Monday, March 15, 2010

English as a Second Language

I wasn't born a writer. In fact, English-wise, I was a B average. Oh, I could slap together a fairly coherent report in whatever subject. If you asked me now--now that I've been a teacher and seen incredibly incoherent writing from students--I guess maybe, even then, I could have been called a writer. But I didn't feel like one. Writing was a tool I used to get through school, and to concoct silly poems and stories during study hall. Now it's a tool to express myself. What do I do with it? I write silly poems and stories. And silly blogs.

Music is different. I remember, when I was in maybe third grade, my mom asked me why I sang all the time. I hadn't realized I did. By the time I was old enough for grade school chorus, I was already harmonizing with every song on the radio, every hymn in church, and with Muzak in department stores. Even if I never heard the song before. Music, I believe, was my first language. I have no idea why. My closest musical ancestor was an uncle who played accordion. Still, I have a brother who composes and two cousins who are singers, so it's in our DNA somewhere.

I put the kind of musicians I know in my novels--people like me who do other things to make a living. In HANG MY HEAD AND CRY, Theo is an aspiring anthropologist, but on the side he does church singing--services, weddings, funerals. POISON TO PURGE MELANCHOLY's main historical character is a fiddler and part-time music master. Series character Beth Ann plays clarinet in her school band. Actually, every science geek I know played in a school band or sang in choir. Not a coincidence. Early school music education feeds the brain in all kinds of ways.

A friend asked me this week if I'd ever do a mystery novel set in the music world. The short answer is, probably not. Musicians, when making music, don't have a murderous bone in them. Music is all about dialogue and communication, and something more--like a genuine meeting of souls. This is why the Arab/Jewish Orchestra can exist, and the Omagh Community Youth Choir of Northern Ireland, which includes kids from all different backgrounds with the aim of promoting peace.

If you'd like to hear some of the great music of these groups, and others from around the world, check out

Peace, and harmony,

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