Friday, December 14, 2012

The Heart of a Good Chord


 

There’s a lot I don’t understand about what works in a story and what doesn’t. I’m piss-poor at analyzing, labeling or even remembering why something worked.

But I know when it hits that chime inside me.

The same thing goes with music. It often isn’t the words in music that will make me catch my breath, it’s a chord. A progression of notes that evokes a visceral response I have no control over. There is a passage in Marc Cohn’s Walking in Memphis that makes me choke up every time I hear it. The lyrics? Nice, but they aren’t the magic in this…it’s the piano between the bridge and last verse. It’s what opens the song and ends it. Those notes ring inside of me.

The same with the drums from Phil Collin’s In the Air tonight.  You know the riff… right after ‘no stranger to you and me…’ Ba da da-da da-da-da DA DA

At this time of year, I often hear Christmas Eve Sarajevo by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and it always…always…makes me want to sob. Yes, the music is familiar, but the way they play it, the heartbreak over what became of Sarajevo…it is evocative in the extreme.

It’s magic. I’m sure it isn’t the same chord or riff for everyone. But I imagine we all have the bits of music where we’re listening and not really paying attention and suddenly, something catches us unaware and we blink back a rush of tears, a wall of emotion we’re not even sure the significance of.

Perhaps it is tied to the music and the first time we heard it, where we were or what we were experiencing right then. Or it’s a primal thing, as that song from Shrek ‘…the secret chord that David played that pleased the lord…’ That Hallelujah place. It’s a song written by Leonard Cohen and covered by a lot of artists, but that progression he wrote… ‘the fourth, the fifth, the minor four, the major lift…the broken king composing Hallelujah’ is sublime.

This is what I want to hit when I write. Now and then, I think it’s there. In the scenes I wrote that I go back and read again and again. A plot twist, a moment of revelation, a heartbreak or celebration…there is no given pattern or reason for the sense that I touched what I wanted. It’s subtle or it’s blunt. A light touch on the keys or a total slam down on the drums. Planned? Or from out of nowhere. I don’t have a formula, but I just know when it’s right.

I’m a superstitious writer. I don’t necessarily want to know how to get there. I’ll know when I arrive. And if I’m fortunate, I’ll hit that peak at least once in every story I tell.

Do you have a piece of music that struck you with this magic? Read that scene where you are transported and didn’t really know why? Written it and known it? What’s the magic you know?

27 comments:

quantum said...

Just occasionally I feel this magical touch that stirs deep emotions.

Most recently I was watching an episode of Inspector Morse. The great detective was investigating a case of fraud in Italy which involved an opera singer suffering from stage fright so that she could no longer sing. The episode ends with the singer performing again in an outdoor stadium. As she perfectly hits the high notes in an aria from Puccini's Tosca, a small tear forms in Morse's eye and as though in sync I also felt an emotional wrench ..... absolute magic!

Similar effects occur with some romance authors, Lisa Kleypas and Catherine Anderson particularly come to mind. I don't really understand the mechanism but it's clear that these author's develop a rapport between reader and characters such that the deep emotions experienced by the characters resonate with something within the reader. It's almost as though you are living and loving and feeling with the characters within the novel.

Takes a great writer to achieve this magic consistently I think!

TerriOsburn said...

You made me have to go listen to KD Lang's version of Hallelujah. That's my favorite though I have Buckley's version on my iPod.

Music does this to me but I'm more a lyrics girl. However, there is something amazing about the emotion the classic composers could evoke with no words at all. Bach and Beethoven and Mozart are still played for a reason. It's as if they sprinkled little miracles through those melodies.

I agree with Q about Lisa Kleypas. No idea how she does it but I feel much closer to her characters than I do with other books. Not sure I have moments like these in my books. Not even sure you could do it in person.

There's one moment in MEANT TO BE that might qualify. I guess I'll have to wait and see if I hit that magical chord for anyone.

TerriOsburn said...

That should be "...do it ON PURPOSE." Brain took a hard left there somewhere.

Maureen said...

Q - Exactly! Not only is there the theme music of Inspector Morse, which I feel is quite evocative, but his connection to music is quite evident.

I think our society almost expects that sort of stirring from classical music. And opera, in particular.

I know for me, I remember reading "The Agony and the Ecstasy" and one particular passage absolutely sang with perfection. I looked up from the book and just closed my eyes, overwhelmingly moved. I even looked around, wanting to share with someone...

I've been caught by passages in Jim Butcher, Eloisa, Elizabeth Arthur... It's pure magic!

Maureen said...

Now, don't shoot me, but I'm not sure I've read any Lisa Kleypas. I know! I know! One of those authors everyone has raved about but I've ignored the ravings. The crew got me hooked on Eloisa and I read everything...

I like to think that every author has one moment in their books where they approach this pinnacle of everything coming together...the words, the plot, the characters. Sometimes they are just little things and sometimes they are a chorus of perfection.

Though it doesn't have to be perfect. Sometimes it can be clumsy and it still sings.

If an entire book were nothing but these moments, it would be numbing instead of enervating.

Doing it on purpose is the goal, but knowing when to use that power...ah! That is the secret goal of all of us!

Can't wait to read the book, Terrio!

MsHellion said...

Hallelujah is one of those songs that strike a chord in me--musically. And the opening riff to Love Song by Tesla always makes me stop, look dreamy eyed for a moment, until he starts singing. And there is a song by Missouri (like the only song anyone knows by them) called Movin' On. The opening chords make a chill go down your spine. "Girl, I want you but I just gotta go..."

In the written word? Nearly all my examples are YA novels. *LOL* DELIRIUM. MATCHED. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. I think the Lucy Hatch books have magic that transcends the page--and I love just reading the words and how they feel in my head. I know I read writing articles all the time that's the story that matters and not the writing, and I believe that's true, but I think what makes a story truly keeper, is that magic chord you're talking about.

I remember in WHAT I DID FOR A DUKE by Julie Ann Long--I don't even remember what the words were--but I know there was a scene or paragraph that stopped me and I thought, "This book is a keeper. This book has changed me."

Have I done it? Maybe. Occasionally my poetry has done it. I like to think my Lucy story had some moments that did this.

Maureen said...

Exactly! The story is what matters, but a fantastic story, told mundanely, if I can use that word, is still a fantastic story...but the magic of just the right words in combination, at least once...that is what makes it a keeper.

Or at least goes straight to the 'remember this' center of the brain. And it's best when the words, plot...all of it come together in that magical moment.

Cohen really did something with Hallelujah. And the fact that he mimicked the magic with the words doubled the pleasure factor.

I know an author has hit this when the spurt of envy that often rises in me...doesn't. When it's so good that I simple savor what I read without gnashing my teeth.

Yes, I am a sinner.

Which reminds me...another great example, music wise, is Nina Simone with "Sinnerman" ... something about the cascade of piano is transcendent...

Maureen said...

Oh, and Hels...isn't it amazing that we often don't remember exactly what it was we read? I try to take a moment and make notes of the perfect places, but usually I just keep reading after a pause to appreciate.

TerriOsburn said...

I didn't read Lisa for a long time and still haven't read her back list. But you really should try her contemporaries, Chance. They're incredible and for me, better than the few Historicals of hers I've read.

Maureen said...

Sigh, I know I'm gonna regret this...which one do I start with?

TerriOsburn said...

Sugar Daddy then Blue Eyed Devil.

Maureen said...

Oh, god. Those are set in Texas, aren't they?

Where's my NOOK?

TerriOsburn said...

Yes, they are. :)

Maureen said...

What's wrong with Arizona? Or Oklahoma? Or New Mexico? Always, it's Texas! Geez!

TerriOsburn said...

Not always Texas. Her new contemporary series is set up in Washington State. You can start those next. LOL!

Maureen said...

That would be cool. I like stuff set in the Pacific Northwest.

Marnee Bailey said...

Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg. Something about the background music. It also reminds me of an important night with the hubs. Magic.


:)

I would love to hit these magical notes in my writing too. I've read some stuff lately that just makes me feel tight in the chest--in a good way.

TerriOsburn said...

That song always makes me a little sad, Marn. Something about what could have been or was never meant to be. And it's about my birthday so there's that.

Tight in the chest. That's a great way to describe it. Julie Garlock is one I didn't mention before. Her books have lots of those moments. And Spencer did too. I miss her so much. No one will ever come close to the talent of LaVyrle Spencer for this sort of thing.

irisheyes said...

On my way out to do Xmas shopping with the hubby so this will be quick. I had to comment cause I really know what you mean about hitting the right chord in music and in books.

Right off hand Pachelbel is my music piece. Along with Christmas Canon from Trans Siberian Orchestra which is a Pachelbel Xmas version. Mannheim Streamrollers Traditions of Christmas get me every time too!

A few books by Lisa Kleypas and Susan Elizabeth Phillips have done that for me. I love Lisa's contemps but her historicals have really hit me the most. Most notably Then Came You and Dreaming of You. SEP would be It Had to Be You and Ain't She Sweet.

Off to fight the crowds! Enjoy the day!

P. Kirby said...

"Same Old Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg I find, I've had an interesting relationship with that song. Always liked the underlying melody. But when I was much younger, I found the ending disappointing because the narrator and "old lover" parted, presumably never to see each other again. I was probably nursing some old heartbreak back then, and wanted to believe in getting back together. Of course, now, I see it as the inevitable moving on, the reality that that first love isn't the end-all, and we move on.

Could go on for days about music...won't.

Pretty much anything on my keeper shelf got there because it resonated with me. Neverwhere/Neil Gaiman; Perdido Street Station/China Mielville; Outlander/Dianna Gabaldon; Tithe/Holly Black; Sunshine/Robin McKinley; The Harry Potter series/Rowling; The Hunger Games/Collins; War for the Oaks/Emma Bull; Wheel of Dreams/Salinda Tyson, to name a few.

So far, I haven't fallen head over heels for a romance novel. Guess I'm still waiting for the right one to come along. :)

Maureen said...

Marn, oh...such a good one. There is something about the use of silence in that song that just stirs the soul with longing.

Irish - I'm a massive fan of Steamroller and someday I do hope to see Trans-Siberian in concert. They've come close enough to me but it never comes together!

Pat - I've read War of the Oaks, and other Emma Bull. And Neil, Holly and Robin, just not necessarily the same ones. Some books really do cross the genre barriers and though they aren't listed as romance...it's there. Certainly with War of the Oaks.

Janga said...

I read somewhere that Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" has been covered more than 2000 times. Lang's version is the one I like best too. It's also a favorite of Cohen's, which says a lot. I'm a child of the 60s, a time when instrumentals were huge. So I can think of a lot of songs that punch me in the heart every time I hear them. Even ones I think are undiluted corn, like "Last Date," leave me weeping.

I think most good books have "moments," that word or phrase or sentence or even scene that seems the perfect alignment of language, character, and emotion. The greats are the ones for whom the moments come consistently. I'm with Hellie on Marsha Moyer. Her stories leave me alternating between wonder and envy. Barbara Samuel is another. Every book of hers I read transforms me in some way into a wiser, more open-hearted person--and a better writer.

TerriOsburn said...

There's just something in how KD interprets that song, Janga. I had heard Cohen liked her version.

Mad World is another one like Hallelujah. Performed by Tears for Fears but also covered by many. The sadness and solitude in that song breaks my heart.

Maureen said...

With music, context can be so pivotal. I'm not a big Lionel Ritchie fan...but when he closed out the Olympics one year with "All Night Long" I found tears in my eyes. Even now, when I hear that song, I envision the happy conclusion of the games and the fields filling with dancing athletes...

And days like this, those memories are important to hold onto.

Maureen said...

I'll have to listen to this version of Hallelujah... I am often a barbarian and the first time I heard this song was in Shrek. And it broke my heart then.

TerriOsburn said...

Watch this then.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_NpxTWbovE

Maureen said...

Oh, wow.

I do love her voice. But I'm still a fan of the Rufus Wainwright version...

I remember, there was this female country vocalist who rose to prominence about the same time as KD... Older woman with a very low voice... I saw her guest star on some western show at the time as a very down on her luck pioneer woman...she sang a song about...revenge? that was incredible... Wish I could remember who she was...that was one powerful song.