriel described some of what is being portrayed in Scriabin's 2nd Sonata: a quiet night on the seashore, the deep agitation of the sea; the fast expanse of ocean in stormy agitation.  Listen and see if you hear these.

To circle back (but not in 5ths) to my opening statement, I am frustrated with the slow pace of producing each of my books.  True, I have a lot of other things going on--kids, dogs, Nerf guns, among other things.  But I often wish I could do nothing but write.  This morning, however, in addition to good food and good music, reminded me why, as writers, we must get out in the world.  Writing, like teaching music lessons, can be a bit solitary.  Just us and the friends in our heads--you know, the ones those disparaging types call 'imaginary.'  But our writing becomes richer when we venture out, learn, experience, meet people--hear great music.

I am currently writing a series of scenes in which Shawn is laying the groundwork for a major decision--one he doesn't want to make, something he doesn't want to do, something he's looking for a way out of.  But the truth is, he knows no matter what he does, somebody is going to end up hurt.  He can't make a decision that's good for everybody.

As I listened to Rachmaninoff Opus 16 #3, I saw yet again (or should I say heard) the powerful connection of the arts to our lives, emotions, psyches--how music speaks to us, reaches inside us, impacts us--and the connection of the arts to each other: because as I listened, a scene took place in The Battle is O'er.  It was as easy to see, as if I was right there--Shawn sitting in his favorite leather chair, his favorite bourbon in his hand, in front of his floor to ceiling fireplace with the tall windows on each side, with the new solarium beyond--the one where he looks forward to throwing his famous parties for the orchestra, to being happy with Amy and James, to hosting musical soirees.  But of course, life will never be the same after his experiences in medieval Scotland, after life with Niall, Allene, Hugh, and the Laird, after fighting with James Douglas and Robert the Bruce.  Rachmaninoff Op. 16 No 3 is exactly what Shawn is listening to at this moment.  It made the whole scene come to life.

I end up thinking, it's not really about splitting my time, but about each of my worlds contributing to, and enriching, the other.

Thank you MMTF and Gabriel for a great morning!

[A musical humorous bonus?  What key is the Rachmaninoff in?  Here's a clue: it's what the coal executive said to the new employee....ba dum chick!  Meh, not sure that even deserved a groan.]


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