Peter Sculthorpe and Me
I don’t know Peter Sculthorpe. In fact I had never heard of him before last Saturday when I was reading the (Sydney) Good Weekend article about his life. He’s Australia’s most famous composer, an MBE, OBE, AO, holder of four honorary doctorates, one of Australia’s 45 icons and a Living Treasure. On top of all that he’s really interesting and a great storyteller too.
Part way through the article I found the paragraph that rocked me – and I plagiarise *grin*: “His process of composition has never changed. He draws a series of boxes, like a brainstorming diagram on a whiteboard, and puts a musical idea in each. Then, as he puts it, ‘I connect up the boxes’.” Fireworks and lightbulbs exploded in my brain. I was so excited. This is how I write! Exactly how I write! I have long struggled against my inability to plot. I feel like I should. I feel like it would improve my writing and I try hard to do it. But I can’t. i work like Peter. I write out the chapter headings. And I put an idea in each box. Then I link them up. One thing I have learned though is to blend the linking by using big blurry lines so that my story does not feel episodic in nature.
Intrinsically I have always known there is a strong relationship between writing words and writing music. But sometimes I have to be hit over the head with it too. And that reminds me of another time it happened. For my twelfth birthday I asked for The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I still have those beautiful red volumes. It wasn’t that I was particularly smart (although the kids say I am a bit nerdy but that’s OK as it’s sort of cool at the moment) – in fact I didn’t really understand the Shakespeare much. I just loved the sound the words made when I read them aloud. And when the words made snippets of images I could understand, the sound was glorious. I struggled to explain this to others until last year my husband and I were listening to a shared favourite song of many years. “I love those lyrics,” I said. “Oh, what’s it about?” he asked. “I never listen to the words.” Right then I was reminded of how words are sometimes beautiful music first and meaning second.
One last snippet of wisdom from Peter. He was speaking about how he didn’t mind bad reviews and quoted his favourite which was about one of his piano concertos: ‘It would be best played at night, at a piano bar … preferably after all the people have left.’ I couldn’t help but imagine the equivalent book review: ‘It would be best read in bed at night, in the dark, preferably after you have gone to sleep.’
Now I am going to seek out some of Peter’s music.