The Muse is a Musician

<J. Leigh sneaks in, stage right…>

Ahem.  Well, I’ve been a bad SisterMuse for….well…a really long time now.  So here’s a little post to hopefully catapult me back into Responsible Blogging….

“Sing, goddess, the wrath of Peleus’ son, Agamemnon…” (The Iliad)

“In the beginning Eru, the One, who in the Elvish tongue is named Ilúvatar, made the Ainur of his thought; and they made a great Music before him.  In this Music the World was begun…” (The Silmarillion)

The ancient poets had it right.  The muse of story-telling is a singer.  She’s a musician.

For Tolkien, the very story of the cosmos springs from music, when the Ainur sang all things into being.

And while Mendelssohn may have figured out that you can have “A Song Without Words,” I don’t know that you can have “Words Without A Song.”

Well, that sounds very nice…but what do I mean by it?  Is poetry only poetic when it is sung?  Is prose only proper when it has rhythm and melody?  No.  Not really.  Of course, for much of human history, I’d wager, story-telling was done through the medium of song.  The bards and skalds and scops and jongleurs of old knew that if they wanted to impress their stories into their listeners’ minds, the surest way was to sing them.  Something about music stirs a deeper part of the soul than words alone.

When I was younger, I briefly met a profoundly gifted cellist.  He was a wild child, spirited, with a startling naivete and a baffling, intense passion for his music.  Minutes before taking the stage to perform, I found him hanging from a tree, tie loose, pant-legs rolled up, long dark curls all in a mess.  Seemingly out of nowhere he said, “Did you ever notice how when you finish reading a book, the music stops?”

I’ve never forgotten those words.   Because they’re true — but also because I’d never even realized it.

I don’t really know what gives some books that music.  I definitely know that not every book has it…and I also know that the books that lack it leave me strangely dissatisfied.  I don’t know if it’s the mediocre plot, the dull, flat characters, or the bland scenery that drives away the music, or if it’s the lack of the music in the first place that makes a story so lifeless, but either way I find silent stories are bloodless, tired, bereft of inner light…. Dead.

I was going to write about ways we can think about music in story…but I think I’ll stop here for now, and come back to that idea later.  🙂

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About J. Leigh

Author, photographer, awesome ninja. I only kill people in stories. View all posts by J. Leigh

2 responses to “The Muse is a Musician

  • Nicole

    Well written and so true! And I love that you quote “The Idea of Order at Key West”–a perfect intro to your theme! My husband was recently trying to explain to me how it is that the universe actually makes its own music. Apparently scientists can hear what some call “supernova symphonies” and claim that planets have their own distinct sound that they add to the music of the universe. If you ever explore this theme more in depth, that could be more evidence for your thesis. Of course, the literary aspect is far more interesting to me. Music is, after all, a universal language that people of all cultures can understand. Naturally the Muse would not want to leave anyone out.

    • jleighbralick

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I love that Wallace Stevens poem…we’d originally called this blog “The Artificer” but it got too confusing with us also calling ourselves SisterMuses all over the place. 🙂 But it really is spectacular.

      Isn’t that cosmic symphony phenomenon amazing? I just saw something about that recently and was just blown away. I’ve been meaning to do some more research into it. Amazing that so many great minds of the past, like Pythagoras and Dante and Boethius, all understood this concept…and we’re just now realizing how correct they were. It wouldn’t be the first time though!

      If you ever get a chance, check out the BBC movie “Eroica”, which focuses on the first public rehearsal of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony. There is very little dialogue, but the movie is ingenious in how it reveals the emotional response of the listeners to the music, simply through their expressions. If anything could demonstrate how powerfully music speaks to the soul…that movie is it. The question is, how do we as writers tap into that power?

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