Music is the Metaphor

Music is the metaphor for everything here at Pen & Paper.

If you asked me today to go sit in a room, all by myself, and write a story – for hours and hours – then my eyes would light up with anticipation.


Because that sounds like fun to me.  It doesn’t sound like work…or worse.

Attend, while I tell a tale.

For most of my formative years I was heavily involved in music. At first, I just loved to listen to music – mostly classical. Then, as I grew up, I learned that I could make music – both as a musician and a composer.

My dream/goal/desire was to be a professional musician. I practiced daily, took private lessons, and was a part of several orchestras in and outside of high school. I was exposed to great musicians, great music, and great music teachers.  These experiences stoked the flames. My passion for music, already hot, grew hotter still when I was able to play alongside professionals. This was going to be my life.

There was a grand narrative that I had written in my mind. I would go to the university and then triumphantly emerge from my undergraduate studies with a degree in music performance.

In order to gain entrance to the university’s music program, I had to do an audition. It did not go well.  I flubbed it – a case of the nerves. Indeed, there was a lot riding on this audition – all of my dreams/goals/desires. It was a blow to my ego but I was undeterred. I enrolled in all of the music classes that I would have otherwise taken had I been accepted into the program. I even took a class in music composition – if I couldn’t perform the music, then I would write it. The revised plan was to study music, practice, and audition again after the first semester. It was not unusual to audition more than once before being accepted.  It was one of the top programs in the nation.

Over the course of the school year, a realization dawned on me.

“I’m not like these people.  At all.  I don’t think like them.  I do not experience the world like them.  They are musicians.  I am not.”

Certainly, I could read music, discuss music theory, and perform music. I could do all of these things, but I did not think musically. There were no melodies or harmonies running through my head. I had no ear for music – not in the way that a true musician does.  It was impossible for me to hear something in my mind and then make that unheard sound a reality.

There was a second audition.  A second failure.   And a hard dose of reality.

There was a huge leap from being one of the top musicians in a large high school to playing at the collegiate level.  A more professional level.

And I was not there.

What was more, I hated sitting in a practice room for hours on end.  Not only was I supposed to practice my own instrument, but I had to learn the piano as well.  Certainly, in high school I had practiced regularly – daily, but only for about an hour or so. These people – these musicians – practiced for hours on end. Every single day. Sitting alone in a cramped practice room with not one, but two, instruments, was awful.

So what happened to that grand narrative that I had written in my mind?

It had to be scrapped and rewritten…from scratch.  Not an easy task.  But it was, and is, my work.  And I revel in it.  It is worth noting, that throughout this site and the courses offered herein, I will ask you to reflect upon your own thoughts about yourself as a writer.  This is your work.

So how did I rewrite this narrative?  I learned, over time, (and with help) that I am a storyteller.  I always have been.

And I learned that music was the background to the narratives that have always been running through my head. We all know that a movie without climactic music swelling at the perfect point is less of a movie. But this music is in the background. It enhances the story, but it is not the story. For me, music was the undercurrent to the stories in my head. It has always been thus, but I did not know it then. I do know it now.

Okay, so what?  What does this have to do with writing and this course?

For starters, you should now know that the music of Beethoven is the functional equivalent of commercial fiction.

Commercial fiction – this is what I write.  This is what I know.  This is what I teach.

Throughout the course, I will use music as a metaphor for other ideas when it is appropriate.

Also, if you made it to the bottom of the first page, you will have seen that Pen & Paper Lessons is an added bonus to this course.  

Again, my experience as a musician has influenced my life as a writer and teacher.

During my time at the university, I was surprised to see professional musicians take private lessons with the very same people I took lessons from.  These were not recent graduates that needed a little refresher.  These were seasoned professionals that held top posts with major symphony orchestras.  And yet they sat and waited – just like me – to take private lessons with my teachers.

For both writers and musicians, sometimes it is beneficial to take a private lesson from a good teacher.  The result is Pen and Paper Lessons.  Click here to find out more about lessons.

In closing, understand that being a composer of music is very similar to being a composer of words.  Both are creative acts.

There are certain books and symphonies that are considered greats.  What is it that makes them great?  Within each of these disciplines – music and writing – an artist must have both skill and experience in order to make something praiseworthy.  Skill and experience make for good craftsmanship. And both types of composers need to practice their craft.

And that takes time and practice.

Can you sit for hours and hours…writing?  And do you like telling stories?  If so, then Pen & Paper may be for you.

 Once, while meandering the Internet, I ran  across an essay written by the composer Michael Kurek.  He writes about his aethestic philosophy.  I like his approach to musical composition as it closely mirrors my own thinking on literary composition.  Click here to read the article.


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