The Girl in the Red Dress

23517777_1510531702365350_5454757495854809805_nI am a pianist, but I have long suffered from stage fright. My junior undergraduate piano recital was yesterday and, true to my philosophy that no art is complete without a proper understanding of other art forms, I used literature such as Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to create program notes to give greater depth to the pieces that I played.

As I was writing these notes, I realized: Why not also use literature and this wonderful union of my two arts to ease my stage fright? What if I wrote a story tracing the ideal progression of  my recital and pretended that I was an audience member?

So I did. And, to my delight, it helped exponentially! Although I was still incredibly nervous, as soon as I stepped on stage, I was no longer scared little Ryanne, but the Girl in Red that I had seen perform her recital through the eyes of my narrator. It was marvelous! I felt like I had already seen the recital and so was able to imagine I was listening and enjoying the musical and literary journey rather than sitting on stage performing.

Obviously no live performance is perfect, but I felt that by writing this, I was able to play my repertoire more confidently and thus communicate their themes more effectively.

So, my dear musical readers, here is my recital in literary form:

Oh! I should tell you my program as well so this makes more sense:

  1. Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31 No. 2  I. Largo-Allegro by Ludwig van Beethoven  (1770-1827)
  2. Miroirs  II. “Oiseaux Tristes” (“Sad Birds”) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

  3. Années de pèlerinage II, S. 161 No. 7 Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata by Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

So a piece about the storms of life, lonely birds, and Dante’s Inferno. Fun, right?

The Girl in the Red Dress

We came by invitation, to see a girl we know. She’s quite a character…lanky, blonde, eyes that are intense one minute and twinkling with laughter the next, always writing or dreaming of writing, usually stepping in a limping time to a tune nobody else can hear. But she’s anxious. She overworks herself and doubts her work. She is likely trembling backstage now, her hands nearly purple with cold from the frigid hall and her nervous heart. Likely she is pacing and wringing these hands, trying to calm herself and warm them.

I send a quick prayer up past the cracked ceiling of the hall for her. Lord, calm her nerves and let her play with the excellence and emotion with which she has practiced daily.

As I whisper “Amen,” my hands join the chorus of clapping. She has stepped onstage.

But this is someone different. Still her…and yet not. She’s taller. Her arms are stronger. Her lips match her blazing red dress and yet the blue of her eyes flash and burn the brightest. The click of her heels echo through the hall, a measured drumroll for her own performance.

But she looks upward when she looks outward, as if her audience is not below but somewhere beyond the ceiling’s crevices, in the region my prayer just ascended.

A bow.

She sits.

Silence.

The audience scuffles, trying to hush the murmur of their program notes. Program notes…about books, of course. I glance down at them but it’s too dark to read now. To the glow of the stage I return.

The ghost of notes begin; substantial yet ethereal. How? I hardly dare to breathe, unsure whether I really heard them and yet they are resounding gently through the hall. It’s a mist of sound. And then the mist is broken by the steady gallop of a frightened yet determined human tread.

But the mist is back.

And now the running. It’s an uphill run- not fast but intense and ever moving.

And suddenly it’s a battle cry interchanged with a plea. And now a whirlwind. All melting seamlessly into each other.

But the mist comes again, for the adventurer has reached a peak in the mountain range. It is cold, yet clear, colors of sunlight radiating softly through the curtains of mountaintop clouds. Peace descends like a gentle rain, drawing us upward.

Then the battle rages once more, startling and yet not surprising…Did not we feel in our souls the same ever-present struggle of this piece? Beethoven was too knowledgeable. He knew himself- that is, he knew all of us – too well.

Another moment of peace…yet not peace. It’s a cry. The sound of an oboe as the sound of our very hearts. It is a recitative and it is reflective, but it is not weak.

And then a piercing urgency and pain returns, then whirling and, before I knew it, the piece concludes; urgent and yet not rushed. It is reminiscent of intentionally restraining the racing heart. Controlling our steps if we cannot quite control our fears.

Silence falls. I can see the moth-like breath of the girl in red; it flutters, shaky, but soft.

The scene changes. It’s still a mountain’s peak… Grey swirling mist abounds, but the girl in red leads us above it. We are alone. I am alone. She is alone. Everyone is isolated and alone. No man is an island? False. All men are mountaintops calling in vain to each other, wandering birds forever losing their nests.

It is beautiful but sorrowful. Something tugs in my heart at the harmonies, so blended and subdued but for a sudden flurry of frantic wings. And then faded again, as if the great shroud of mist has descended over us all, sealing out loneliness and separating us from the enduring and interconnected nature in which we have no part apart from our lost nests.

This silence is lighter and heavier at the same time. Something is coming. Something terrifying.

And then it does, in a trumpet blast. It is evil. Or no…not evil…something more terrifying than the evil that has become familiar. It is the best good. It is the Good. And I cannot stand to it and thus cannot but think it evil. The mountaintop that seemed a hermitage is opening up as a gaping prison beneath me and I stumble into it with a crying utterance too deep for words.

Is she bringing us into this inferno? Is she the girl I know or some spirit sent to administer justice of the most fearful kind?

The lament continues, more rhythmic than melodic and each note is a beat of my own heart, which is pounding at the walls of my chest in an effort to escape, but my ribs constrain it and it holds its time.

A reaching for higher aid falls back into lament. We have all killed an Albatross in our lives and this is our recompense.

Drum-rolls and rising tides. Shivers of terror more substantial than chains run down my spine and suddenly it is the distant beating of drums as they approach a funeral pyre…my funeral pyre.

But something is changing… the tonality is richer. Something of gold is in the flames of judgement and real gold fears no fire…but who put it there? Can it – this gold – be enough to pay my ransom?

And then in a burst of light made of every color, my soul is bathed in the burning purity of F-sharp major. It peels back my mask of sin and I realize this mask hid not my face but hid me from seeing the face of One too Great for My Sight.

But I can hear Him. Though I may not yet look, I might hear and feel and sense that the Almighty has won a victory. The victory. And I might dare to hope that He shall make me a soldier to share in this victory.

I take to arms within the deepest part of my being and when the trumpets of fearsome judgement sound again, there is something of my own determination in them.

And this determination brings the strength which is grace.

It is beautiful. I am swept into a lulling dance which turns to the song of Him singing over me. The powers of darkness might whirl around, but this song holds me fast, anchoring me.

It gives way to a beautiful dancing flurry which concludes with a declaration of coming victory, if only the judgement first comes.

Drums again. I feel the darkness creeping forth from its pit. It will not be contained, it says. It inches its way toward the hearts of men.

But that Great and Only Goodness is not touched. It’s dignity and perfection reign and the throne is not overthrown by these creeping, oozing things. It’s perfect order and rhythm and timing subdue them with a fear greater than any they could evoke.

And the song sings again, restoring my strength to finish this battle.

And I see it. I see this Light. Distant, but it is coming for me. I tremble yet rush to meet it.

Oh, glorious victory! Surely it is won!

But are those the trumpets of perdition I hear once more? Oh! the dwellers of the pit sneak forth again in chromatic slyness. They dance, the demons do, dance with a syncopation that is too easy to fall into. They crescendo in their final push.

But their frantic, Bacchic celebration of their own undoing is overthrown by the grace and gentleness of a waltz, which crescendos along with them into their end and its everlasting beginning.

The drums return, but no longer accompanying lament. Rather, it is a drumroll toward triumph. And the horns declaring this triumph continue longer than expected, but, after all, are they not to resound throughout all eternity?

Yes, Lord.

Amen, Lord.

I am shaken. Something has been purged from my soul. I barely register my hands applauding. How does one applaud the victory of the Lord?

But then I remember. This is a piano recital. An ordinary girl in a red dress is performing. This is a piano solo, not a divine judgement. But perhaps they are intertwined after all. Perhaps, even more than the Steinway grand, she herself was an instrument of the true Master.

Flowers and bows and the girl in red smiling as if she has won a victory herself, yet blushing and laughing with an innocent, overwhelmed delight at the same time.

She exits.

And returns.

More bows. More golden laughter, trilling softly beneath the thunderous applause of her loved ones below.

She winks at a friend, signaling him to stop clapping and waits for others to follow before she invites us to tea and scones.

Tea and scones? After this moral turbulence?

I glance at my watch. It’s only been thirty minutes.

Alright, then. Tea time it is.

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Also in the interest of combining arts, I used this stunning painting “Le Femme en Rouge” by Impressionist artist Giovanni Boldini for my recital posters. People kept asking how I got someone to paint me…

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A Sunset Reflection 

I took this photo on a sunset run and added the words (surprise! They were not actually fabulous skywriting!) as I was doing some reading later. The exercise, combined with the wisdom of St. Hildegard, were a welcome relief to an emotional day. 

Sometimes on overcast days like today, we fail to remember the sun. Yet, by grace, it descends to us each evening, casting its warm glow over the earth and tempering the darkness with the promise of its brilliant return come dawn. 

What a marvelous image this is of the reality we know as Believers. (Plato has me on an image-reality thought trend.) As beautiful as sunsets are, they are a mere flicker of the splendor of the True Son who humbled Himself for us. Likewise, although we run in a darkened world, He has already risen with splendor beyond any sunrise…and, in Him, so shall we! We live in the purgatory between sunset and the sunrise, but our hope is more sure than the dawn. The race is not in vain, for the Lord gives us the wings to overcome; through His comfort, we can rest in the promise that joy comes not only in the morning, but through mourning. 

Sing, Muse

Dear reader,

Please read the following poem. Then, please click the link and listen to me read it; I have of late found great value in reading poetry aloud. Once you do those two things (it should take but two minutes of your time), you are welcome to read my explanation of the poem or to interpret it for yourself. I’d imagine both will lead to similar conclusions. Finally, if you are so inclined, I would love to hear from you! Thank you in advance!

-Ryanne

First, the written word: 

Sing, Muse, of rage-

     or rather- Desire.

     Drive with twin rhyming whips –

              Name and Fame-

     up mountains toppling, rising peak,

     ever crying, out of reach,

     “On, on, onward!”

.

Harpy howl to clamoring poets’ ears

     as siren song does fall.

     Dazzling, drawing, drowning:

     divine-seeming, it pulls

     still higher, higher

     up Tow’r where language

     began and begins

     “On, onward, pilgrims!”

.

So scaling e’er, traipsing eager,

     though weary,

     worshippers seeking sanctuary

     not for rest

     but to exalt,

     that which in climbing, we sculpt:

           New relic, sainted self.

.

Oh! To be one of the many few,

     who, pious, always “onward”

     and yet- when time trickles low-

     kneeling, wonder,

          “wherefore.”

.

Wherefore place an icon made

     (like us only in its fade)

     of substance age-old, ever-new:

     Ambition dressed as Holy Muse?

 

Second, the spoken word: 

 

Finally, a brief word of explanation: 

I found myself forcing creativity today, working to compose a piece of music without passion. I was inspired only by the thought that if I finish this, it will be another successful accomplishment to my credit.

But as I realized that selfish ambition was my main motivation (at the moment), I was deeply convicted. Why create at all if what compels me is untempered ambition? What profits it to climb what a favorite author of mine calls “the Alpine Path” if I seek only to plant my lonely, temporal banner at its peak?

And, as in most moments of intense emotion, poetry happened. In scribbling and speaking this poem, I was able to recall why I write and compose: not to glorify myself but, as in the parable, to be a faithful steward of my talents. To do this, I must write to the best of my ability to reflect the true Author and pray that my words will direct minds toward the living Word.

#WriterGoals by Homer, Odysseus, and Ryanne

Yes, my title is a hashtag. Sometimes I like to break the trend of ordinary prose. Sorry not sorry. Ironically, however, this post is based on writing standards set waaaaaaaay back in the days of Homer. In reading through The Odyssey for my university’s honors institute, I realized two things: First, listening to Chopin’s nocturnes whilst reading makes even the most boring of passages intensely moving. For real, I felt tears coming when Odysseus’ men were turned into pigs. Thanks, Chopin. Secondly, although Homer (whether of not you believe in him or think he was a group of poets or whatever new conspiracy is floating around in the literary community) does tend to be a bit- well- wordy in his accounts of first the Trojan War and then the homecoming journey of Odysseus, he is a master at his craft and the fact that philosophers and students alike have been studying his epics for thousands of years ought to be proof of that. Further evidence for this mastery is in his recognition of the key components of good writing/story-telling: truth, reason, and beauty.

He says in Book XI lines 363-369:

“‘Odysseus, we as we look upon you do not imagine

that you are a deceptive or thievish man, the sort that the black earth

breeds in great numbers, people who wander widely, making up

lying stories, from which no one could learn anything. You have

a grace upon your words, and there is sound sense within them,

and expertly, as a singer would do, you have told the story

of the dismal sorrows befallen yourself and all of the Argives.'”

In this instance, a king is praising the eloquence and clarity of Odysseus’ account of his journey, but more significantly, Homer is, through this character, identifying the essential components of writing worthy of enduring esteem. Such writing, first of all, must feature truth. When Odysseus concludes his tale, the first remark that the king makes is regarding the verity of Odysseus’ words; they are not fantasy, at least in the context of this epic, and thus deserving of serious consideration. But does all writing need to be true then in order to be great? The Harry Potter geek within me screams “NO!” in answer to this and, actually, the fangirl part of me is correct. C.S. Lewis believed strongly in fiction because of its seemingly paradoxical ability to convey truth. Take his most famous series, The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance. In any given library, these would be shelved with other works of fiction and probably even among children’s fiction. However, it is impossible to read these wonderful books without coming away having learned from them lessons of sacrifice, morality, family, forgiveness, and, consequently, truth. Good fiction always centers on truth.  Whether this truth is found in the form of a universal theme such as what it means to be a man or even a real event such as the an ancient war, if you dig deep enough as a reader or write well enough as an author, some aspect of truth will always be found at the core of a truly great piece of literature.

Continuing on, the king praises the sensible nature of Odysseus’ words; he does not use more than necessary. Bored readers might argue that Homer is not exactly concise, but when one considers the vast amount of mythology, culture, character descriptions, interactions, geographical courses, and rituals that are woven together to create the intricate tapestry of this epic, it becomes a wonder that such a magnificent story could be consolidated into a mere twenty-four book poem. This often unappreciated conciseness is vital to truly great writing. Of course, as the saying goes, “even Homer nods”, and some passages, such as the listings of over 600 Achaian ships in The Iliad are arguably a bit much, but considering the wealth of information and the overall complexity, this is certainly excusable.

Finally, Odysseus’ (and Homer’s) words are revered as beautiful. Being originally poetry sung by roaming bards, it is probably a no-brainer that The Iliad and The Odyssey are considered among the most beautiful pieces of literature. In this passage, great writing is described as having “a grace” and being crafted “expertly, as a singer would do.” Both poetry and prose must have a flow, a grace like the one here described. In music performed by a singer, every note, every inflection of the voice, every tiny breathe and consonant must be purposefully employed in order to convey the message of the song. In the same manner, a great writer must choose his or her words with purpose; not a “jot or tittle” is thrown in carelessly in attempt to meet a word count or appear more intelligent to the ignorant reader, but rather, each phrase is composed like a line of music, thus appealing to the reader’s deepest sense of beauty. Of course, one might debate that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but regardless of personal opinions of individual readers, by combining intentionality with artistry, a level of universal beauty, such as that achieved by the enduring works of literature, can be achieved.

To summarize: Many truths. Very clear. Much beauty. (Sorry, breaking the flow of my prose again. At least it was not a hashtag this time.) This passage in The Odyssey was one of those passages that make me gasp “Ah-ha!” aloud in the middle of the library. It made me race to the nearest computer to jot down my thoughts and publish them to my blog in the unlikely case that one of my readers may find inspiration in them as I did. This passage made me take a step back and reevaluate myself as a writer, but it also gave me a renewed passion as it guided me toward the path of truly great writing, that which is truth-centered, focused, and beautiful.

Sophisticated Simplicity

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci is remembered as one of the most ingenious men to have walked the earth. Even those unfamiliar with art recognize his name as the painter of the “Mona Lisa” and the innovator of ideas ahead of his time. And yet, this man, the epitome of a Renaissance man, believed that simplicity was the highest level of sophistication, that simplicity was the most apt means of communicating the most complex subjects. 

I agree with Signor Da Vinci. 

You see, this week I have been thinking a great deal about the relationship between simplicity of expression and beauty of thought and have realized that, when it comes down to it, they are inseparable. I sang in my regional honor choir last week and one of the songs we performed was a stunning piece of music, but when our director asked us what the lyrics meant, nobody had a clue. Normally, I am quite good at either discerning or inventing a meaning for the words I read, but even I was at a loss to explain what bizarre lines such as “born of scorpion need” could mean. Although beautiful when obscured by strong piano accompaniment and rumbling bass voices, these lyrics made no sense on their own; they were too vague to effectively convey their message and thus their potential beauty was lost.

In contrast, my favorite song from our concert, a joyful piece by Dan Forrest titled “The Music of Living”, was a rather basic work of poetry when examined apart from its music. It reads:

Giver of life,

Creator of all that is lovely,

Teach me to sing the words to Your song.

I want to feel the music of living!

And not fear the sad songs,

But from them make new songs

Composed of both laughter and tears.

Giver of life,

Creator of all that is lovely,

Teach me to dance to the sounds of Your world.

I want to move in rhythm with Your plan.

Help me to follow Your leading!

This song is joy! It is praise to God sung by His creation! It is a jubilant dance and encouragement between the faithful and a confession of dependence on His infinite strength! But even more than that, this song is simple and through this blessed simplicity conveyed infinitely more meaning and beauty than any amount of obscure metaphors and “scorpion needs.” 

What even is this trying to say? If this is deep, then I can be deep too: "Hearing: It's like smelling through your ears."

What even is this trying to say? If this is deep, then I can be deep too: “Hearing: It’s like smelling through your ears.”

Simplicity’s sophistication is found in prose as well. Take this quote for instance: 

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

I don’t know about you, but I read that and it took a moment to process. Even apart from the fault in this math (pun so intended it hurts…), this quote was wordy and unbelievably eloquent for a teenage character. I got the idea behind this passage: it’s a profession of love. But I was not left with any resounding emotion by this excerpt and within five minutes of reading it could not tell you what exactly it even said. I know many idolize John Green for his eloquence, but in this instance it seemed to get in the way of the raw emotion behind this scene. (Feel free

to disagree; this is just my opinion.)

Gilbert Blythe: the king of simple sophistication. <3

Gilbert Blythe: the king of simple sophistication. ❤

In contrast…

“I don’t want diamond sunbursts or marble halls. I just want you.”

-L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

It does not get much simpler than that and yet in those two brief sentences, Anne shares her complete love for Gilbert; she no longer dreams of castles or fairy tales, just him. If that is not true love, what is? And somehow L.M. Montgomery conveyed all that in twelve simple words. Beautiful. Crystal clear in wording and beautiful in meaning.

In my own life, simplicity has won out as the most sophisticated art form as well. Although I do not generally share my drafts of stories or scribblings of poetry, they have grown, opposite of what most would expect, more simple over the years and even the last few months. Where I used to dream up complex compositions of passionate lyrics and “artistically” dissonant music, I now find delight in honest writing and pure melodies. Where once I would have generated philosophical-sounding gibberish, I now dream up simple refrains such as,

“Let the red roses grow and fade; I’d rather have daisies on a rainy day.”

If you haven’t seen “You’ve Got Mail”, do yourself a favor and watch it this weekend.

Even this line from my writing journal attests to the superiority of simplicity: red roses for passion are elaborate but predictable and when it comes down to it, daisies for no reason are simple but sweet.

Granted, I should add as a disclaimer that I adore complexity within literature and music. I love speculating and analyzing, but I find that the most poignant pieces of art tend to be the most simple, as seen in the power of “The Music of Living” or Anne of Green Gables, both of which spoke to me on a personal level and will remain a part of my artistic soul forever, whereas other, more “refined” works of music and literature will be sang, read, and forgotten because in all their complexity, they failed to have the impact of pure simplicity.

To sum up, often overly-flowery writing proves unnecessary; use too much artistic license and the artistry itself is diminished, try too hard to be deep and you’ll end up sounding shallow.

Sometimes we need daisies more than roses; try too hard to be deep and you'll end up sounding shallow.

Sometimes we need daisies more than roses; try too hard to be deep and you’ll end up sounding shallow.

A Dash of Color

When we think about books, especially about what type of books we prefer, we tend to categorize them into genres, time periods, literary movements, etc. Today, during a visit to the library, my school librarian commented that The Maze Runner and Divergent are silver. This seemed a completely logical statement to me and I added that I needed a silver book as ebony (such as the works of Charles Dickens) was too deep a tinge for the moment. Then, I realized: books truly can be described simply through colors (and the occasional pattern.) This sounds whimsical, but to any serious reader, whimsy and sense are actually quite similar.

Anyway, my thoughts took the loveliest turn this evening as I considered which of my favorite books are best represented by which colors and I came to some entertaining conclusions. For example:

 

Anne of Green Gables– a pale, minty green speckled with purplish flowers

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Gone With the Wind– vibrant Scarlet, like the character, tinged with emerald

The Mysterious Benedict Society– cream with splashes of navy

The Picture of Dorian Grayreddish mahogany

The Hunger Games– bronze

Harry Potter– fiery orange like the Weasleys’ hair

The Fairy’s Return and Other Princess Tales– blush pink and crystal

Pride and Prejudicepastel rose-pink with traces of green

Little Women– indigo with feathery white patches

Charlotte’s Web– cornflower blue

The Phantom of the Operadeep purple with silver linings

The Illustrated Man– blend of deep colors, like a sleeve tattoo

Those are just a couple; my mind has been a flurry of titles and hues all night! It amazes me how many pictures authors can create through words, evoking memories of color and texture with only black words on a white page.  And now my mind is turning to music… just imagine all the shades painted within the compositions of Chopin, Bach, or Grieg! But I’ll save that for another time. For now, I’m going to enjoy some “silver” reading.