Life’s soundtrack should be big: Rossini Opera Festival makes a splash

Front door of Rossini Theater with palm tree and poster for Rossini Opera Festival
Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet is on the radio and I’m thinking about emotion in music and the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

The Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy was over the top! I love watching live orchestras and this one had 5 string basses. 🙂 And the audience was as fun to watch as the opera!

I didn’t expect a fashion event. Of course people are well dressed at a fancy cultural event, but there was so much creativity in people’s outfits. Italy takes fashion seriously.

Black "flat" shoes with sequins and bow ties in three places.
These beautiful sparkly shoes would please any Dorothy or reform any Wicked Witch.

La pietra del paragone was set in a wealthy Duke’s house, complete with swimming pool on the stage. In the opening scene, the cast sang while wearing 1950’s swimming suits in bright colors.

How can you sing, fall into a pool, come up dripping, and sing some more? Don’t people have to breathe?

The comedic characters were dressed in ever more extreme fashion with amazingly clashing shades of salmon and mustard. Of course, the hero and heroine got more and more elegant.

I’ve always enjoyed the comedy of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and accessible operas like Carmen and The Magic Flute. This performance made me feel that singing at the top of your lungs is the only way to live.

Things are going on in the world. Make a noise! Belt it out! Articulate at top speed! And dress up. 🙂

Is what we mean by catharsis? I thought the “sense of relief from extreme emotions” only applied to tragedies. This wasn’t one.

When my mom was getting chemotherapy years ago, she listened to Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle. At the time, I wondered if that would ruin the music for her. But I think it was a way to give a heroic backdrop to a life and death battle.

Life is ridiculous and tragic and heroic. Opera with a swimming pool is just the ticket.

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7 Insights from the 2017 SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Brussels

Art Deco building with musical motifs under every window showing the history of written music
This beautiful building is the musical instrument museum in Brussels, Belgium.

The Society of Children’s Writers and Book Illustrators (SCBWI) “Europolitan conference” is a chance to meet people who write for kids in English and live all over Europe. Yay!

  • Lots of languages
  • 65 writers and illustrators, talking top-speed,
  • Belgian fish and chips.

Top 7 insights from the conference:

1. “Build your own community” was a huge theme. It’s easy to think “there’s no one near me who writes,” but it’s never true. Even where the official languages aren’t English, there are people writing fiction for children in English. If you haven’t found your people yet, give it another try.

If you need tips, check here and here.

In case you think isolation is a writer problem, think again.

Literary Agent Gemma Cooper organized “Agent Mixers” in Chicago for young editors and agents. Early in her career, she shadowed agent Penny Holroyde to learn the business. The author equivalent: “study the books in your genre.”

Editorial Director Penguin Random House Children’s, Natalie Doherty met with a group of editors from other publishing houses. They declared their meetings a neutral zone: “This is Switzerland.” After all, multiple editors could easily be competing for the same author.

2. Why write for middle grade (9-12 year olds)? Literary agent, Gemma Cooper’s example of middle grade “obsessions” reminded me of the way it feels to be twelve years old.

As a child, she was obsessed with Egyptian hieroglyphics and her brother was obsessed with space.

This reminds me of why children’s books are the key to a happy life. The things we explore when we are young are the things that enrich our lives. Wealth is not all about the stock market.

How else do people create a world-class collection of musical instruments? Gotta start young. 🙂

3. Writing for young readers is also about modelling creativity. Story comes first of course! Both author/illustrator Chris Mould and author Robin Stevens talked about encouraging young readers to draw, write, and look at the world differently.

Robin Stevens’ hands-on way to start a story invites listeners into the process. She’s got the most delicious pile of “clues.” So easy–a sure sign of a true expert! She does school visits the same way. Wouldn’t you love to hear those mysteries?

4. Traditional publishing is reaching out. Social media has made things more transparent for publishers too. Editors can contact book buyers from bookstores on Twitter.

Keywords and categories came up even though that’s normally a self-publishing conversation. Traditionally published authors are also expected to know more about their audiences.

5. Genre fiction still isn’t everything. According to the lovely Natalie Doherty, Books like Wonder, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Holes, and The Book Thief are referred to in-house as having a “Special Book Feel.” They address “weighty themes in accessible ways.” A hopeful sign.

6. Transparency isn’t quite everywhere. It sounds like getting accurate sales numbers for books is still challenging, even for super agents like Gemma Cooper. If anyone can fix it, she can.

7. Book Cover “Aha!” moment. It’s hard to figure out what you need to create a solid book cover. This is why:

“Cover designs bring all the publishing departments together.” —Laurent Linn, Art Director Simon & Schuster.

Creating a book is a group process. The best product comes from a team that works respectfully together.

Did you find something here to help you move forward? Or have something to add? Feel free to comment below. Thanks for dropping by!

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Contrast with Apple Blossoms, Bach, and Story

These apple blossoms and buds look like visual staccato and legato notes.

Sometimes learning something that you had given up on changes your whole view of the world. James Rhodes’ How to Play Piano teaches rank beginners how to play J.S. Bach’s Prelude in C Major. I never learned to read the bass clef and I’ve really been enjoying this attempt. It makes you wonder what else is still possible.

Rhodes suggests listening to the following musicians play the Prelude. They all interpret it differently:

All of those versions got me thinking about contrast in fiction. While down the YouTube rabbit hole about what that middle pedal on the piano is for, I discovered Robert Estrin’s virtual piano lesson about using short (staccato) and long (legato) notes to bring out the melody in Beethoven’s sonatas.

It’s got me wondering how I can bring out the main story arc using contrast in fiction. There are lots of things to try:

  • Rhythm: Short and long sentences
  • Pacing: Dialogue, action, exposition
  • Setting: Light/Dark, Loud/Soft, Hectic/Peaceful

It all ties into Friday’s post on The Winged Pen about a Setting Exercise from The Rural Setting Thesaurus. Rebecca Smith-Allen’s post on the The Urban Setting Thesaurus is up today.

I’d love to know what you think about this. Have you consciously built contrast into your stories? Or do you have favorite examples from your reading? Feel free to share.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

 

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Earning a Microphone: What 6th grade band taught me about audience

Band playing in a cupola. Conductor wears a jacket that says "ZOLL" which means Customs.
Customs officials play in a band performance in Aachen. Music informs my work as a writer and gives me a whole new perspective on customs officials. ©Laurel Decher, 2015.

In the sixth grade, my elementary school offered the chance to learn a band instrument. There must have been some kind of school assembly to introduce the instruments and I’d certainly been to classical music concerts so it’s hard to explain how the mix-up happened.

My parents offered to rent an instrument and we went together to pick it up.

“No, not that one,” I said when the open case revealed a silver and black instrument. “That one, the clarinet–” I pointed to a shiny, silver instrument hanging on the wall.

When I persisted in asking for the shiny, silver, flute, the shop owner and my parents all told me I should play the clarinet instead. “Don’t change your mind now. Everyone plays the flute. You should try the clarinet first.”

They seemed to think that I had changed my mind because a clarinet wasn’t flashy enough. In the end, I took the clarinet home. A kind and patient private teacher taught me about the reed and taught me to assemble the clarinet. He was a good teacher. He taught me to leave the mouthpiece with reed out of the case. “Try it every once in a while.” After three days, I got a duck-like sound out of it and was very pleased with myself.

I started to learn the notes on the staff. The one in the bottom space that everyone else called “F”, I called “K”. It just felt like a K to me. After six months, my darling mother returned the clarinet to the music store without asking me.

In the seventh grade, I got a shiny, nickel-plated, student flute and enrolled in Beginning Band. I can’t imagine I was a stellar flute player, but at least no one returned it without asking. I must have learned something, because I decided it was useful to call the notes by the same names as everyone else.  No conductor ever asks for a concert K. It just doesn’t happen.

My high school marching band (the land of flats) and orchestra (the land of sharps) took me on tour to San Francisco and to many, many basketball games. The Star-Spangled Banner is fairly deafening in closed spaces. We played for school musicals and for the American Fork Youth Ballet’s THE NUTCRACKER. I liked everything about it and raved about it until my own children signed up to learn instruments themselves.

If one of my former conductors happens by this blog, I must confess to setting up all 100 or so music stands so that they fell in perfect domino-fashion. It was a thing of beauty. Please forgive me for not setting them up again.

This last Sunday, I played my flute with a small combo and was offered a microphone. Being incurably metaphor-minded, it struck me that I had accidentally followed classic piece of audience-building advice. Serve a community until they offer to help your voice be heard.

What musical metaphors taught me about audience-building:

  1. Playing with a microphone amplifies your mistakes. The microphone made me want to deliver a better performance. It also made it easier to ask for help with technical details. Sheet music in the correct key might be the equivalent of good cover design, expert editing or other tech help.
  2. No one complained it was too loud. The others were in charge of amplification. I wasn’t. It was out of my control and that was fine with me. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
  3. I was playing the right instrument. I wasn’t playing a clarinet. If you love an instrument, you are much more likely to learn to play it well. Writing in the right genre, for the right audience, might make all the difference.
  4. It doesn’t really matter how many other people are doing what you love. If you keep doing it long enough, you’ll find a place. When I started the clarinet, at least a dozen girls played flute in my elementary school. A year later, they weren’t. Maybe they liked the flute’s shininess, but not its airy sound. Saxophone might have been better. When I play the flute, I can’t see how shiny it is, but I can feel its sound. It’s the voice of the flute that attracted me and holds me still.

Do you sing or play an instrument? What drew you to the kind of music you enjoy? How does music help you in some other part of your life?

 

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