Tag Archives: inspiration

Heart-wrenching Music

Music Score by the blue deviant fox

During the holiday season of late November through December each year, I confess that I have a tendency to tune out Christmas music, i.e. Christmas carols that are played ad infinitum in public spaces. There is still some Christmas music, however, that has the power to move me. Stille Nacht (“Silent Night”) with its inherent stillness can give me goosebumps. I love it especially sung by a lyric tenor. Certain sections of Handel’s Messiah can also bring tears to my eyes. But that’s about it nowadays.  I don’t know if it’s just the constant repetition, year in and year out during the holidays, or the fact that I performed all the holiday songs when I was growing up, whether in choirs or in an orchestra. I now have a tendency to avoid Christmas music.

Thinking about Christmas music sent my mind wandering down the path of music that is emotionally moving. All music is emotionally moving in some way since music is emotion in sound. But I’m thinking of that music that has just the right vibrational frequency or whatever it is that will bring tears to my eyes. When I was writing advertising copy for arts organizations, I remember one Marketing Director talking about the phrases and words that he would not approve in ad copy for describing music: “heart-wrenching,” “tear your heart out,” and so on. He thought that these words and phrases described death more than life. But poetically speaking, music moves the heart, sometimes violently, in different ways.

Here is a list of music that I find especially moving to my heart (sometimes wrenching it, too) and that I never tire of hearing:


Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto, Movement 2: This sweet, sublime melody played by the violin soloist over a pizzicato accompaniment always manages to take my breath away and concentrate my attention. There’s nothing else like it in the repertoire that I know of.  If you’d like to listen for yourself, it’s here, and the second movement begins at 11:00.


Bruckner Symphony No. 8: This magnificent symphony is a deeply emotional sound journey for me.  The first time I heard it was in concert with the Minnesota Orchestra, and it was like sitting on a beach with waves of sound rolling over me. While Bruckner is known for big brass moments and loud passages, he also wrote some extraordinarily lyrical and poignant moments. If you’d like to listen to this symphony, here’s quite a good recording here. The conductor in this video is Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, a renowned Bruckner conductor, who was also the Conductor Emeritus of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Bach Concerto for 2 Violins, Movement 2: I don’t think most people consider Bach when thinking about emotionally moving music, but he wrote some extraordinary music. This concerto is just one example, and the second movement is especially moving to me. In this recording, the second movement begins at 4:00. The two violins are like two voices intertwining.

Verdi’s Requiem: Verdi is best known as an opera composer, and this Requiem is operatic. To me, it is the best example of music capturing the stages of grief, with a Dies Irae that beautifully shows what anger sounds like.  For me, though, it’s the final movement that can leave me sobbing. This final movement was the last music performed at Princess Diana’s funeral service. You can listen to the final movement here.


Elgar “Nimrod”: The British composer Edward Elgar is known for his Pomp and Circumstance marches and for his Enigma Variations in which he composed a series of variations on a theme that only he knew because he didn’t include it in the piece. Each variation is a musical portrait of a dear friend of Elgar’s. The “Nimrod” variation, often used in memorials especially for Brits, was written for Elgar’s friend Augustus Jaeger who supported and encouraged his music composition when Elgar, in depression, was in despair and thinking of giving it up.  Here’s a lovely performance of it.

Brahms First Piano Concerto: The pianist Rudolf Serkin once commented that Brahms’ music was all about memory.  I think of it as being about longing for something that can never be. This concerto begins with a tumultuous orchestral introduction as if Brahms was raging against something, but then it quiets.  The piano comes in with the most sublime music, I think, in all of the piano repertoire, and continues throughout this concerto.  The second movement is a perfect example of Brahms’ longing in his music.  I recommend listening to the entire concerto here.

Classical music is full of “heart-wrenching” music.  Perhaps you have your own list?



nebula-100x100Inspire: in- +spirare = to breathe.  From Latin.  To inspire: to breathe or blow into or upon; to influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration; to bring about.

Inspiration: a divine influence or manifestation that qualifies a person to receive and communicate sacred revelation; the act of inhaling or drawing in; the act or power of moving the intellect or emotion

My Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary says nothing about when or how a writer can be inspired or inspiration can visit a writer.  To be honest, I rarely think about it.  My imagination and I enjoy a good, playful relationship so I’m usually awash in ideas.  My problem is time.

Thinking about it, I like the notion of inspiration being the act of inhaling or drawing in.  Writers draw in the world, give it to their imaginations, and then listen to how the imagination processes the world…or plays with it.  Inspiration, then, comes from within, and we are each responsible for our own inspiration.  As writers, we must live, interact with people, observe the world, interact with different cultures, experience Nature.  It is not enough to read books or sit at a desk and write on a computer or in longhand on paper.  The ideas must come from somewhere.  Each writer has her own mental magnet for drawing to her what she needs for her inspiration.

Ready? Set? Go!

Ready? Set? Go!

The best books, music and art inspire me.  They energize me, provoke me to think about the world in a different way, see my experience with different eyes.  Often what comes out of this is change of some sort, whether it is a way of thinking or simply a way of perceiving.  Or perhaps the inspiration is to write, or only to read more of that author’s books or listen to more of that composer’s music.

sleeping-catWe dare not wait for inspiration to find us.  It does not haunt the passive or the lazy.  Inspiration is a cat asleep in the sun on the windowsill.  She needs to be awakened, played with, teased, fed, petted and cuddled and loved. Then she will purr with your imagination, play with your ideas as toys, and her play will be your stories.  But if we do not act to wake her, she will just continue to sleep in the sun on the windowsill.

Why do you think taking long walks outdoors without gadgets of any kind can be so productive, eh?  Be in the world and the world will be in you, inspire you, energize your ideas and your writing.  Expect only to wake up the cat and to play, nothing more.  It is our privilege to accept what comes and to share it with the world.

Gregg Bradem: Autumn Way

Gregg Bradem: Autumn Way

Is inspiration divine in nature?  It depends on the definition of divine.  I do not limit it to coming from God and God alone.  For me, everything in the universe is divine, and like the greeting Namaste, I greet the god in everything as it greets the god in me.  So, everything is also connected whether unconsciously, as Carl Jung postulated, or on an even deeper level.  The divine energy flows through everything.  But that cat sleeping in the sun is not God, nor is the writer who wakes her.  The writer has a responsibility to respect the cat as well as the universe and part of the divine energy that connects everything.

What does “to be inspired” mean to you?  What is inspiration to you?  If you are an artist, it’s important to know yourself in order to practice your art.  And you’ll need to work for that knowledge.  Remember, that cat will just go on sleeping unless you wake her…..



“Small Steps, Sparks.”

If you’ve seen the movie Contact, perhaps you recognize the quote in the post title.  It’s what Ellie’s dad used to say to her to slow her down when she got excited about something, and  an alien sentient memorably said it to her talking as her dad.  I always thought that alien race was especially perceptive to choose a person that Ellie would respond to without hesitation and with deep emotion.  They wanted her to feel safe.  But I digress…..

This morning, excitement took hold of me much as it had Ellie, and I had to remind myself to slow down.  But it was all happening like Gene Perret described in his article, “Write your book in bite-sized chunks,”in the October 2012 issue of The Writer!  I’d known, of course, that to tackle big projects, no matter what they were, it’s easier to not get overwhelmed by breaking each one into smaller projects.  Perret takes that idea and gives specific examples and recommendations for how to do it.

So, I was in the shower after a lazy, sleepy morning, thinking about what I’d planned for the day, among other things, when my mind swerved around to the essay series project.  As I showered, my mind started to build a table of contents using ideas that I’d been mulling over, organizing those ideas in a logical way.  This is Perret’s “Build content one idea at a time” plus a little of “Review and organize the pieces.”  Each idea for a chapter led to the next idea and the next and the next.  My excitement grew.  Suddenly, I had a book!

As I dried off and dressed, I continued to develop the table of contents in my mind.  Over lunch, I got out the legal pad I’m using to record ideas for this project, and I began to write down the table of contents.  As I wrote (and ate), more ideas came to me.  I now could see that the chapters needed to be organized in sections.  I’d been thinking that for this book, I’d need short chapters of sections with subheads.  I want it to serve as a valuable easy-to-read reference for people as well as a memoir of my mistakes and successes with the medical world.  Suddenly, I could see the structure of each chapter — begin with a personal incident, proceed to the informational sections, and end with what I learned from the personal incident.  Then I began to wonder if by focusing only on my own experience the book would make me look totally stuck on myself.  Geez.  The excitement began to wane.

Here are the subheads from Perret’s article:

  • Build content one idea at a time
  • Review and organize the pieces
  • A base for starting and marketing — this section was particularly exciting!
  • A way to focus your attention
  • Make a schedule

His system for cutting a large project into smaller projects works for both fiction and nonfiction writing projects.  Mine just happens to be nonfiction.

My table of contents?  I have all the sections now and about three-quarters of the chapters.  After some more thinking (maybe in the shower!), I’ll begin writing short descriptions of each chapter.  If this produces more ideas, that’ll be just fine with me!

Once again The Writer has given me ideas and inspiration for how to be a better writer.  Perret’s article alone would be worth the price to buy the magazine, I think, but there’s even more for a writer’s inspiration….

Ah, the Writing Life!

This morning, as I thought about what I would write here today, I was washing my face and marveling how the expensive soap had dried out my skin but the cheap moisturizing soap keeps it soft and supple so I don’t need to use expensive moisturizer also made and sold by the expensive soap’s company, and suddenly my mind changed channels to a writing problem I’d been mulling over for weeks.  It’s in Perceval’s Secret, chapter 21 and I’m almost there with the revision work.

The problem concerned Evan Quinn’s reaction to the scene before.  I realized that I’d originally written his reaction more like I would have reacted, not him.  Wow.  With that thought, the solution rushed into my mind.  Evan would not spend one second on introspection, on remembering the past, but storm out of the building, a maelstrom of rage.

This solution changed how the next scene played out but in an extraordinarily powerful way — even more powerful than how I’d originally conceived the two scenes.

After I finished washing my face and dressing, I wrote notes about the solution and subsequent changes that I’ll need to make when I work on that chapter for the novel revision.

Creativity and inspiration happen anywhere, often when you’re doing something else and thinking about something totally unrelated.  Be open to it and it will happen…..


Inspiration Doesn’t Wait for You

The writing process.  Those three words mean different things to different writers.  And yet, it’s the one thing non-writers and writers alike want to know about, i.e. what is it?  How does it happen?  Is there a standard way to do it?  How do I get ideas?  How do I lure inspiration into my life?  Am I doing it right?

First of all, the writing process is exactly that: the process of writing something, be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry, a play or screenplay, a speech, etc.  There’s nothing mysterious about it.  The process involves desire and openness to begin: the desire to write and an openness to the world and people.  Curiosity about everything also helps, because inspiration waits for no one.  Live life to the fullest, read widely, travel, follow interests, meet people, listen to dreams.  Be curious and interested with everything outside the self. 

The writing process happens when an individual decides to write something.  There is no standard way to proceed and complete the process which is as individual as each person doing it.  Ideas are everywhere.  Curiosity about the world and people is essential.  Having written that, I realize that ideas also tend to find the person they are most suitable for, like a cat finds the person most allergic to her.  Not that any writer could develop an allergy to ideas….  Inspiration waits for no one, so it’s important to be open to it.  Inspiration is really just an idea finding the right person and making her sneeze.  There is no right way to do it, either.  But like narrative structure, there’s a beginning, middle and end.

In the beginning of the short story I’m currently working on, I had an experience that involved a disease and a treatment for that disease, specifically an ultraviolet light chamber.  This experience reminded me of the line “Beam me up, Scotty!” in the original Star Trek series.  That thought made me smile and hung around for weeks in my mind, just sitting there, swinging its feet, waiting.  That is, waiting for an idea.  I have no clue how my imagination takes in experiences on all levels and then slips out the thing that nags at my mind, in this case, it was the idea of fish scales.  Then one day, I saw in my mind a sentient being that resembled more a Komodo dragon than a human and I…sneezed.  Inspiration had caressed my nose.  That Komodo sentient being was a character with low self-esteem and it had a story.

From there, Komodo has been slowly opening up and sharing its story with me.  I ask what gender it is, and receive no answer, so I’m beginning to think its sexuality either is extremely different from human understanding or isn’t important in the story.  Ditto with a name.  But I know what Komodo wants, what some of the obstacles are to getting it, and….  I don’t know anymore.  At this point, I haven’t begun writing down the story.  First, what I generally do is write notes which develop into a sketch of an outline, usually 3 sentences to 3 paragraphs: Komodo wants such and such; a list of obstacles and conflicts; then a possible ending.  At this point in the process, nothing is written in stone for me.  I want to be completely open to the story evolving organically according to the needs and actions of Komodo.

After time has passed — days, weeks, or months — I begin to feel really restless, on edge, and full, like maybe I shouldn’t have had that second helping at dinner.  I also feel that I really want to write down Komodo’s story and see what happens with it.  As I write, whether longhand or on the computer, seeing the words flow triggers more words, more ideas.  Sometimes, a story comes out all at once — quite a fortunate experience!  Most of the times, it comes out in spurts, with a lot of thinking going on between them.  Once I have a first draft down on paper, I will put the story away for a minimum of a week to ferment.  When I return to it, I revise to tighten it, sharpen the language and images, check for narrative holes, make sure Komodo changed over the course of the story.  Revising is finding the right word, the right image or detail, being specific in language.  One revision is never enough.  And Inspiration continues to flow into the story with each revision. 

Finally, the end.  The story is done.  I will put it away again for a minimum of one week.  Then I might ask people I trust to give me constructive feedback after reading the story…or not, depending on what I think the story needs.  I might put it away for months and work on something else.  Or I might research markets, i.e. magazines or literary journals, in order to submit it.  Sometimes more revisions happen after several rejections.  Sometimes an editor loves the story and wants to publish it. 

And that’s a sketchy outline of the writing process….no standard, right or easy way about it.