Saturday, November 20, 2010

Exercise: Write a Scene

My mother in her teens.

Recently we've been working on scenes as a way of strengthening our writing. Here's one written by my mother, Idora, for her memoir entitled "Musical Memories." As the music teacher in the Randolph school system for 25 years, Miss Esther Mesh made a deep and lasting impression on my mother and countless other students. Scads of admirers turned out last month for a reception honoring Miss Mesh (now 101 and utterly charming), in whose name over $100,000 was raised for the restoration of Chandler Music Hall. She gave a 20-minute speech that had us all laughing and crying, and she didn't even use her notes. A few days later, my mother began working on a piece about the impact of music on her life, a story in which Miss Mesh plays a pivotal role. "An important aspect of my association with that gifted teacher was what I gained from participation in the chorus," my mother wrote. When she read her work-in-progress to the group last week, I suggested that she highlight some of the turning points in her narrative by turning them into scenes. A week later she read parts of it again, including this lovely passage:
"On a warm spring evening I am seated on the bleachers in a crowded auditorium.  Although it is a large space there are so many bodies in it that it is becoming a little too warm.  Several hundred boys and girls from the high schools in Vermont face the audience.  Although the audience is conversing softly, the members of the chorus are absolutely silent.  The conductor enters the auditorium and everyone in the audience rises and applauds. The members of the chorus applaud, but do not rise. There is a pause, and at the conductor’s signal the members of the chorus stand without making a sound.  We wait for the opening notes from the orchestra.  I am tempted to hold my breath, but experience has taught me that it is better to take a few deep breaths, so I do that.  This is not my first time at the annual Music Festival in Burlington, the highlight of my school year.  We have spent a large part of the year learning the music that the state chorus will perform, as well as music which our high school chorus will perform on another evening under the direction of Miss Mesh.  The magic begins.  Beautiful sound begins to wash over and around me.  A few tears escape as I open my mouth and begin to sing.  Every eye is on the director.  Every motion means something.  The pauses must be in perfect accord, the increases in volume must be absolutely right, enough but not too much. The conductor’s baton provides us with the cues we need. There’s nothing quite like it.  During my high school years I went to the Festival three times and was so impressed with it that when I delivered the salutatory address at my high school graduation I told about the Festival chorus in the essay part of the address.  I was to have only one more comparable experience during my lifetime, and that was when I was a senior in college."

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