Tuesday, November 24, 2009


"In stating as fully as I could how things really were, it was often very difficult and I wrote awkwardly and the awkwardness is what they called my style. All mistakes and awkwardnesses are easy to see, and they called it style." (Ernest Hemingway)

My piano teacher praised my "musicating" at my last lesson. I don't know if that's a word in English and I was actually surprised that it's a word in Danish. It means "to make music", and in this case she was trying to distinguish it from merely playing the notes. I still find it quite difficult to play the right notes (we've been working on the first prelude of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier) and her point was that even though I'm clearly struggling, I'm nonetheless trying to phrase at least a few bars at a time, and I'm varying my dynamics and tempi. I insisted that in playing quietly or slowly I'm only trying to give myself time to put my fingers in the right the places. Then, when I play loud or pick up the tempo a bit, it's because I hit a stretch that I find easier to play. So it's like Hemingway says, it's my awkward struggle with a difficulty that comes out as "musicating".

Perhaps musicating is a bit a like prosifying. We can distinguish "making prose" (really writing) from merely putting down words (in grammatically correct sequences). When I edit other people's writing I do sometimes notice a distinct struggle to write (to state as fully as possible how things really are). It can be seen in a suddenly shorter sentence, or a change of tense. Sometimes, no doubt, the writer is merely dealing "awkwardly" with a difficulty. But I can actually put myself in the mind of my teacher: she was encouraged by what may be the rudiments of a style.


Ted Bagley said...

I can definitely relate to this with my blog. If I agonized too long about how it were written it would never get written in the first place. Now over a year something can be seen. Is this what you mean?

Thomas said...

Yes, sort of. I think it's Hemingway's point about "stating as fully as I could how things really were" that's important. If you're just trying to write, but not trying to say anything, you won't be developing your prose style. It also won't really sound "awkward", just "right" or "wrong".

That's definitely true of music. Sometimes I do just set myself the task of playing the note. I concentrate more on the sheet music and where my fingers are. But it sounds awful (not awkward). Then I go back and try to play it, you know, "with feeling". Trying to interpret what Bach was trying to express. And that's how I play it for my teacher, of course.

The key, anyway, is that struggle to say "how things really are". You have to do that every day. You have to practice that. You don't just practice writing good sentences about anything or nothing at all.