Friendly Ghosts

March 9th, 2009 § 0 comments


The other morning I attended a 4th Grade Recorder concert (you know, the hooty little flutelike wind instruments) at my daughter’s elementary school.  It was much as you might imagine.  Several tunes were played by the whole 4th grade, but there were also several solos, which lead me to tonight’s topic…

Some of the soloists, such as my daughter, who played Simple Gifts simply and beautifully, played the notes of their tunes very much as written, and the tunes were rendered physically intact in the air of the school’s Great Room.  Others played with somewhat less fidelity to the notes on the page.  What was particularly interesting was the way the Platonic essence of these familiar melodies hovered above the proceedings, evoked but not actually rendered by the less accomplished soloists.  You could almost smell Polly Wolly Doodle, secure in its essence, louder in its silence than the physicalized tones of the recorder that was not quite playing it.

This little episode led me to think about the Platonic essence of many things of importance to me as a composer and musical dramatist.  For instance, I think of the characters of Charles Dickens, and whether at some point they embody a reality more real than that of their creator.  Joe Gargery at his forge in Great Expectations is utterly believable, and rather more likely than Dickens himself.

Did Tennessee Williams get Blanche Dubois right?  Or is the real essential Blanche, unforgettably evoked by Williams, always hovering around productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, wishing Williams had not written down all those lies about the soldiers…?

Or perhaps if a character is real enough – Blanche DuBois or Miss Havisham or Sherlock Holmes or Albus Dumbledore – they somehow necessitate the author writing them…?

How did Dickens find his characters?  What was it that brought those wonderful personalities to life?  How did he do it?

Can I find the real Blanche independent of Williams’ play?

Can I write music or songs or scenes for other “fictional” characters that reveal an essence beyond that which their “authors” were able to evoke?  Can I write a revelatory musical scene for Nicholas and Alison in John Fowles’ the Magus?  For Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island?  For Joe Gargery and Pip and Biddy in Great Expectations?

One thing I know for sure is that in order to be possessed by these friendly – and sometimes not so friendly – ghosts, I have to believe in them and attend to them, and indeed surrender to them – give up my heart and soul and, in my case, my musicality as a medium within which they can coalesce and quicken.

If I open and surrender my musicality in this way, can I be present at the manifestation of characters as real as those of Dickens or Robert Louis Stevenson or J. K. Rowling?

Yes, I think I can.

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