Music Major Bedtime Prayer

As I lay me down to sleep 

I pray the Lord the souls to keep 

Of all my peers who practice late…

I thank him that I didn’t wait. 

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The Eroica 10k

Calling all runners and musicians!

Thanks to my music history class, I have of late become obsessed with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 55, better known as the “Eroica Symphony.”

“Eroica” means “Heroic” in case you did not figure that out for yourself and this musical adventure is just that: heroic. It traces Beethoven’s personal development and victories over the trials of mortal life, as well as mirrors those of humanity as a whole. It might be considered a distilled version of the entire “triumph of the human spirit” genre…or perhaps even the epitome of this genre.

There are many ways to process a piece of art such as this: analyze it visually, internalize it through listening, taste it if you are brave and nobody is looking, etc. However, I firmly attest to the power of movement (no pun intended) when it comes to studying music. Often this leads me to dance around the practice room, but the incredible power and hero’s journey found in the Eroica is something beyond dancing awkwardly by myself.

It demands power. It demands perseverance. It demands running. 

Are you a runner? Are you a musician? If you answered yes to either of these questions, I (and possibly Beethoven) challenge you to take on the Eroica 10k. 

The Eroica 10k

(performed by Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic)

  1. Lace up your running shoes and turn up your music. As soon as the conductor’s baton strikes the first beat, you are off and away!
  2. The first movement is perfectly timed (about 16 minutes) so that you can complete two miles during it if you run at a steady 8 min/mile pace. This is fairly brisk, but it is possible if each step is in time with the beat! (Pro tip: Increase your stride length as the dynamics increase; this will add interval training and speed boosts.)
  3. The second movement is not as rapid; after all, it is more reminiscent of a funeral march. Slow your pace slightly and catch your breath, but continue to run in time and increase your stride during crescendos.
  4. The third movement provides a nice pick-me-up after the sombre second movement, during which I became oddly philosophical even whilst running. This movement, a “scherzo” (joke), is vibrant and quick. AND SO ARE YOU! Pick up speed, but allow your stride to stay short so that you do not overtax yourself.
  5. The fourth movement signals only about 2 miles left, depending on your average pace. You’re almost there and the humor of this opening is sure to put some bounce back into your step. Don’t fight this; instead, allow your stride to be more bouncy as it will actually help energize you through the remaining distance.
  6. Continue to increase your stride length as the music builds, returning to a comfortable pace as it settles down again.
  7. The ending of the symphony will surprise you with its drama and inspire you to finish strong. If you have the urge to conduct while you run, go right ahead. Who cares if the soccer players give you weird looks as you conduct dramatic cadences? You are a runner and a musician and you deserve to add a little flare to the end of your workout! Now sprint!
  8. As the symphony ends, check your distance. If you still have a lap or two to go, never fear! Turn on some light music and run in the spirit of Nike! (Not the shoes…the goddess of victory. But by all means, the shoes are wonderful too.)
  9. Congratulations! You ran an entire 10k and reached a deeper appreciation of Beethoven’s most renowned symphony within the same hour!

Do you feel heroic? You ought to! 6.213… miles (a 10k) is something to be proud of, especially at Beethoven’s relentless pace! Both this symphony and running are exercises in overcoming life’s obstacles, as well as celebrating personal victories; they are both heroic journeys.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy this experience as much as I did, for it served my development both as a musician and an athlete.

Nike!

-Ryanne

 

The Heiligenstadt Testament

How painful in cruel irony…

That you, though sighted, cannot see:

Deafness- not pride- is Beethoven’s malady.

.

This “unlicked bearcub” of a child

Was born spirited and wild,

Yet yearned to love, kind and mild.

.

But those called to the highest aims

Are ne’er allowed to stay the same:

Both blessing and curse shall raise a name.

.

Torn ‘tween the two he yet did know

That despite the silent, awful blow,

The call of Art he was destined to follow.

.

The Muse and Virtue spurred him on;

This lifesong born and bred in Bonn

Would never, though softened, fade as gone.

.

Tired eyes shall ruin writers

And fear mute the tongues of singers.

But these who quit are amateurs

For trials train the masters.

.

Art’s best servants are the ones

Who fight to finish work begun.

These faithful press onward through life

To create art out of their strife.

Just My Type and Fontly Yours

The title of this post is made of two puns, so I’d say it’s off to a good start.

Today I want to talk about fonts. I know, I sound like Brick Heck from The Middle, but I strongly believe that fonts and type style are crucial to the success of a piece of writing.

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The other day, a friend of mine and I found ourselves in a heated debate over which font is better: Georgia or Helvetica. I argued that Georgia is whimsical yet still professional. He countered that Helvetica is simple and easy on the eye.

We did, however, find common ground in our preference for 12 point font and 1.5 line spacing, as well as our hatred of boring, old Times New Roman.

But why do we as writers feel so strongly toward one font and type setting over another?

To answer that, I am afraid I will have to get a bit philosophical. Writing is both an abstract and concrete art form; it is abstract in the ideas it presents to the reader’s imagination, but concrete in that it does so using visual cues- that is, written words. A book, then, is a concrete collection of the abstract thoughts. Good books are works of visual art that seek to give the reader an impression of something invisible; visible words communicate invisible ideas.

Most importantly, a book (or any piece of writing) must be well-written. The concrete words absorbed by the reader’s eyes must flow naturally, make sense, and be beautiful in their individual phrases in order to construct an abstract thought in his or her mind. Just as no poorly-made sculpture leaves a lasting mental impression, no poorly-written book will inspire great thoughts.

However, there is an element to this process of concrete-abstract in writing that goes beyond the skill of the author; if words are beads, no matter how eloquently the author strings them together, the chain upon which they are strung must also be a thing of artistic merit. This “chain” must complement the beads without overshadowing them.

Just so, fonts and type settings must complement and support the writing itself. You’ve doubtless been told to “never judge a book by its cover” and I’d agree. But perhaps there is some truth to judging a book by its font.

Consider the Harry Potter books. Being a giant nerd, I own both the American and British editions. And, while I prefer the British colloquial to the American “translations,” I always opt for reading the American prints because of- you guessed it- the font. Take a look for yourself!

IMG_4921First of all, notice the adorable illustration! I hold to the belief that one never outgrows books with pictures. Second, I challenge anyone to glance at the font of the chapter title and not immediately associate it with the whimsy and adventure of Harry Potter. The font of the text itself is legible, yet not as stiff as, say, the font you might choose for a thesis.

Now consider the spacing; the margins are wide enough for a child to hold the book by its edges and the space between lines is enough to prevent the reader from feeling overwhelmed.

However, the spacing is not as wide as in some children’s books, making it feel less condescending and as if it is also intended for older audiences. Similarly, had the font been Comic Sans or some other outlandish style, the book would have been less desirable to anyone aside from early readers.

Overall, I’d say the American editions of Harry Potter are an ideal example of font and spacing being used to not only attract the reader, but make the story more accessible. It is easy to “fall behind” the printed words into the story itself because the spaces leave enough of a hole to fall through and the font is easy on the eyes without being distracting. Beautiful.

IMG_4922Now, consider the British editions.  They’re more compact, first of all, so naturally “superfluous” illustrations must be forgotten to save space. The title is lovely and, of course, consists of the same words as its American counterpart, but it lacks the quirkiness the so perfectly parallels the story. No fancy letter “M” for the first word in this edition. No wide margins or extra space between lines, thank you very much. If the American edition wonderfully represents and facilitates the magic of Harry, the British edition is more characteristic of businesslike muggles.

The words (aside from a few candy names and the Philosopher-Sorcerer switch) are the same and the story is thus the same. However, with more crowded words and a more mechanical font/spacing, this edition is not as open to being read by all. I can hardly imagine a child being drawn to this edition, despite the story not being changed, because the words are so packed together and the margins are not friendly to a child’s clumsy grasp. Sure, maybe an adult would read these, but said grownup might not be drawn into the childlike wonder of the HP books as he might be by the visible whimsy of the American editions.

Font matters.

Spacing matters.

Writing is a visual art.

The best writing transcends visuals because it inspires imagining and ideas beyond the printed word; however, this transcendence can be bolstered by a wise choice of type style. Choose a font that reflects your writing’s ideas and, from the first page, the reader will fall more easily into the abstract world you create.

In painting, the better the work, the more it says. Another painter might be inspired to create something with the same message, but if he does not do it with excellent presentation, the viewer will not understand the idea behind the work as well as he might when looking at the first, better painting. The idea is the same, but the presentation makes all the difference.

It is the same with writing.

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Which one, to you, communicates the idea of a “beautiful day”? To me, the first is too stoic to truly represent the beauty of a sunshiny day. The second is more welcoming and expressive.

I’ll say it again: Font matters and spacing matters. Abstract themes are reflected in and enhanced by the visible art of words.

So what do you think? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this hypothesis. Do you  have a favorite font? Why Wing Dings? Why not Papyrus?

I look forward to hearing from you, readers!

Perhaps you’ll be more open to commenting, thought, if I write it this way:

I look forward to hearing from you, readers!

“Write the book you want to read”- But what does this mean?

They say to “write the book you want to read,” and so I am.

But what does this quippy piece of advice really mean?

It might be the explanation for why there are so many copycat books out there. On the other hand, it might be the reason for all of the best books: those that are original and yet related to other members of the literary world.

On the first point, this advice might lead to the following…In fact, I am sure that it has:

Situation: An aspiring writer likes The Hunger Games, she then thinks “Wow! There should be more books exactly like this- dystopian with groups who have to fight stuff! Brilliant!”

Or, worse yet, an author thinks to herself, “Twilight fulfilled the Mary Sue romance void in my life, so why not write more paranormal teen novels?”

NOOOOO.

I won’t even- actually I will- talk about how the actually hysterical Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (I admit I read and enjoyed them) inspired a whole string of various “awkward middle-school kid who journals with stick figure cartoon” books. Who would have thought that would end up as a genre?

The pitfall of copying other author’s unique ideas is real and one that I am struggling to avoid. There is nothing wrong with learning from other authors, though, and I actually strongly believe in borrowing.

Borrowing, not imitating.

This brings me to the other possible interpretation of this advice:

I fancy the poetic writing of L.M. Montgomery, so I will try applying it to my own description passages. I love the puns and whimsy of J.K. Rowling, so I’ll let my own wit flow unrestrained. I was influenced by the strong and quirky characters of Trenton Lee Stewart, so I might use them as developmental role models for my own characters. I adore the speculative fiction of Ray Bradbury, so I might employ similar twists to send shivers down readers’ spines.

This is borrowing and it is not only beneficial, I believe it is necessary. We discover our own style by reading and analyzing the writing of other authors. We decide what suits us and what doesn’t. It goes so far beyond the copying of -more or less- an exact plot, with characters that only differ in hairstyle or paranormal species. Borrowing and adapting teaches us how to set our own work in conversation, perhaps even communion, with those of other writers, as we create our own original book.

All this to say, if you are- as I am- seeking to write the book you want to read, it needs to not be a twin of a book that already exists, but a relative of many and a child of your own. It needs to be the book that you want to read; it needs to be an eclectic mixture of the books and authors that made you the reader that you are today. It should reflect the kind of things that you read and be written with the elements you’ve gathered as you’ve discovered your personal style.

As I near the end of the first draft of my darling little novel, I am realizing the truth of this more and more. The plot is so uniquely Ryanne in that I have never heard of anything quite like it. However, the style is also Ryanne in that it incorporates the techniques and approaches of my favorite authors into my own style.

Like humans, books become what they are due to nature and nurture, . My novel was born by nature, my unique ideas, and developed by nurture, the ideas I’ve fed myself by devouring other novels. And, by both of these, it has become the book that I want to read because it is the child of my own mind, yet inherits the best-loved traits of my favorite books. It’s no copy, but it is not separate from the rest of the literary world. It is a beautiful (to me…it still needs an immense amount of revision…) combination of brainchild and learned style.

In writing a book like this, I am writing the one I want to read because it is a story I thought of and want to share, as well as a nod to all of the books that I find myself rereading.

Thanks for reading!

~Ryanne

What we Wish you Knew: An Open Letter from Music Students

 

Dear University and High School,

I was fortunate in high school to have had a wonderful arts department. The faculty, students, and facilities were excellent and I was well-prepared to be a college-level musician. Now, I am studying at a conservatory among talented peers under the direction of stellar professors.

But something is missing.

Support.

My high school music program and college conservatory were and are both incredibly supportive…internally. Within the arts departments, students and professors know each other well, building friendships and mentorships that will endure a lifetime. We cheer each other on in concerts, accompany each others’ solos, give each other advice. We pray for each other, share in the joy of each others’ accomplishments, and listen to each other practice the same piece for what feels like the millionth time.

But this is all internal support. “Intra-conservatory” if you will. Outside the walls of our halls, there is little understanding of who we are or what we do, causing music students to feel unknown and undervalued. This is not something that can be resolved overnight; however, it is vital to not forget what the arts contribute and, in turn, how you as a university can show your appreciation.

For instance, we as a conservatory or high school music program…

  1. …are there for youThe symphony orchestra played for a ceremony honoring the construction of a new science building. The chorale sings for all-student-body chapels. We as a department are there for you, the school as a whole. We love to see other departments benefit and want to lead the rest of the school in worship. However, this supportive relationship cannot be one-sided; we long for appreciation beyond a casual “thanks” in return.
  2. …earn scholarships too. Every time an athlete signs on with a university team or earns a scholarship, the school newspaper writes an article about it. I wonder if the school or the paper realize that music students also are recruited and offered large scholarships to attend and perform in ensembles, just like a sports team… Recognition of these awards equates to recognizing the excellence of the conservatory and the honor of being selected to participate in its ensembles.
  3. …are a tool for recruitment. The chorale tours every year, even when it is least convenient, in order to ensure that recruitment and enrollment at the school continue to increase. However, although members love to sing and to share their gifts with potential students, it is discouraging to go through all this work to serve the school and not receive any acknowledgement.
  4. …open our home to you. During large university events such as conferences, the conservatory opens its doors to all students, welcoming them into the hall that has become a second home for music majors. However, these visiting non-music students and faculty disregard this kindness by bringing in food and drink, leaving behind trash, and acting unruly. Please treat our building with respect! It is old, overcrowded, and falling apart enough already! (We don’t seem to be getting a new one any time soon.)
  5. …provide a community for anyone. Even if you are not a music major, if you are willing to be a team player, have a heart for music, or simply want a wonderful group of friends who will be there for you through thick and thin, the conservatory will welcome you with open arms. Ensembles open to everyone are offered, allowing those who might not have the desire (or insanity) necessary to be a music major to still enjoy the tight-knit and loving community that musicians offer.
  6. …are diligent and dedicated. What other major requires 4-6 hours of study every single day for only one class? And yet, we love what we do and chose to do it. Music majors are among the most dedicated and motivated students you will ever meet. They love what they do, even when it is stressful, and will push themselves to the maximum to ensure that they do it with excellence. Now, doesn’t that sound like the type of student a university would want to encourage and prioritize?
  7. …showcase the school’s strengths. Our university is full of talent, not just in the music department. However, the conservatory showcases these talents on stage for anyone to see. Community members not affiliated with the school often attend concerts and praise the program for its superior quality. Shouldn’t the school be more interested in the program that is drawing in outsiders and showing off the school’s strengths?
  8. …are more than musicians. Within the conservatory are writers, actors, dancers, artists, photographers, and athletes. There are future teachers, authors, businessmen, administrators, and missionaries. Music students are interested in a wide array of fields. However, in not investing in their lives as music students, the school is not investing in their wealth of other opportunities as well, which have the potential to benefit the school and the future of their chosen fields.
  9. …serve other departments. Composers write scores for the film department, pianists play for administrative events, and chamber ensembles perform for art shows. We even started a chapel to serve the more traditional people at the school. Whenever there is a need for music, the conservatory students are thrilled to help, in spite of their already overloaded schedules. We want to team up with other departments and thus foster greater cross-campus unity. However, it is difficult to continue doing so with the university seemingly providing only limited resources and support.
  10. …want to share our passion with you. The biggest thing to know about this issue is that we want to share with you. Any time we complain about being ignored or undervalued, we are expressing a deeper sadness that we are unable to share our gifts with our university community. We work from sunrise to midnight to create operas and concerts, eager to share the fruits of our labor with the school. But how are we to do this with an empty hall, or -worse- an audience that leaves at intermission?

We are pleading with you, our fellow students (and especially our administration), to come to our concerts, to experience for yourself the beauty of the music we love. Yes, we would love a new building with enough practice rooms and working facilities. We would love increased funding so that we can put on more lavish events or purchase the supplies we need. We would love to be included in the headlines of the school newspaper. However, the most meaningful way you as a university can show us your support is also the smallest: simply come and listen. 

10 Reasons to Read Children’s Literature

I love children’s books: always have, always will. However, so many people pass the age of 12 and think they must “grow up.” They somehow rationalize leaving behind the lovely rows of Newberry Medal winners for the cringe-worthy gratuitousness of the “teen paranormal romance” section. When did that even become a section?! Or rather, WHY?!

But I digress.

Upon entering  high school, too often we leave Narnia and enter far nastier realms of either purely reality (that is, not reading at all) or cliche, poorly-written teen romance. Even for advanced readers, skipping over the teen literature for adult books is not usually easy or wise; these too are riddled with profanity, pornographic scenes, and – frankly- poor writing.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some absolutely wonderful teen and adult books out there. I’ve blogged on a few of them and am planning to publish a roundup of recommendations for later, but in general, I have been lately drawn  more and more back to the children’s literature sections of the bookstore.

Not convinced that children’s literature is for every one?

Here are ten reasons why you should read more children’s books:

  1. They are not just for kids! C.S. Lewis, who was a prolific writer for both children and grown-ups, once remarked that “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Well-written children’s tales grow with the reader, gaining deeper meaning as the reader ages.
  2. They’re clean! Every time I pick up a book outside of the kids’ or classics sections, I stumble across something scandalous. I get it, sometimes a swear word or sexual scene is necessary, but usually they seem to be thrown in to attract an edgier audience rather than to enhance the story. Children’s books manage to convey real issues without having to be unnecessarily explicit!
  3. They are not condescending. So many books geared toward teens are written in a dumbed-down style, overusing descriptions such as “the boy felt angry.” Don’t tell us he felt angry! Tell us that he “clenched his fists as his face turned red with pent up emotion.” Readers are smart enough to infer what the character is feeling! I’ve found that children’s books most often show rather than tell, preventing the reader from feeling as if he/she is being talked down to by the author.
  4. They address real events and issues. So much of my understanding of the world comes from what I read as a child. They might be riddled with magic and fun, but so often children’s books are deeper than we give them credit for! They teach history, different perspectives, address serious issues, even demonstrate survival skills!
  5. They offer comforters and encouragement. It’s as if, the older I become, the authors that nurtured me as a child become more important; instead of babysitters, they are mentors. Rereading them takes me back to a simpler time, when my biggest worry was how many chapters I could read before I’d have to practice piano. They also are full of sage advice, the depth of which I have only realized with age and experience.
  6. They are brain candy and food for thought. Written for children, the writing style is not generally complicated; however, with such a vast spectrum of topics, these books are certainly not mere fluff! They are perfect for light reading, yet they also demand that you think, ensuring that time spent reading them is time well spent.
  7. They are original! This should be a given. Actually, this should be a requirement for publication. Sadly, though, cliche is the new original for many books. However, you can always count on children’s books to bring lively new stories to the world! Just like kids are always imagining new things, children’s authors are constantly producing fresh tales.
  8. They tell fantastic stories. Again, this should be a given for publication in the first place, but you’d be surprised how many books I start, thinking they look intriguing, and then set aside in my “Half-Price Books trade-in” pile. However, children’s books tell such a wide variety of gripping tales that I have lately found myself staying up late reading, just as I did when I was little.
  9. They have pictures. Books do not need pictures; I’m not Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. But, let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy some well-drawn illustrations? The illustrator of The Mysterious Benedict Society did such delightful work that I have bought books by different authors simply because they are illustrated by her.
  10. They promote bonding. I clearly don’t have kids yet, but I look forward to a day when I will read aloud from my favorite books to my kids. I remember fondly the times my parents would take my brother and I to the bookstore and let us pick out books. Even now, that is how my dad and I spend our time together and, even as a twenty-year-old, I usually make my pick from the Newberry Medal winners.

Are you convinced now? If not, I encourage you to visit the children’s literature section at your local bookstore anyway. Need recommendations? Just comment and I will send you millions. (Maybe not quite millions…)

While I will admit that I am sad to see some changes in the children’s literature section, with books such as Dork Diaries replacing the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, I recognize that it is a place where wholesome storytelling thrives, fostering both imagination and education. In short, children’s literature gives me hope in the midst of a world that is increasingly drawn to darkness and – scarier still – poor writing.