Comitting music to the written page can be a particular challenge for a writer. Surely, music has
to be listened to be appreciated it – right? How then, can music translate to a literary experience that is as satifying for a reader, as the music itself?
The answer is not as difficult to achieve as one might believe.
“The Hambledown Dream“, my first novel, is very much a musical journey, with the classical
guitar taking center stage. I adore classical guitar. It is a perfect accompaniment to any number
of situations and states of mind. When you are stuck in peak hour traffic on a commute. As
background music for a dinner party with friends. When you’re relaxing in a chair somehwere
with a glass of wine. Indeed, I have found it helpful when I have been sitting a my computer
However, I did not anticipate just how much of a challenge describing music as it performed
would be when I first began to pen the story. I grappled with the concept for the longest time.
Music is, obviously, an aural experience, whereas reading is a silent one, that relies on our
imagination. As a writer, the challenge in translating this very aural experience into a literary
one, is significant. One must be able to deliver an experience that is as emotionally satisfying to the reader, than if they were hearing the music. And, herein lies an additional challenge. How
does a writer describe a piece of music that the reader, in all likelihood, has never heard?
During my research, I knew that I wanted to feature classical guitar in the story as a device that
would tie two lives together as well as portraying it as a ‘character’ in it’s own right. From the
beginning, I consumed as much classical guitar music as I could, determining that I wanted to
feature three or four key pieces in the story. Just how I was going to describe them being played, was initially difficult.
At first, I made notes about the technical aspects of several pieces that I found appealing. Their
tone, and tempo, whether they were loud or soft, whether they were bold in their execution or
more introspective. But in attempting to put these descriptors into an engaging narrative, the
initial results were pretty uninspiring. They didn’t grab me in an emotionally satisfying way, so I
knew they weren’t going to grab my readers. I needed to approach the problem from another
It wasn’t until I happened across an album in my collection by Australian virtuoso guitarist
Slava Grigoryan, that the other angle I was seeking became apparent.
“Another Night In London” is a wonderfully obscure 2003 recording featuring Grigoryan’s
classical guitar in a languid, free flowing style. Part jazz, part classical, part contemporary, it’s a
more experimental example of Grigoryan’s work. You probably have never heard of the album –
am I right?
Within the album, is a three part exploration of Grigoryan’s skilfull playing in an enchanting
suite called “The Sounds Of Rain”.
Part 3 of this suite has long been a favorite of mine for a couple of reasons. It evokes the most
wonderful imagery of the rain. Soft rain falling through the tops of a tree and dripping freely
from the leaves. Pattering rain on a tin roof, somewhere in the country side. Long languid
afternoons where rain falls for hours and one can sit on a porch somewhere and simply be
accompanied by it. It is calming, soothing and it allows you to drift away. Grigoryan, himself,
plays the piece with a gentleness and subtle energy. He moves with piece, bowing his head in
concert with the rhythm he draws from the guitar. His fingers dance across the fret board as
though they are floating on air.
See what I did there?
In just a few short sentences I was able to evoke imagery in describing the piece as well as
impart an emotional accompaniment to it, i.e. – how the piece makes me feel. And, rather than
labor on the techincal aspects of the performance, I instead describe Grigoryan’s playing as
though it were a dance – a kind of ballet. We know he is a good guitarist, since I described him
earlier as a virtuoso. So his technical ability can be taken as a given.
I featured Part 3 of “The Sounds Of Rain” in my novel, right from the start and it became the
template for the way I would present the other pieces of music. For pieces that are more
renowned than “Rain”, I referred, subtly, to their origins as a way of describing them as another
means of ‘translation’.
For example, the famed composer Astor Piazolla’s “Tango Suite”, is fairly well known to lovers of classical guitar. I featured it in a scene where my central character is performing it in a Pub
in the chill Chicago winter. By describing the suite in just a single sentence in the novel as”…a
piece that bristled with a controlled erotic energy of the legendary Argentine dance”, I beleive I
was able to evoke the imagery of a dance – the Tango – that is familiar to most of us, as well as
evoking a sense of eroticism, an emotion that is, undoubtedly emotionally satisfying to 99.9% of us.
A good exercise to partake in, if you want to write about a piece of music is to write down the
kinds of things you see in a piece. A place, a texture, a color, an act – so long as it is visual and it fits into the narrative that you are trying to convey. Add to this the feelings the piece evokes in
you. You can then work with your two lists and extrapolate on the themes you find therein.
Music imparts imagery and emotion within us. It fires our imagination and encourages us to
seek out more of those forms which we derive the greatest pleasure from.
For a writer, the interpretation of a musical experience into a literary one requires that we tap
into a similar sense of imagery and emotion and translate these onto the page, as if the music
itself is a character. In this way, a writer can present a musical journey to a reader that is every
bit as rich and rewarding as the music itself.
Dean Mayes is the author of The Hambledown Dream which is available from Amazon and
www.deanfromaustralia.com in digital and print formats.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Australian Denny Banister had it all; a successful career, a passion for the guitar, and Sonya – the love of his life. Tragically, Denny is struck down with inoperable cancer.
Andy DeVries has almost nothing; alienated from his family, moving through a dangerous Chicago underworld dealing in drugs, battling addiction; all while keeping a wavering hold on the only thing that matters to him: a place at a prestigious conservatory for classical guitar in Chicago.
As Andy recovers from a near fatal overdose, he is plagued by dreams – memories of a love he has never felt, and a life he’s never lived. Driven by the need for redemption and by the love for a woman he’s never met, he begins a quest to find her, knowing her only by the memories of a stranger and the dreams of a place called Hambledown…
THANKS TO THE GENEROSITY OF AUTHOR,
DEAN MAYES, HE HAS OFFERED A GIVEAWAY GALORE
THE GIVEAWAY ENTRY PAGE.
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