I'm taking a Fiction Workshop at Manhattanville College this spring. We're reading five books that develop setting especially well. At our first class, we discussed the novel Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, a unique literary novel that describes imaginary conversations between Marco Polo and the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan. Khan implores Polo to describe the cities of his empire that he has seen, but the conversation ranges far beyond that, into philosphy and consciousness. A fascinating read.
Then, as common in writing classes, we did a free-write, with the prompt of creating our own invisible city. We read them aloud. My classmate wrote about Mozartina, a city where the children drill their piano exercises, and the work is all drudgery. The adults in Mozartina understand that someday, although unhappiness will come to each student, the "night music," a play on Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music - you know the catchy theme, it was used on Nickelodeon) will carry them through.
Music is invisible when it's performed, and its effect is mostly invisible, too. Yes, there are written notes on the page, but the actual sound can only be caught in the moment. Music was the perfect choice for building an invisible city, and, to be honest, I wish I'd thought of it it.
That week after class I kept thinking about what my classmate had written, how the drudgery and repetition involved in piano practice described in Mozartina was true for my own piano students. The students' parents and I work together to keep their child engaged. I find myself saying to my students, "You'll be so glad you stuck with it," even though I know they dislike hearing it almost as much as I dislike saying it. It's something, at their young age, they cannot possibly understand.
A few days later, I remembered the words on a piece of artwork that hangs in my studio waiting room. The piece, called Night Demons by Brian Andreas, was given to me by a teenage student years ago, after she failed her college music audition.
Although this student's ambition exceeded her talents, by age seventeen she understood the most important aspect of music: its power to soothe, elevate, and expand. She had experienced the way it can shift the invisible inner landscape, and strengthen her ability to face her life.
I felt in giving the art to me, she recognized herself in the piece, that she'd learned her own night demons could not help but sucuumb to the beauty of music, having "no stomach" for their work after hearing her play.