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A story about musicology

Cory Swanson

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May 19, 2016
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447
Here is the opening to my story about musicologists. Does this make you want to read more? I worry about my beginnings.


Percy loved music, just like me. In fact, the more I learn about him, the more I am sure that he was a kindred spirit, that we are connected somehow.

Sadly, I never got to meet Percy. He died in White Plains, New York, several decades before I was born, old and alone and far from home.

Which is what I am now. Old and alone and far from home. But not dead. At least not yet. The sky outside my window as I write this is gray and dreary and I sometimes wonder what home is to me anymore. Is it a place? Is it mom’s house? Is it really a thing anymore, or just an idea? Or even a person? Well, regardless, I’m not there right now. Far from it, but this apartment will have to do for now. Not a lot of options, anyway.

But back to Percy. I first became acquainted with him through his music. I was in high school band, clarinet in my mouth, pimples on my forehead. We were reading through Lincolnshire Posy and my hand shot into the air.

“Maestro,” I called when our band director didn’t call on me as immediately as I felt I deserved. What a dweeb I was. Mr. Dallinbeck had never asked to be called anything as pompous as ‘Maestro.’ I thought I was being cool.

“Yes, sir Tim,” he shot back, attempting to match my pompous tone with humor. “What can I help you with?”

I rolled my eyes at his weirdness. “What is ‘trotting speed, a bit pert?’”

“That’s the tempo marking. You see, Percy Grainger didn’t like Italian terms in music. He felt everything should be English with a capital ‘E’ even though he was Australian. What’s funny to me, though, is how the ‘English’ terms are colloquial. He was referring to horses, which your average 1920’s musician was probably familiar with. But now, no one has a horse, so the term falls flat. Just take my tempo and you’ll be fine.”

I won’t lie, I was impressed with Mr. Dallinbeck. He knew his Grainger. I cornered him in his office during my lunch hour and he rhapsodized about Grainger until he had to write me a late pass to P.E. I can point to that afternoon as the moment when the door to the rest of my life opened. Hanging on that door was a giant flashing neon sign that read ‘Musicology.’ I knew from that point on that it would never be enough for me to just play music. I wanted to know the people who made it. Why did they make it? Where did they come from? These questions led to other questions, and I found myself hunting old folk songs through the stacks and out into the countryside through grad school and beyond.

Percy invented the sports bra because he wanted to go jogging with his girlfriend. Isn’t that crazy? What a weird and eccentric dude. I still get giddy when I think about him. I love telling people about him and watching their eyes get wide. It’s not like when you talk about Mozart and Salieri. People gloss over when you talk about them. You might as well be describing the plot of a Jane Austen novel when you talk about those guys. But Percy is so weird, you can’t help but do a double take.

But all of that is not why I sat down to write today. I am writing, of course, because of Percy. But not just because of him. Through Percy, I have experienced so much more.

I hope you will excuse the non-academic tone of this piece. Truth be told, I don’t care to write that way. Life is too short to tell your stories according to some perceived set of rules. Plus, this story will not scratch your academic itch. It began like that, but it doesn't end there.

I don’t even really know why I’m writing this down at all. It’s not going to get published in the Journal of Musicology. It’s not going to be believable, for that matter. I guess I’m writing it for posterity. And because a story like this demands to be told. It’s just too good not to tell.
 

Brian G Turner

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You've made the narrator conversational, so your piece gets padded with words and phrases it doesn't need, and it does come across as somewhat rambling. I'm not using that term in an insulting way - I simply mean that it doesn't really get to a point. The narrator keeps making themselves the focus of the story, despite that he repeatedly states that this is a piece about Percy.

I've not read that many biographies - as opposed to autobiographies - but the ones I have read focused on the subject rather than the narrator, unless there was an outstanding meeting event that effectively served as a Call To Action.

So what I'd suggest is perhaps make the narrator less self-conscious and stop them intruding so much into the story, unless there's a very clear reason to do so from the start.

However, this is likely outside of my genre and area of reading, so I can only suggest it as personal comment rather than anything else. :)
 

Cory Swanson

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May 19, 2016
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I was trying to portray someone who just finished an amazing experience and is trying to get a thousand thoughts down. From there, the story focuses down. Ultimately, it is a made up ghost story, and not a real history. Does this opening draw you in, or does it need more focus?
 

SciFrac

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I was trying to portray someone who just finished an amazing experience and is trying to get a thousand thoughts down.
While I'm excited to see a musical focus in fantasy, this doesn't convey at all. You won't create immediacy by starting with backstory. The narrator reads like a gentle breeze, and lacks any sense of conflict or stakes. Is this story about the narrator or Percy? From your excerpt, I can't tell.
 

TheDustyZebra

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I think it opens the story like a John Irving novel. Obviously not as polished, but it's not a final draft, either. It's a totally recognizable style, for what you're aiming for, and I don't see any reason why it won't work. Of course you'll clean it up and adjust it before you're done, but I wouldn't worry about it.
 

vonHelldorf

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I like your voice and your writing gives plenty of intrigue. This line I particularly enjoyed: "Old and alone and far from home".

The bit about Mr Dallinbeck I really like. Helps give the story a base from which to build.

I have to agree with Brian's point about Percy. There's a lot of returning to Percy without telling the reader much about him. If you could include little details like odd features, eccentricities, brief and interesting events from his life, I think it would make it feel less like going back and forth. Just something to make the reader want to know about Percy just as much as the writer wants to tell us.

I've not read anything to do with musicology and it seems you've got a very original idea. Look forward to reading more!
 

The Storyteller

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Mar 18, 2014
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Personally, I like the voice. It creates a strong character, and does generate enough interest in Percy that I want to know a bit more about him. (Just what kind of life did he lead to create such a reaction in the narrator?)

I do feel it is perhaps a touch long and rambling for the what it gives us. There are several places where it could be cropped a bit shorter, and as others have mentioned, you could perhaps drop a few more hints about Percy, especially if he is the focus of the story. Not sure if this turns into a story directly about Percy, or about the narrator learning about Percy. Right now, I feel more connected to the narrator, so I might find a full transition into Percy a bit hard, given that the narrator has such a strong voice and we've been given very little on Percy.

Again, what changes you should or shouldn't make really does depend on what the focus and writing style is like following this! How much of the narrators strong voice you keep should be in relation to how much of a role he plays in the storytelling for the rest of the story, imo. If he remains relevant, then this opening suits. If not, more focus on Percy and less on the narrator might be better.

I enjoyed it, but I would suggest cropping it. Even taking out one or two sentences from some of those paragraphs would help get to the point a little faster. (For example, the early paragraph where he contemplates the meaning of 'home'.) And depended on where you are going next, adding some more interesting info on Percy might be beneficial!
 

tinkerdan

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I liked this and would like to hear more. The voice draws me into the story; though I'm uncertain who the story is about. I suspect its more about the narrator than Percy. With that in mind I'd switch the beginning just a hair and I too saw too many extra words padding the paragraphs and it needs tightening, but the rambling I think is exacerbated by some distancing of ideas within the paragraph and I'll show what I mean.

In the first three paragraphs::

Like me, Percy loved music. The more I learn, the more I am sure that he was a kindred spirit, that we are connected. Of course I never met him. He died in White Plains, New York, several decades before I was born, old and alone and far from home.

Which is what I am. Old and alone, but not dead. Not yet. And far from home. The sky outside my window is gray and dreary and I wonder what home is to me. Is it a place? Is it mom’s house? Is it a thing, or an idea or a person? Regardless, I’m not there. But this apartment must do for now. No other options.

::

So I brought the narrator first by switching that sentence around. Then culled some extra words. You can do this better than I did because you know the character and the voice and where the story is going. Then I moved the portion of the sentence with and far from home closer to the sentences that talks about that.

It's just a thought as to the tightening, but honestly the voice as it is is quite compelling even with the added flourish. And the slight distancing of subject might accentuate the rambling if you prefere rambling.
 
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