Last week I was playing with a BrainScatter – a sort of 3-D BrainDump – of words about musical notation – the words that might appear (implicitly or explicitly) on a music manuscript, or on a film score (such as the conductor of the sound-track music might work from), or in a song book. And today I am marking such words in bold as a resource.
You could have a go with that five-finger exercise if you are so inclined, just to get you in the rhythm for writing, or to pitch you into today’s writing. Maybe you could write ideas on a five-lined musical stave, such as has been the container for notes:
Or you could recall musical instruments that you have always secretly wanted to play, or indeed have played, or have been afraid to play or even to hear.
A youngster, having been frightened by his Christmas stocking when it made a baa-ing sound (anyone remember Lamb-baa-s?), requested the following year that Father Christmas leave him No Musical Instruments.
At two, he resembled his sensitively-eared mother, who at three had cried during a Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra concert and had to be taken out. (The family were in the cheap seats, right behind the percussion section.)
The un-liker of Lamb-baa-s went on to develop a taste for Coldplay and later, for Nine Inch Nails, and had a brief flirtation with a Ronald keyboard during his more sostenuto* relationship with computer keyboards.
The cry-er at timpani went on to play the trumpet and piano and, later, to develop hearing loss, Just saying – or singing abandonedly and abundantly, which she still enjoys, particularly when wearing headphones, or when indulging in dance improvisation.
As is becoming traditional, there’s a cacophony of selected musical terms at the end of today’s post, under Further resources.
* Although music is an international language, the language for speed (“tempo“) instructions – such as Largo (very slow and dignified) or Allegretto (moderately fast) – has often been Italian, by convention.
To lead into our own music today, let’s select any three of the writing prompts below, and start Brain Dumping, free-flow unedited private splurging onto the page:
Today the rhythm of my days is punctuated by …
Today I’ll treat myself to some movement, by …
Today the perfect pitch …
Today I need to look sharp, or else …
Today I’m feeling flat …
Today’s interval is in a major/minor key (you choose) because …
Today I remember the music teacher who …
And if the language of music is double-dutch to you, or you feel that you are “tone deaf” – then write that too:
Today I feel lost, although I know I like listening to …
Today I long for the sound of …
When we’ve braindumped for ten-twenty minutes, we can put our pens down, & stand up. We might like to give our hands and hips a relaxing shake, and maybe gently drum with the fingertips on the crown of the head, the chest, the belly.
Or mark time with an imaginary baton.
Just to feel the rhythm.
Musical poems, poetic music
The links between music and language are fundamental and deep-rooted in human origins, and in bird song and other forms of natural communication they precede humans. From the percussive blasts of energy that tiny invertebrates use to stun their prey, through the caves used as massive resonators to the exquisite anguish of whale song…
… the links between movement, voice and rhythm; symphonic form, harmonic consonance, and the resolving of discord; leit motif in Wagnerian opera, theme and variations explored by pianists in classics or contemporary music; the celebration of the Earth and her peoples in the folk tradition, including a link to Fiddlers’ Bid, shared by my multi-talented friend Kate Dawson on Shetland …
… these together provide a rich picking ground for the metaphor and melody of poetry.
So where shall I begin, to choose a totemic poem “about” music?
That choice in itself would take a lifetime, so you can help me by suggesting yours, in the Comments.
Either loved by you, or (if you are happy for me to share it on my blog) written by you (so include your copyright at the end of it).
Here goes with a favourite chosen by me, which you can also find listed and attributed on a The LiederNet Archive, a site (with a few spelling mistakes) devoted to the lyrics used in lieder (= songs, in German) and you can also see the original manuscript here and in Further Resources below:
Everyone suddenly burst out singing
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on — on — and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away. … O but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless;
The singing will never be done.Siegfried Lorraine Sassoon (1886 – 1967); first published 1919 in Picture-Show no 34
shown in its signature version, from Oxford University collections, at the end.
And here’s another exercise to get us song-and-dance writing further.
Finding a Golden Thread Go back to my poem, and highlight or [square bracket] any phrase or word that spoke to you, or
read through your Check-in/Braindump responses, and highlight or [bracket] any particularly juicy phrases and ideas, or
jot down [in a blue-sky box] any memory that has been triggered.
And finally, if just a few notes from today’s musical exercises have put a song in your heart, then fill in these before you go:
Today I am grateful for:
a not-exhaustive cacophony of musical terms
|da capo |
(back to the beginning)
|largo (anagrams here)||lyre||mantra||mute|
|polyphonic||psalm||rallentando (gradually slowing down)||roundelay|
|symphony||tambourine||throat-singing (e.g.by Inuit)||whistle|
poetry as song, song as poetry
First an image of the manuscript of the Sassoon poem, “Everyone Sang,” by Sassoon, Siegfried (1886-1967). The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford / The Siegfried Sassoon Literary Estate via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed May 15, 2020,
And from my 2014 collection, an offering in appreciation of a London workshop given by movement teachers Alex Svoboda and Peter Wilberforce, at the end of which we all joined hands in a huge circle of sound:
The dancing singing bowl
(with thanks to Alex Nikiforov & Peter Wilberforce)
What, who is this?
And what, who, are these
like petals from the centre I call “me”?
What, who, these companions,
these hands that hold, stroke, soothe my soul
in the expressive dance and song?
Seeing their dance, hearing their song
I see them different, yet deeply same
their needs, their longings… all these
a petal of my own flower,
a leaf from my own book –
or mine, one of theirs.
What, who is this?
Or rather, who are we?
Held together like petals
radiating out – with such light! –
resonating out from the singing bowl that we are.
from ‘the route to grace’ (2014) Dalefield Press, Cambridge UK CB24 3BP/23
© Kathy McVittie 13 October 2014