What Van Cliburn Taught Me About Writing


Here’s the thing, the world lost a truly great musician, artist this week, Van Cliburn. I remember listening to his recordings as a child and being pretty much stunned by his grace and talent and artistry. This morning I was listening to one of his recordings along with bit of commentary and it got me thinking. No one will argue that the arts often overlap. Many disciplines or philosophy in one field of art can often easily translate to another. For example, one must practice music everyday or nearly everyday in order to be good. The same can be said for writers. A writer must write everyday, whether it is actual writing or being at least conscious of the cerebral percolating that goes on in every author’s mind.
But how is writing a novel like music? Well, here’s what I discovered this morning. Van Cliburn’s first piano teacher was his mother. She would ask him to hum or sing a piece of music before performing it. In this way he said he “breathed into” the music. Wow. That struck me because as a writer, and I think we will all agree that good writing has music, I often read my work aloud to see if it sings. But as I considered Van’s word this morning I saw how there was so much more involved to this act of reading our words. I believe that we breathe life into the words when we hear them dance on our vocal chords and tickle our ears. We hear things we might not hear just from writing or reading only in our minds. A connection, a holistic connection if you will, is made and this enables us to perhaps dig a little deeper. Writing gets better when it is performed in a sense.
Van Cliburn also said that his favorite quote is from Rachmaninoff who said, “Music is enough for a lifetime but a lifetime is not enough for music.”
This is true of writing and story. There are enough words and stories for a lifetime but a lifetime is not enough for story.

2 comments:

priscilla said...

Yes. The power of word spoken aloud lies in its creative generation.

Marti Pieper said...

My husband and I attended seminary in Fort Worth, home of Van Cliburn and the competition that bears his name. Such a great story that says a lot about the nature of true inspiration.

Thanks for sharing.