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The Marriage of Music and Literature   4 comments

moragandmeThis lovely photo taken by my friend Francis Willey is from the launch of my novel, The Piano Teacher, at Calgary’s Shelf Life Books.

The beautiful woman you see in the photo is Morag Northey, a wonderful cellist and human being who graced us with her presence and made what may have been an ordinary event quite magical.

The universe, or God, or god, or the gods, or maybe a simple act of fate brought Morag and I together about 6 years ago when I was looking for a cellist to create a score and perform it on stage for my play Queen Lear.

That’s not an easy thing to do, let alone do it well, but she did it and anyone who saw that Urban Curvz production of the play certainly came away from it enriched and even transformed by her infectiously generous spirit that she somehow manages to impart with each and every note she produces.

How perfect, then, that Morag offered to play at the launch of The Piano Teacher.

If Queen Lear was an exploration of the process of the theatre, then The Piano Teacher is an exploration of the process of music. Among other things, obviously.

I began my artistic career as a piano player. When I was young and developing my aesthetic sensibilities, it was all about music, and the act of playing. It really quite amazed me that when I set out to write this novel, which is told from the point of view of a concert pianist, so many of the lessons and ideas learned from my teachers decades ago were still so fresh in my mind, like it all had just happened yesterday.

Interesting, isn’t it, what sticks and what doesn’t.

When I began writing plays — my first one, The Family, was performed in 1984 in the back space of Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto — 31 years ago, dear God, where does it go? — I guess I must have felt that words alone were inadequate somehow, never as powerful or as evocative as music. I tried to find a balance between language and music in the medium of the theatre. The odd time I think I may have actually gotten it right.

There’s a bit of business in The Family where the dead son returns from war with his coffin on his back. (Don’t ask.) (Designers either love or hate me.) The coffin transforms into a piano, and the dead son sits down and plays some lounge music while his father seduces the son’s fiancée. (Or was it the other way around?)

The point being, we had live music on stage. Other plays I’ve written – Quartet, Cocktails (which I edited and contributed a piece to), Excavations, Writer’s Bock and Queen Lear, all featured live music on stage in one way or another. Even my old chestnut, Some Assembly Required, had one of the characters creating the soundtrack on stage by playing a tightly controlled rotation of LPs.

It’s an exploration I got away from during my years at Alberta Theatre Projects. Looking back now, I’m not sure why that happened. I certainly came back to it with Queen Lear, and now with The Piano Teacher, it feels like I have come full circle in my adult life. (Or whatever this is.)

Ongoing, I’ve muddled my way through most of a second novel that so far has nothing to do with music. I do have an idea for a play that is about an aging rock musician (see photo below!) but so far that’s just an idea, I haven’t taken pen to paper yet.

I do think it interesting to endeavour to probe this antinomy of music and literature.I look forward to renewing the journey again some day. Meanwhile, though I have a novel to flog and it seems to take up a lot of time and energy. I have to say that the early feedback on The Piano Teacher has been so warm and enthusiastic that it’s really been encouraging.

Oh, and this. As you are probably aware, artists of all stripes are trying to figure out how we can make a living from our travails in this digital age. Well, a friend of mine put a “Donations” button on his blog a while back and he has made the astronomical amount of $37.00 as a result. So I thought what’s the worst that can happen, and put one on this blog, up on the left hand side. It’s a long summer and any support I receive in this manner will be greatly appreciated.

If you can afford to, I would appreciate the support. But really, just knowing there are people reading these ramblings is gratifying in itself. Still, you know what they say — you can’t live on air.

I mean to put a permanent link on for buying The Piano Teacher and Queen Lear from Blurb.com, but I haven’t figured out how to do it yet.  If you’re in Calgary, you can buy both books at Shelf Life Books, but if you’re further away, The Piano Teacher can be purchased online at http://blur.by/1JCifkt and Queen Lear at http://blur.by/1wf20oo.

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a photo of me shilling my book at the Shelf Life sale at The Lilac Festival earlier today.

Lilac Festival

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