Not only did Gary say I was cranky, he said I wasn’t “bringing it.” Good thing I like Gary. We play chamber music together, and he made said statement after a recent rehearsal. He was being constructive and helpful, meaning it in the best possible way, but all I could think was What do you mean, “not bringing it?” Weren’t you listening? I played the hell out of that thing.
From my vantage point, I was playing just fine. My notes were solid and in tune. I was structuring phrases with nuance and subtlety. I was locked onto the first violinist’s vibe and was right with her. How is that not bringing it? Gary said he couldn’t hear me, that my sound was tentative and thin.
I told my teacher about the conversation, and without hesitation, he told me what the problem was. My sound has no focus. Without that focus, the music goes as far as my ears and dissipates. So I wasn’t really playing the hell out of it, I was only playing the heck out of it.
The violin is like a crystal glass. It’s not enough to draw the bow across the strings. The instrument has its own resonance–I have to find it and work with it. When the speed, pressure and the placement of the bow are correct, the strings and the notes are in tune, and the vibrato is constant, the sound rings. It buzzes in your ear and you feel it in your bones. You have to find it, and sustain it. It’s work.
It’s not about volume. My teacher can play very softly, and yet the sound cuts through. It’s like that “Op” that allows everyone beyond Horton to hear the Whos. “Bringing it” doesn’t mean “play louder” it means “play clearer.”
Writing is very similar. It’s not just putting words on the page. The writer has to focus the voice, to shape it and work with it. I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing, and he exemplified this very concept. Stephen King’s prose is very lean. He doesn’t use a lot of words, but the ones he chooses carry the sound to the back of the hall.
Sometimes my writing has that clarity, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not always “bringing it” the way I’d like. So if the analogy holds true, I need to work the same way to focus my writing voice as I do to focus my sound. Practice and experimentation. Breaking things down and putting them back together again. Analyzing what makes a passage work, and what merely muffles the sound.
I’m working with an editor to get my novel ready to pitch to agents. She told me to rework the prologue to fix some character consistency issues and cut it from 6 pages to 2. After reading the next version, she complimented some little moments, actions that foreshadowed future events, that conveyed elements of the main character’s thought process. The interesting part was that they’d always been there. Somewhere in the 6 pages of other stuff, they got lost.
So my writing process and my musical process have dovetailed yet again, as I look to sharpen my voice to cut through the clutter–stripping everything down to its essential elements, and figuring out how to sustain it without effort. I’m learning how to “bring it.”
And when I do, you’ll all get a front row ticket for listening to all that practice. It’s the least I can do.
Words by J. B. Everett
Photograph by Rocky Lubbors