Here is David Sklar’s post on this month’s topic, music.
For anyone who’s new to my blog, hi. I’m Fraser, feel free to read my posts, check out my own cross-post in the tour or follow my What I’ve Written page to some of my fiction.
I’ve always said I could learn an instrument if I really wanted to, and I’ve always wished I wanted to, but I never wanted it badly enough. I can’t play an instrument, and I have a sonorous reading voice that turns into strangled geese when I sing. I like to drum on tabletops, but that hardly counts.
In high school, when I learned that James Joyce said in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, that writing is the highest form of art, my first thought was, How arrogant! I mean, writing is my art form too, and I certainly love it, but I wouldn’t presume that what I do is the highest art just because of how it speaks to me. And my second thought, was, No, it’s got to be music.
My son loves words. He may be a writer some day; at 3 years old he already loves to tell stories, make up rhymes and puns, and to play around with concepts, especially turning men into women and women into men, through a pronoun shift–which he does loudly and brazenly, as if daring you to correct him. When he was an infant in the NICU, with his lungs severely damaged by a traumatic birth, I would recite recite to him every poem I could think of, just so he could hear the sound of my breathing, the sound of my voice. He still needs his stories every night, but if he’s really really upset, then nothing written by me or Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss or Maurice Sendak, can calm him down the way the song “Think About Your Troubles” by can. And keep in mind, that’s not a CD, but my strangled-geese rendition.
The way I see it, language and literature are an outgrowth of nature. Dolphins and prairie dogs can get some startlingly precise concepts across to one another, but the evolution of actual language is a significant part of what distinguishes us humans from all other beasts. But music, to me, feels not like an outgrowth of nature but like a vibrant, living piece of nature itself.
Spoken language evolved for our survival. Written language was developed for accounting. When I see beauty in the world, my job as a writer is to seek out a way to describe and re-express that beauty through language–an imperfect tool. But a musician, trying to describe that beauty instrumentally, works with a tool that is made for beauty, and has at his or her disposal an infinite vocabulary that is equipped for expressing beauty more directly than I ever can.
The most recent research seems to bear me out. Children trained in music develop connections in their brains that other children do not have. These same connections can develop in adults with the study of music. Music is a first vocabulary that everyone understands; it is also the last, remaining even in those who have, through illness or injury, lost the capacity for speech.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that music plays a significant part in my work, in different ways.
In Shadow of the Antlered Bird, Tam uses the car radio to finish an incantation, using a snippet of a song to awaken April’s senses when she needs a greater alertness. Later, seeking out help within the woods, he tinkers with the antenna to capture a song that the radio is not designed to hear, guiding them to their destination through a fey, fantastical music. Later still, in the story, music acts as an indispensable part of healing magic.
In “Subterranean Song” (in the Drollerie Press anthology Needles & Bones), a young musician becomes, unwittingly, the reason for a girl’s death, and then must call upon the power of song to protect her spirit in the journey to the afterlife.
In “Behind the Tower” (which will appear in the upcoming Straying from the Path), a drug dealer who looks like uses the as a metaphor to explain how magic works–based on the balance of Paul McCartney’s discipline and ‘s untamable weird–while snippets from the radio changing stations foreshadow an inkling of what is going to happen next.
My novel in progress, The Skin We Wear, brings music further into the forefront. The selkies in the novel respond to song and also influence their world through the power of song. Moreover, my protagonist–or, more precisely, the one character who seems most to be the hero in an ensemble cast–returns to a musical talent he has forsaken, and through it finds a tenuous peace for himself and also a bit of recognition that will open up doors to him and also tear his family apart.