In an earlier post, I talked about my enthusiasm for Peter Jackson’s films of The Lord of the Rings.
One of the things I adored was Howard Shore’s music. I ran out and bought the CDs, of course. At first I listened to the music as a way of re-experiencing the movies. I’d done this with other movie music, like The Last of the Mohicans, Shakespeare in Love, Titanic
, and all the work of Ennio Morricone. Romantic, evocative music fits the same slot in my brain as Mendelsohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” or his violin concerto, or Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” suite, or Borodin’s “In the Steppe of Central Asia” (one of the pieces I listened to while writing Shannivar). It’s narrative music, emotive rather than abstract, and I find it marvelous to write to. Singing
When at long last it was my time to embark upon piano lessons, as a first-time older adult student, I grabbed a copy of the easy piano versions of The Lord of the Rings
music. My goal was to play “Into the West.” I was one of those folks in the theater with tears down my cheeks as the song ended. But I was just starting out, I had zero self-confidence, and I wanted to make sure I had the skill to play it well. My teacher and I selected “In Dreams” (which is also the leitmotif for the hobbits) as one of my early pieces. Even in the easy version, it was a challenge. And it had words, words in a key within my limited vocal range.
Like others of my generation, I got caught in the folk scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and even taught myself a few chords on the guitar. Although I enjoyed singing in a group, I had become convinced I had a terrible voice. I remember being told as a child that I couldn’t sing. So of course, my voice was strained, thin, unreliable in pitch. With the piano to support my voice, however, along with lots of practice when no one else was in the house, not to mention having an encouraging teacher, I learned how to breathe more deeply and relax my throat. The higher notes became easier and more clear. I added other songs and vocal exercises, which helped my confidence. “Wow,” my teacher said after one class, “who knew you had such a voice?”
Learning to sing in this way helped me to see places in my life I had “lost my voice.” When preparing for a parole hearing, when I needed to speak loud and clear, this was the song I came back to. Like so many other songs, it became more than a particular piece of music by association.
As I gained in skill, I played other pieces from the easy piano book and eventually arrived at “Into the West.” Then came the seven weeks I spent taking care of my best friend and her family as she died of ovarian cancer. I found a place near her home to walk, a mile round trip down a country lane, and did this two or three times a day. The brisk autumn air, the glorious colors, and the solitude (except for a few horses and goats) gave me a blessed break. I found myself singing as I walked, as I once had done as a child. One of the songs that came to me was “Into the West,” octave leap and all. I sang it terribly and with tremendous emotion, often alternating phrases and sobbing. It said so much I wanted to tell my friend, but it was for me, not for her, who was not at all a Tolkien fan. It wasn’t her kind of song, but mine. Even now, when I play it (I can’t sing the key the easy piano version is written in), it eases me through another layer of grief.( Read more... )