Monday, April 21, 2014

SOME WORDS ABOUT MUSIC

My father was an engineer by education and profession, but when he completed college just before World War II broke out, engineering jobs were scarce. He was also a very fine musician and for several years supported his family with different music-related jobs: teaching, arranging, and performing.

As a consequence, I grew up in a home where music was always present. Dad played trumpet, and while he played jazz and big band, his greatest love was for the classics, so I heard some orchestral pieces from my earliest childhood. I couldn’t tell you when I first heard Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, or Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, or Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

Perhaps I inherited my dad’s passion for classical music; perhaps it was simply a part of who I am. My first instrument was a piccolo and he was my teacher. Next was piano from about the age of nine, and in high school I was fortunate enough to have a chance to learn a little about playing harp (our school owned one). I loved ballet and studied from the time I was very young. It was another way to experience music, and to express the music through movement.

Finally, I started singing, and to me that was best of all. I loved to sing. I studied with a lovely lady beginning my junior year in high school and eventually attended the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati as a vocal performance major. Those were some of the best years of my life, even though I quickly understood that my dream of singing opera was exactly that, a dream. As much as I loved to sing, I was not “a singer.” So I married a tenor who was a singer, and who sang professionally for several years before deciding the difficulties of that life were not for him. He continued to sing, sometimes volunteering his talent, occasionally on a professional basis, for the rest of his life.

Much to my surprise, he suggested I open a private voice studio. I had maintained some piano skills and I had continued to sing, mainly in church choirs. So I quickly stepped through the door he had opened for me and discovered what I do best. Since my voice had been small and it required considerable understanding of vocal technique for me to use it well, I had a wealth of tools with which to assist my students to unlock their voices. And it became quickly apparent that the more I taught, the more I learned. Each voice is unique, each requires special attention. And the voice is connected closely to the psyche, to the emotions of the singer. My gift is to connect with my students in such a way that they trust me to lead them on a path that guides them to the place where they can begin to make music.

Another opportunity presented itself soon after I opened my studio in 1979. A few years later I began directing musical theater productions for a local community theater, and eventually for two different high schools. These two activities, teaching and directing, were exciting and fulfilling, and after all these years I continue to teach and direct.

Last year, at a surprising time in my life, I began to write. I write about what I know and love best: music. First a book about a musical theater production that helps heal a young girl, How I Grew Up. And now I have nearly completed a longer, more complex book, about a young couple whose life is music, but is shadowed by the serious heart defect the young man has suffered since birth. Along with the challenge of finally understanding and explaining the particular heart defect, it was important to include music that was meaningful to my characters Eli and Krissy. And how and why it was meaningful. I have included descriptions of this music, hoping to inspire the reader to perhaps listen to at least some of it.

Since I am not by any stretch of the imagination a pianist (I can still struggle through song accompaniments … some song accompaniments), it was immensely helpful to discuss several passages in the book with my good friend and musical near-genius pianist (who also has an unparalleled zest for life), Scott Besser. Scott made in particular one observation that saved me for omitting a vital part of Eli’s character … what he felt when he played. I know why I sing, and I knew why Eli played, but I had nowhere specifically included his emotional, his visceral reaction to playing. Scott read several sections of the book, made suggestions and gave me some important thoughts and allowed me to use some of these. I appreciate his contribution to this book more than I can say.

And since Eli’s choice is a career as an assisting artist, he collaborates in particular with a violinist. Now, violin is a huge mystery to me, though I love to listen to string music. So another near-genius musician friend, violinist and sometimes world traveler Chris Souza, led me to a piece of music I had never heard but which has become a favorite, the Franck Sonata in A Major for violin and piano. I had asked for a piece that features both instruments on an equal basis, and this piece certainly does. Chris suggested why this is true, and was kind enough to allow me to include one of his comments in my description. I have this piece in my head a lot these days! Major earworm.

Eli’s Heart is not a musical treatise, it is a love story, but music is at the heart of that love. Why that is true is an important part of this story. Scott and Chris are among the many musicians I’ve been privileged to call friends. Music is meant to be heard, to be shared, to be a gift to the listener and the performer alike. The best musicians are generous with the love, the passion, we share for the art.

In a conversation with his best friend, Eli says: “I don’t do what I do for the applause, Jackie. I do it for the music.” -- Eli's Heart