Music


Drawing of a rose, with thornd

Drawing by blogger ‘mopana’, see below

Recently I began a story which currently stands at over 17,000 words. That’s a big jump from the maximum of around the 1,000, more usually a few hundred, I managed before. Even that number surprises me; I’m more likely to turn out a haiku or a 100 words, precisely. For some reason I like the discipline which those impose.

However, what I’ve found is that it is just the discipline which prevents me writing longer and for the first time I have understood why I’ve always been averse to attending any kind of creative writing course. Any kind of planning, or thinking too deeply about plot, characters or the like just makes me wrap up the whole thing quickly or abandon it. If nothing else, it just makes it boring, for me.

In our local writers’ club we are usually given a ‘theme’ on which to write for reading at the following meeting after two weeks. That has always resulted in something short from me, which is ideal as writing longer means there is time to read only an extract, which is never really satisfactory. However, one recent theme ‘What if …’ opened up so many possibilities that I found myself just writing and writing, with no plan, just waiting for the two characters (Miranda and Peter – M and P; where they came from I have no idea, or have I?) to ‘speak’ to me to tell me what was happening.

Blocked

I first became ‘blocked’ when they fell silent, at around 6,000 words. I’d written what I thought was the beginning and the end but felt the journey between the extremities was too short for my two characters. They had not enjoyed themselves, nor suffered enough, to satisfy me. They spoke to me no more but clearly wanted to carry on their journey. I decided to call on my fellow writers’ club members, though just a select few (I won’t say more other than that I’ve always had more empathy with women than men, as any regular reader of this blog may know), asking them to comment on a printed version. One responded almost immediately; with her suggestion in my head M and P began to speak to me again, telling me much more about themselves, so another 6,000 words was rapidly completed.

Stalled again at about 12,000. Then another club member gave me some notes handwritten on my script with some words of encouragement. Again, M and P began to speak, suggesting that they had a discussion about their star signs, so each would be able to see how the partner saw them and how they saw themselves. Another 5,500 words resulted, so now 17,500 in all.

Another suggestion was that an ‘observer’ who I’d introduced right at the end should have something to say earlier, now and then, to make the reader question whether they were in reality or fantasy. This fell into place quite readily and, I thought, much improved things.

No one has yet suggested the author/book from which I ‘nicked’ the idea of the outside observer but I know.

Anne Brontë

Throughout this process I did not know why I was compelled  to write the story or what the underlying theme was, though I had an idea that it was perhaps about the strength of women and the weakness of men. Throughout the writing, from the first idea, I had the feeling that the answer lay in a quotation which I could not recall though I spent long periods thinking about it. I had a vague feeling it was Emily Brontë but, having read her novel many times, could not think where it might be; in her poems perhaps? But no luck there either.

It came to me suddenly a couple of days ago. Not Emily, but Anne:

On all her breezes borne
Earth yields no scents like those;
But he, that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

In a poem, The Narrow Way. I was rather annoyed that I had not been able to recall those last two lines earlier. They are the key, I think, to adding a few more thousand words, even perhaps finishing the story.

However, something even stranger, a remarkable coincidence (but I do not believe in coincidences!). A few hours later I was scrolling through the bloggers I follow and came across those same two lines in a post from a young Romanian woman, very young in comparison with me. What is more, she’d written a haiku to go with them (and her drawing of a rose, above). I find her blog refreshing, creative and entrepreneurial; you can go to it by clicking her user name: Mopana.

Music

Now, I cannot write in silence, so after hearing several authors interviewed on radio who felt the same, but many who did not, I was intrigued to find out what accompaniment my fellow club members used, if any, so tried to begin a discussion about it on the club Facebook (closed) page. So far only three have responded but of those two demand absolute silence, one is with me but the music, he says, is random. Mine is not.

Below is a picture of what has been keeping me company during my writing marathon. Some were there from the beginning. Some I added to jog my memory (one I even bought for this purpose) when I realised that I was writing about 1960s London. I have music mostly on LP, including many complete operas, but they are not really practical unless you just want to sit and listen.

It’s a motley collection you might think but it does reflect a part of my musical taste.

For the record, they are, left to right approx, Ella Fitzgerald with Count Basie; some operatic divas (as selected by Gok) – I posted about this recently; member of our writers’ club Emma Nabarro-Steel; Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin; Schubert’s ‘Trout’ quintet; Sofia Vicoveanca (my favourite Romanian ‘popular music’ artiste, though she’s joined from time to time by a delightful young one I don’t yet have a CD of, so from internet, Andrea Chișăliță; the Brighouse and Rastrick brass band; one of several Beethoven string quartets, particularly the late ones, played by the Romanian quartet Voces; and Eric Clapton. There’s one missing in the photo as it’s on LP – Mozart’s clarinet concerto. If I had it I’d have Stephane Grappelli with Django Reinhardt in there too. What I select depends partly on mood, partly on what I’m writing about.

I’ve now realised I have a story in waiting behind every one of those music choices. Maybe I’ll write those stories sometime.

I’d be interested to hear about any other’s writing process, whether you like a music background or not and if so what and why or anything else about how you write. I am, of course, talking about writing fiction. Blogging is something quite different though, again, there’s no theme to mine; I just write about anything which takes my fancy as and when, the words spilling out like blood from a stuck pig rather than from a finger pierced by the thorn of a rose.

Picture of CD cover 'Gok's Divas'Until recently I found Gok Wan irritating, possibly because I find the fashion scene irritating and he’s just a bit too ‘camp’ for me. It all changed when I heard him interviewed recently on Classic FM (UK of course). It was interesting to hear what I guess is the real person. It turned out that he loves opera, particularly the divas, and that he “likes, or needs, to be surrounded by strong women”. Perhaps not his exact words but whatever he said it could well have been me I thought. Moreover, I heard that he had curated an album of his choice of divas; so many would have been those I would have chosen, headed by the incomparable Maria Callas. The only amazing omission was Joan Sutherland – as Pavarroti said, “the voice of the century.”

When the interview finished I was on to Amazon and bought the album.

Back to the ’60s

Forgive any lapses of memory please – it is half a century ago and someone disposed of my record collection when I was in Romania. Several of his choices took me back to the 1950/60s; at that time I had several of the operas on LPs with divas he chose. Here are some:

Maria Callas did not have the greatest voice but she could stir the emotions like no other. “The Bible of opera” Leonard Bernstein called her. Like many thousands of others, I was stopped in my tracks when I first heard Casta Diva (Norma, Bellini). It still does it, as it did when it was played during the interview with Gok. Lucia di Lammermoor with Giuseppe di Stefano was among my LP sets in the ’60s.

Montserrat Caballe was just amazing when she sang pianissimo. Quite unlike any other. I had her 1967 recording of Lucrezia Borgia. Much more recent of course, she sang with Freddie Mercury.

Kiri Te Kanawa was quite a bit later. Always a delight to listen to, I can’t remember all the recordings of her I had but Die Fledermaus and Madame Butterfly were among them.

Elisabeth Schwarzcopf was an early favourite singing Wagner, having been taken by my grandmother to hear The Ring at an early age (not with Schwarzcopf unfortunately). The only opera I had been to before was Carmen at 7 years old, which began my love of opera though I had heard a lot before on radio and ‘gramophone’. I think Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg was an acquisition in the ’60s but a much earlier recording.

Victoria de los Angeles was rated no.3 in a BBC list of top twenty sopranos of all time (after Callas and Sutherland). I have two abiding memories of her: a recording of Carmen with Sir Thomas Beecham, from the ’50s I think, and a recording of Madame Butterfly with Jussi Bjoerling. Someone I shared a flat with had this latter recording on tape  (remember those? – 4 track stereo) but mine was on LPs.

Katherine Jenkins is much later of course and, as far as I know, has never taken a leading role in a staged opera. I’d have chosen her singing something Welsh.

Joan Sutherland is, for me, an inexplicable omission. I would have had at least a track of her singing the mad scene from Lucia de Lammermoor in place of one of the ‘musicals’, which I find out of place.

Interesting isn’t it that when we think of opera we think ‘Italian’ but there’s not an Italian among them – Greek, Spanish, New Zealand, Welsh and, with Sutherland, Australian? If we did a similar thing with the men I guess Italians might dominate, though I’d be torn between Jussi Bjoerling and Pavarotti to head my list.

Eclectic

That comment on musicals does not indicate a restricted taste in music, I doubt you’d find one much more eclectic. I just find the sudden change from grand opera to ‘musical’ too much. To make the point, last Friday evening, my first ‘night out’ for more than a couple of years (all down to the pills – I may become as camp as Gok!), I was with members of our writers’ club to hear a couple of indie bands and our own singer-songwriter in a superb smokey church venue (see pic – Left Bank Leeds). She can move me as much as Callas – almost. Click for her recently released CD, which is frequently in the player.

solitudeAs I said in my post a couple of days ago about social media, very occasionally the unexpected and unrequested intrusions on Facebook are welcome. So it was with a video of Nigel Kennedy‘s performance of his own composition ‘Solitude‘. Not surprisingly it has attracted a few ‘anti’ comments. My own comment, shared to our writers’ club, was:

I think even those of you who do not usually listen to ‘classical’ music might appreciate this. Nigel Kennedy’s own composition, ‘Solitude’, transports me to being alone on some isolated hilltop that I can no longer reach. The piece is dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin, without whose support Kennedy says he may never have played ‘classical’ music. Menuhin, in turn, was taught and supported by the Romanian composer George Enescu, without whom …

I’m hoping that it might prompt some writing from other members. It prompted this 5 minute jotting from me:

Solitude

Being alone
Is not loneliness
For me.
Sitting on some isolated hill or mountain peak
As I used to do
Set thoughts, desperate to escape
Free

A poem, a verse
Tumbling about in wondering head
Till spoken to rocks about, there a while to be.
Being a lover of the ephemeral, not jotted
Words long forgotten
To die, in their happy solitude
With me

cohen
Fulham rooms filled with the lazy smoke of marijuana, hash as we called it then. Chocolate cake which had the bride’s grandma dancing in a fountain at someone’s wedding. Girls without panties in the King’s Road. Charlie coming to work in his pyjamas, reluctantly leaving his one room abode in which all six walls were sky blue, broken only by billowing white clouds, created in an acid frenzy, and a mattress in the centre of the lowest – “if I stand on my tiptoes I can touch the ceiling”, he said, assuring us that the little pills opened the way to the secrets of life. Ruggiero Ricci playing Paganini, Maria Callas and Giuseppe de Stefano in Tosca, spilling through the haze from the slowly spinning vinyl on the Dansette to the entangled forms on the accommodating communal bed. All paused for …


Songs of Leonard Cohen

in 1967.


The world was never the same again.
It’s ended with a string quartet and a heart-rending plea for a treaty.

Playing the trout. In the hot June sun, the fly arches towards a cooler spot, suspended for a moment then alighting, still yet ominous. Only the midges bite, swooping again and again on bare skin. The daisies behind smile at the sun, a white army, each bearing his shield of gold. Buttercups spread their delicious gold. No rod here, no hook with barb nor tortured fish. Just Schubert’s quintet, spilling with joy from an iPad.


Some of you will know of my love for the ‘traditional’ haiku, the discipline of writing to a very short set format – 5-7-5 syllables – to communicate a thought or feeling.

Recently I was introduced, by Becky whose blog is called Evening Scribbles, to another format which appeals to me for similar reasons: to write a story or introductory stand-alone paragraph of exactly 75 words. They may be published, if accepted, on the website: http://www.paragraphplanet.com/

I have just submitted my first, though have yet to hear whether it will be published on the site. It was prompted by seeing a neighbour loading his car to go fishing shortly before I ventured downstairs to sit in the sun for the first time since my recent surgery, where I wrote the above 75 words. 

New Year vies with Easter as the most important celebration in the Romanian calendar, the latter being the most important religious celebration of course. New Year’s Eve, Revelion, is an important date in our home as it is Petronela’s birthday – so ‘open house’ in accord with Romanian tradition. All are an ‘excuse’ for a magnificent feast which would please any Yorkshireman. Our tiny flat was stuffed, as were our bellies, with traditional Romanian New Year dance and celebration music as a background (see video clips links at the end of this post).

Carp skeleton

Eaten – crap remains 😉 !

(more…)

I’m repeatedly surprised by wonderful, sometimes life-changing, experiences rising up out of dreadful situations. I had one on 11 March, when I returned by air to Yorkshire from seeing my grandchildren in Dusseldorf.

Helen1

What has this lovely lady to do with disaster at Dusseldorf? – Read on

This is usually a very quick, easy (and low cost) journey thanks to Jet2.com as my grandchildren live only 20 minutes from Dusseldorf and I live even closer to Leeds/Bradford.

The security personnel at the German airport decided to have a 24 hour strike. We were warned to be there at least two hours before our flight was due to board. I took heed.

If anyone suggests to me again that the Germans are masters of organisation they will get a very rude retort. This usually efficient, pleasant, modern airport descended into complete chaos and the most obvious measures – like getting passengers to sit comfortably and call the flights in order – did not happen. I stood in a queue for 2.1/2 hours but even after that I would not have got on the plane had I not used some subterfuge. I was one of only seven passengers who made it on to the plane, despite delaying the take-off till a minute before the airport closed (yes, this major German airport closes at night!); over 50 were left behind.

“I’m going to Istanbul!”

The subterfuge? I noticed that passengers for Turkey were being escorted through (there are a lot of Turks who work in Germany – at the airport too?). So I said I was going to Istanbul and in I went!

Then wonderful things began to happen. At the boarding gate I began to chat to a fellow passenger – clearly not British but speaking English extremely well. However, on the plane I saw that she was anxious to study a music manuscript so I left her alone. But as we arrived at Leeds/Bradford we began to chat again and I mentioned that I was lucky as I lived close by, and hopefully the buses would be running. She said she was being picked up by a friend, asked me the name of the place where I lived, and promptly telephoned her friend and asked whether I could be dropped off there. I was taken to my door.

In the car, remembering the music manuscript, I asked her what instrument she played. “The human voice”, she said. “And what is your name, so I can look out for your singing?”, I asked. “Helen Lepalaan”, she replied.

Now Helen Lepalaan (pictured above) is a wonderful Estonian mezzo soprano, and it turned out she was coming to sing with Opera North, in a production of Mozart’s ‘La clemenza di Tito’, a work of which I was unaware though I’ve been going to the opera for about 65 years. There were only two performances left in the season – the nearest in Manchester but I could not make that, the final one in Nottingham. So I determined to go.

Tito

I was not prepared for ‘La clemenza di Tito’. A stupendous production which belied what seemed at first to be a sparsely simple set with equally understated costumes. Without exaggeration, I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish, as gripped as in any episode of Spooks (a UK television ‘spy’ series). David Cameron would do well to watch it attentively. I can tell you it was the most exciting experience of opera since I saw Aida in Verona, elephants and all, or my first opera ever – Carmen with the Carl Rosa company, in Bradford over 60 years ago.

I’ve come to expect excellent voices from Opera North. It wasn’t always so. When I first began to go to their performances in the late 1970s I was often disappointed; I was used to the likes of Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland and of course Maria Callas on my vinyl discs at home. I usually found the men even less satisfying – but with discs of recordings from Tito Gobbi to Robert Merrill and Jussi Bjoerling, and of course Pavarotti, at home that wasn’t surprising.

No such reservations now. The singing was superb and it was an odd satisfaction that the tenor Paul Nilon (Tito) is a fellow tyke; he comes from Keighley, a few miles from where I live now and where I went to school.

Sesto - the man that Helen becomes so convincingly, even to me

Sesto – the man that Helen becomes so convincingly, even to me

But I came to Nottingham to hear Helen Lepalaan. I had listened to a short clip of her singing on YouTube so her beautiful voice was no surprise; what was a surprise was her acting. Cast in the role of a man, despite the ‘affinity’ I felt I had with her having met her off stage, she just became Sesto.

He (she) has two wonderful arias, one in each act. What a pity there’s no recording of the production. I’d be listening to it again and again, especially these two arias.

Of course one of the great roles for a mezzo soprano is Carmen, for which not surprisingly I have a special fondness. Helen has played the principal role and you can hear her singing from it on the following clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsyYYeSv0EU

So my disaster in Dusseldorf introduced me to a fascinating opera and a beautiful woman with a divine voice. I could live with that kind of disaster on a regular basis.

 

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