Saturday, 25 April 2009

Words and Music

What is it that makes writing and music so emotionally compatible? So many writers are often musicians and vice versa. They both demand exclusivity in terms of time-management. Often when I have a gig I’m painfully conscious of the dent that it’s making in my word-count schedule. And sometimes I’ll even turn down a gig because it comes at a time when I really do need to be writing.
But I cannot set one above the other.
I have a show this week, HMS Pinafore. I’m 2nd clarinet in the pit. It’s demanding, it’s every night, and it takes nearly an hour to travel to and from home. So the solution is: I don’t travel. I bring my home to Llangollen.
Here I am, at the end of the arrow. Instead of driving for two hours I can write, and Sarah can paint. And just look at the scenery round here. Can life get much better than this?

So, back to the initial question. What makes writing and music such comfortable bed-fellows?
Here’s my view: It’s all about validation. As a musician I love the sound of applause. You know that you have entertained people when they clap. There’s nothing like seeing a group of smiling faces leaving a theatre or club and knowing that you have been part of their experience that evening. Or playing a solo that comes together and really works, and hearing the approval immediately afterwards.
But, here’s the thing, it’s fleeting. When a solo is done, it’s done. Over. It will never be repeated. (It might be recorded, but that’s rare.) So with music you get instant gratification, but it’s gone the moment you let it out of the bag.
With writing it’s different. It takes time to create, to rework, to edit. Then it goes out to editors and you wait weeks and months for any feedback – meanwhile you’re working on something else. Often the feedback is negative (although I have noticed, since becoming a ‘Writers of the Future’ winner, that I do seem to be getting a better class of rejection slip nowadays.) When something gets published there is another delay, weeks and months. There’s no instant gratification with writing. But writing isn’t fleeting, like music. When its out there it’s out there for a long time. The feedback is no less gratifying than applause for a good improvised solo, but it has more substance, because it lasts. There’s also a better chance of it being heard by a wider audience. Maybe no more in number than the hundred or so who fit into Maghull Town Hall each month to hear my efforts with the Merseyside Big Band, but they’re more geographically dispersed.

It’s my last night in Llangollen tonight. I’m going to miss it. It’s the first time I’ve done HMS Pinafore – a terrific show, packed with good tunes and there are some great lines. It was very political in its day and it still has resonance. And it's still very very funny. Words and music, working together.

But before I put on my DJ and dicky, and go off to entertain the cultured masses of North Wales, there are other pressing duties to perform: The toilet is full; it has to be tipped out into a big hole at the top of the field. And the drinking water tank needs filling, the waste water tank needs emptying and... oh, it’s my turn to cook the tea. I’m not going to get away with beans on toast again tonight.

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