The Author as a Musician

I’ve spent much of my life trying to escape the blessing/curse of being a writer. By age six, I knew my vocation was dyed in the wool. That didn’t stop me from trying other callings. I studied to be an actor and a dancer, spent a good portion of my youth as what amounted to a spy, and worked as a linguist in seven languages. The major alternative to writing, though, was music.

My consuming passion for music started even before I knew I was a writer. I ended up taking a BA in composition from the University of California, but by the time I graduated, I already knew I wasn’t good enough to create first-class music. When I listened to Mozart, and especially Bach, I saw my own limitations all too clearly. That didn’t stop me from composing reams of music that I now see really wasn’t bad.

I went on to take work-related advance degrees—a master’s in Government and a doctorate in Public Administration—and I found time to work with church choirs and folk groups and even wrote music for them.

Finally, by the time I was in my thirties, I surrendered to my vocation and began restructuring my life so that I could eventually write fiction full time.

I have found over the years that depth understanding and work in disciplines other than writing can enrich the writer’s soul and make his writing more effective. The system and logic of music is relevant only to itself, and the logic of no other discipline applies to it. But learning to think in that logic gave me the power to think in words with new insight and perspective. The only comparable training that has lifted my way with words was the study of languages other than English, especially Asian languages whose logic is totally alien to English. I find a cunning irony in the discovery that because Asian languages are often tonal, my understanding of the way tones work in music was an immense help to me in learning to speak those languages. I conclude that any depth training of the human brain can invigorate the writer’s soul.

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