1. LISTENING: Calder Quartet playing Janacek Quartet No. 2 'Intimate Letters' - Mvt. 3
Last week, I was lucky enough to see Calder Quartet perform the entire Janacek piece Intimate Letters. Wow. Here's the third movement for you to experience. What a piece of music! And what an incredible performance of it! A little background: Janacek wrote this for his muse, a 25-year-old woman he fell madly in love with near the end of his life. She was the inspiration for a volcanic outpouring of music from the aging composer. In addition, he wrote her over 600 letters! About this piece, he said it was "written in fire." Indeed!
2. POEM-ING: The City of Paris has You in Mind Tonight
In my reading, thinking, and song/writing about death, I recently came across this poem by Deborah Landau. More than a few of her phrases caught and crystallized particular thoughts I've had about my Mom since she died. The poem speaks to the strange experience of being left behind by the dead. In my case, one minute, I am tenderly ministering to my Mom's mouth and eyes and lips and the very next minute she is no longer breathing. Where did she go? She is still very much here, still warm, still needing a kind of care and she is not here at all. What is here? Who is she now? Who am I now? Landau describes this here-not-here moment throughout the poem as she moves through her memories and the cityscape of Paris: "Just at the moment when the person has disappeared forever / they tell you he's alive forever lucky him." The poem is long and and multiple readings bring rich reward. Plus, in the third section she addresses the person to whom her elegy is written with this devastating line: "O incidental fragile beloved one, / chance of recovery none."
3. READING: the essay Words Unwired by Lorin Stein
I felt hugely relieved to read Lorin Stein's short, important essay in the New York Times Book Review a few weeks ago. In it, he makes the case for "private" reading, writing, and thinking. He means reading, writing, and reflecting that is unencumbered and unmediated (un-media-ated) by the impulse to share, produce, or "do" anything with what we discover. The point is to deepen our inner life, not come up with a tweet or a piece of content. Stein writes, "We spend more time than ever on our devices, but it seems fair to say we like them less, especially when it comes to reading ... Turning off your phone has become a prized luxury. Over these last few years all of us, readers and writers alike, have developed a growing appreciation for what the Internet wants to take away: our time alone with the written word."
As I re-up my commitment to what I have affectionately nicknamed "The Death Album," the collection of songs I began writing when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer, time alone with the written word is all I am focused on. The only way into my stack of new ideas and unfinished songs is through stretches of uninterrupted time to read, think, write, rewrite, play guitar, sing, try, fail, cry, find joy, lose joy, keep going, and let go. This time has nothing to do with you or the outside world. It is neither social nor media-oriented. It has only to do with me and what I want to say to my Mom.
Stein puts it perfectly: "Writing fiction is pretty much the opposite of writing a good tweet, or curating an Instagram feed. It’s the opposite of the personal-slash-professional writing that is now part of our everyday lives. More than ever, we need writers who are unprofessional, whose private worlds come first."
Hallelujah and amen.
(Creating long stretches of uninterrupted time to work is how you make yourself as a musician. You must be comfortable spending time in solitude, with only yourself, your instrument, and your ideas. This, of course, is an old topic: everyone from the Stoic philosophers to Rainer Maria Rilke have advice on why and how to do it. For a more recent take, see Cal Newport's blog and his new book Deep Work.)
Extra-credit: DEVICE-ING: Shure MV88 iPhone microphone (music gear geekery alert)
For the last couple of months, I've been using the Shure MV88 to make better-quality quick-and-dirty recordings on my iPhone. I start with the voice memo function on my phone, recording the aural confetti (lyrical and musical) that go into making a "finished" song. Once I get a song into position, I've found that recording a rough demo with this nifty little mic adds volume and punch. If you want to travel light but sound good while doing it (the MV88 fits in the palm of your hand), this thing will do the trick.
What music are you listening to? What poems are you reading? What are you creating with your pockets of solitude? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!