We Don't Use Our Eyes To Hear

Music does something to us.  It has the power to make us sing in the car or dance when we are otherwise shy.  It can make us feel invisible when we are surrounded by strangers on the subway, it can move us to tears.

After finishing the latest draft of my manuscript, I knew two things.  I wanted to go to more art events in Boston, and I needed to pull out some blank paper, put my music on shuffle, and write.

The first part was easy.  Living in a hub of art and culture there are always interesting events for free or cheap.  It has been a blast wandering the galleries after dark at the MFA, or checking out the Samson Project in the SoWa district.  Kyle and I attended a ballet with friends a couple weeks ago. Last night we had the pleasure of seeing the Video Game Orchestra perform at Symphony Hall.

It is always special to hear the music from our favorite games performed by a live, full orchestra.  It is spectacular to see them perform at Symphony Hall, one of the most prestigious music performance centers, where even the applause sounds good.  It is another thing entirely to hear the Mario theme performed by said orchestra in said performance hall.

Let’s not be mistaken though– video game music has become far more sophisticated than the catchy 8-bit melodies (although there is an entire genre of 8-bit video game music called chiptunes which I do adore).  Video games, especially rpg’s, have emotional soundtracks written by real composers and recorded by professional orchestras.

Sitting along the balcony of Symphony Hall, I could peer down at the cello’s and viola’s, but I also cast my glance at the audience, who sat entranced by the music.

What a funny thing, I thought.  We are watching the musicians, but why?  We don’t use our eyes to hear.  There are no characters to visually identify, no story we need to follow.  But that doesn’t matter.  There’s something magical about watching dozens of people work together, making music that makes us feel.

What we feel hardly matters either, but looking around the audience, where couples gripped each other’s hands or cuddled together, kissing between songs, I realized that music can be far more romantic than the movies.  Listening to music, the audience can create their own story, instead of sit, engrossed while they witness someone else’s.

This is a principle I understand from writing.  I often use music to inspire.  A few bars from a song can take me anywhere- from a train in the suburbs of Osaka to a dingy apartment in Jamaica Plain to a steamy middle school dance to the back roads of Western Massachusetts.  Or somewhere else entirely.  Music can turn a feeling into a place where I have never been before.

This week I received feedback on a sample of my manuscript from a writer at Grub Street.  He noted, as all my previous writing instructors observed, that my writing has a lyrical quality.

Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to language– speaking English but aware of the rhythms of Chinese, which half my family spoke.  Maybe it’s because music is essential to my process and the melodies I feel as I write infiltrate my words, making their presence known.  Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

Whatever it is, stay tuned for more posts that include playlists and writing samples!