Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Music and Writers

C. K. Williams said "in poetry the music comes first, before everything else, everything else: until the poem has found its music, it's merely verbal matter, information". Alfred Brendel's published poetry books. Some song-writers are poets. Some poets write lyrics and librettos or (like Don Paterson) are accomplished musicians. Many others like writing with music in the background. However, sensitivity to music is by no means a requirement for successful writing.

  • "I must confess ... my utter failure with music. I’m sorry to say it but it’s true. Maybe there’s something wrong with my ears. I can’t listen to music, especially classical music, except with pained bewilderment. I’ve never been to a concert, or even played a classical CD right through" (Kathleen Jamie, New Statesman, 25 October 2007)
  • "Music, I regret to say, affects me merely as an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds ... The concert piano and all wind instruments bore me in smaller doses and flay me in larger ones." (Vladimir Nabokov)

My performance skills were limited (at the bottom of my recorder-playing certificate it wisely states "This certificate does not imply ability to teach"). Though I listened to rock/pop music in my teens and tried to widen my appreciation after that, I only went to a few concerts (Tangerine Dream, Roy Harper, Blondie, Janis Ian, Jon Martyn and the early Human League might be complete list) and went to some jazz evenings at a local pub. I've fewer than a 100 tracks in my iPod - many of those nostalgic. I like the odd bit of plainsong, Barber, and Bartok but prefer songwriter classics.

In my writing do I lack a good ear? Maybe. Has my work been described as "unmusical"? Not yet, though I think it's fair to say that my writing isn't the sort that aspires to the condition of music. It carries an argument and remains mostly referential. It can be picked apart without the parts losing their value.

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to be a composer before I realised I was a writer and no amount of wanting was going to change that. Music is still very important to me and it plays all day in this house, generally classical or soundtracks as it’s hard to write over someone singing. I also took recorder at school although I really discovered the recorder after I left when I befriended a gifted amateur player. In fact the last music I ever wrote was for him, a virtuoso piece using the gypsy scale (A B C D# E F G A) and a rather cute piece for two recorders, all lost now I’m sad to say. The same goes for all my songs although I still have the lyrics. My favourite was a rather sad song about an aging Superman, the chorus of which went:

            And if I really try
            I still know how to fly
            Cos I’m a superman
            A superman

    I has a kind of ‘Rocket Man’ feel. At the time I toyed with the idea of sending it to Elton John but I never did.