Posted by: Michelle Knoll | October 2, 2009

An Experiment: Writing to Music

I have never written with music playing in the background, but I’ve heard that a lot of people do that, so I tried a little experiment.  The following was written while listening to Rachmaninov’s Symphony #2, Movement 3, performed by the NHK Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn. Suntory Hall, Tokyo, 2007.

I would love to hear what you think, so please comment.  Thank you!


I see trees filled with golden leaves, that gently fall as if being caressed to the ground by the wind.  I see dancing patterns of shadow and light on fading green lawns and weathered sidewalks, as the sun plays peek-a-boo through tall oak branches.  I see a young woman sitting by a tall, second-story window sill, watching the people as they pass by.  And suddenly, she spies the one… that one that makes her heart pound harder in her chest and causes her breath to come more quickly.  She listens as he greets his classmates with a warm smile and that signature chuckle… the deep bass voice she has come to know so well.  It makes her smile.  She listens as he laughs out loud at something another has said.  And her thoughts get carried away to places they would be together, things they would do together, thoughts they would share together, laughs, songs, playful acts of childish innocence, quiet talks, hugs, glances that have deeper meaning than words can express…  The thoughts radiate untold joy and spread unspeakable warmth over her thirsty soul.  She sighs a contented sigh at the thought of such a place in time, such a moment in the world.
But the smile fades into a mournful glance, for she remembers once again that he has never known, and never will know, the depth of the love she carries.  She would die for him, yes, she would.  She would give anything for him to notice, but that is something destined only for the movies.  Only for faerie tales and dreams….
The sadness swells in her heart as she thinks through moments when they talked while passing each other in the hall… when she waved “hello” across campus… when they worked together on choir tour materials…
Pain is best left unstirred, but when stirred through accident or by design, ’tis best to leave it no avenue for expression.  This time, however, there is no turning back.  As a single tear rolls down her cheek and falls on the page being teased by the wind from the open window, she pens the following words… words that will never be seen, and never be heard, and never be shared, for pain is best left alone:
“Suffering human soul in passions deep,
Pestered by the heart and without sleep,
Far too weak to shake this toilsome pest,
Wonder not you know no peace nor rest!
Tangled by a love that slowly grows
Deep into the mind and quickly sows
Thoughts of only one that ne’er depart
Bringing pain and anguish to the heart.
If this, then, is my unending task,
I pray, God, give me strength to stand the test.
Humbly then I bow and humbly ask,
Only to be given one request:
Joy to live with agonizing pain,
Loving one, but loving, all in vain.” ©*
The deed done, the page won, the voice of the heart quieted once again…
She takes one last look at the words that came through a rush of emotion, and chokes back a sob.  Then she stands and gathers her things, irritated at the fact that her nose is now runny and sniffly and desperately in need of the tissue that is never carried.  She glances once again at the sidewalk below… he is long gone.  Closing her eyes, she reprimands herself for entertaining the thought that reality could ever contain such fancies.  Love is.. for the masses, but certainly not for her.  Like so many popcorn buckets discarded after the closing of the movie premier, she was left long ago.  Left alone.  Left to believe that she was worth nothing more than trash that blows along lonely city streets.  Never wanted unless she was needed, and not needed very often.
The wind outside shifts suddenly, smacking the glass panes with eerie force, causing the window to rattle.  Startled, the young woman suddenly opens her eyes to see that the dancing sunlit patterns have all but vanished from below, for the sun has escaped behind clouds of gray that speak of more than a hint of rain. The window continues its chattering while being battered by the increasing wind, and she wryly laughs within herself at how the sound reminds her of rattling chains.  Chains… like those found on prisoners of old, prisoners who are doomed to serve life sentences…
The sudden forceful wind gives her a chill that sinks to the bone, and she shivers…
Thus the prison door slams shut against the pain within her heart.  Buried like a treasure chest beneath waves of blue, she stuffs her emotions, down, down, down.  NO one will know, and no one will see.  That she promises to herself.  No need attempting to love, she muses inwardly, for that would be like attempting to fly.  People only fly in dreams.
Her shoulders squared, she crosses the room, descends the staircase and walks to the front door of Henderson Hall.  Her moment of weakness finished, the play of passion done, the curtain closed… she is now strong.  She is put together, focused, determined, agenda driven.  For life is to be lived on schedule.  There is no time for… frivolities.  Or fancies.  Or… love.
She steps through the door to greet the oncoming fall rain, entering the stage she has set for herself.  A stage bereft of appurtenances that make thought more than processes, movement more than reaction, life more than existing.  There is no warmth to guide the beating of her heart.  The song… is dead.
So… how did I do?  Did the music help the writing, you think? 
* The sonnet was written in 1977, and is a copywritten work, published in an anthology.  All copyright laws apply.

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