Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Process of Writing 13: Personal Histories

I completed the Heartlands/dark song, "The Voices In My Head," a couple of days ago. During the last few pages of writing the music down, it all fell together, the ending suddenly became clear and easy to write down. I struggled intensely with the writing of that piece for over a week. I know it affected my mood all week. It was a stressful act of writing, to go into those dark places where the voices tell you only negative things about yourself. I predict some of the listeners (and performers!) of this song from the commission will find it disturbing yet good, in that it brings up a dark and difficult topic that many of us can relate to, and only some of us have fully overcome. It definitely stirred up the muck for me. I was glad to put the last touches on the final page of score, and begin to start thinking about what to write next.

I realized right about the time that I finished writing "Voices" that two other truths had also been present for awhile. First, it was stressful writing this piece, in the context of what I am going through right now, preparing for upcoming surgery and all that entails, and added to my overall high stress level all last week. As I said, it was a relief to finish it, and be able to turn towards more energetically-positive sections of the commission.

Second, this was the perfect time to write this piece, in the context of building up to the surgery. It was purgative, it was cathartic. It was a good way to use that constant anxiety that I have been feeling, pre-operation. Better to write a dark piece now, when the overall mood has been dark. I'm doing my best to think positively about the surgery itself, and the recovery, and yet I know only too well that it's going to be stressful all the way up to the day itself. So on some level, not bothering to tell myself clearly what was going on till later, I chose to use that, to use it for this writing. I've also written one or two essays in the past month that have been similarly purgative, similarly satisfying to complete. Also, I don't expect to be clear-headed or focused after the surgery, for some time. During the recovery, that first healing, that is a good time to focus on writing more positive music. Get the dark stuff out now, leave room for the lighter stuff when it supports my own healing.

The very next day after completing "The Voices In My Head," I began working on the Finale, which I am tentatively calling "We Sing For Our Lives." It's a little ambiguous, but overall it's a positive summation of the entire cycle of songs, that I hope will lift off and transcend everything that has gone before. I am working on how to include something transcendent enough to tie the music into the cosmic music of the spheres. The them here is universal overcoming. We sing because it makes us feel alive. When we sing we forget all our suffering, all the crap we put up with during the rest of our days. When we sing, we are alive, we are connected to something greater than ourselves, we become linked to the eternal song of the cosmos.

Here I am thinking in part of the music made from radio astronomy data by Dr. Fiorella Terenzi and her CD of Music from the Galaxies. I am also thinking of similar projects that have taken magnetic data and solar wind data and made them into sound. I wonder if I can incorporate this into my own commission? I have to think about it. Logistically, it would be difficult. I am also thinking of perhaps incorporating some ideas from my own celestial piano music that I have been working on for a couple of years.

I got most of the lyrics for the Finale down yesterday. (Sitting in the doctor's office, with time to kill while waiting for my appointment.) Enough to get me started, and hopefully writing far into the piece today. I already knew what the Finale was going to be about, and I already knew that it would begin by repeating the a capella choral weave from the very beginning of the opening movement. But I hadn't really gotten more than a hint of lyrics. Now I have most of those, which came clear to me yesterday. I need to add a bit more to the lyrics, and incorporate a couple of ideas that I have been wanting to include all along. So today I will begin by revising the lyrics, writing through them again, making some changes and additions, tightening up a bit, then start in on the music score.

Meanwhile, a few days ago, I re-discovered some documentation photos I'd made of an erotic poetry journal I began keeping when I was fifteen years old, and was inspired to write down some thoughts about it in retrospect. This morning what intrigues me about this early personal sexual writing was that I chose to write it mostly as poetry. One or two poems that I completed later on began in that journal, at that age. I'm looking back on my personal history from my teenage years from a new perspective.

In recent months, I have been resisting calling myself a writer. Too much baggage around that word. Too many expectations and myths and beliefs, many of them tribal-level beliefs that do not serve me as an individual or as an artist. Yet, looking back over this early writing, I am forced to admit that I must in part own being a writer. We can define a writer as one who responds to life by writing about it. I must own that I have some portion of that instinct—not a full, exclusive portion of it, as "real" writers do, whose first and only artistic instinct is to write. That I turn to making music, making art, before I turn to writing, as my primary artistic responses to life, makes me not a "real" writer in most "real" writers' eyes: those who are exclusively and only writers, in other words, whose only instinct is to respond to life by writing about it. I get a lot a flak about that, from these "real" writers. Some of whom have wanted me to give up all the other arts and join their camp—and were mortally offended when I rejected that offer. But looking back on this old journal, I concede that I must, in part, be a writer, because at that time I did turn to poetry for getting those inchoate, teenage, no doubt clichéd feelings out of me and into my art. On the other hand, as I have said before, I don't write any poems when I am musically busy and satisfied; I write the vast bulk of my poetry when for one reason or another I don't the opportunity for music at the moment. I write a lot of poems when I'm traveling or camping, when there isn't a piano available, or I don't have my Stick along on a roadtrip.

Perhaps this is the timely occasion to include my own stories in the new music commission. I've been focused on the rich material for stories and lyrics given to me by members of the chorus, who gave of their writings and time to this music commission, in emails, poems, and interviews. I've been incorporating these into the lyrics, but so far I haven't talked about my own personal history very much in that context. But writing the music is bringing up a lot of my own memories about being a teenager in Ann Arbor, regarding my sexuality and my impressions of the sexual culture there, at that time.

I have intended all along to include some of my own perspective and stories in the music, somewhere, didn't know where. Can't really avoid that, since I'm writing the piece, and since I'm more than a journalist recording the stories told by others, and have my own to tell. The writing is certainly stirring up memories, so now I'm just going to let them come forward as they will. Writing them down, as I have done regarding my youthful erotic journal, seems like part of this music commission process—not separate from it, even if it ends up being only a sidebar.

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