Mozart and Me
First let me tell you a little history- I knew pretty much nothing about making music until I was in my 30's. I could barely carry a tune. Well, I still can't vocally, but I'm better. But around that time in my life I saw a prodigy violinist playing on TV and something just clicked in my head. I saw how her passion was coming out in her music. I FELT how her passion was coming out in her music. Prior to that, my outlet for that creative passion was dance. I needed something more, especially during all my baby-making years, and I decided to learn the violin. Much to my family's (and probably my neighbors') disgust. I think I played “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (or scratched it out), religiously, 30 minutes a day for about 6 months before I made a tone that sounded like anything. My goal was to be able to play a piece I loved, “Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring”, with finesse. When I got there a few years later, I was already in love and clearly couldn't stop. So then it became an obsession, and when I started practicing 3 hours a day for a Mozart concerto while trying to work and raise my kids, something had to give. So now I just play for fun, but I still lust for my one-on-one time with the instrument. I got to the place where I could express my emotion, and the violin gave back to me everything I put into it. Music had become an integral part of my soul.
This first sketch happened during the Mozart phase. I was in a point in my life of creative frustration. I was not a composer, but I had an innate sense of how music can 'transform' me, can take all my earthly passion and send it somewhere else, to a place where I felt connected to the universe in a way that almost nothing else could do. I was also just beginning my re-birth as an artist. At the time of the doodle, there was a desire to communicate, to show to my audience what I felt inside, in the way that a perfect rendition of the perfect piece of music would do. I just didn't know how. So maybe you can see the frustration in the doodle, the tension, the need, and the randomness of the thoughts.
The next step for me was how to somehow bring these thoughts into shape. Part of the initial doodle and thought was inspired by the film “The Red Violin”. This work, if you haven't seen it, is one of the most ingenious stories, layered with brilliance and dripping with beauty. I wish I had written it. In the story, a luthier makes a violin for his unborn son, and the plot shows the journey of the instrument over the decades and the impact it has on the lives of everyone who touches it. I shamelessly admit that I am a hopeless romantic, but when you don't have much of a voice, to me a violin is the next best thing, and when you do learn to play, it feels like an actual part of your body, an extension of your spirit. Not to spoil the ending of the movie, but in the film this notion becomes an actual reality in a very poetic way. I wanted my doodle to end up like this as well.
So, following that idea, I created these next couple of sketches, struggling with how to visually express the connection between the music and the passion of the musician-- through the wood of the violin, the vibrations of the earth and the air - the invisible soundwaves. The sketch below is my struggle to meld the human body metaphysically with the violin, a spiral of energy from the heart of the bridge, the bones being the wood, the soul as the music. The far below sketch shows a doodle of a hand as the scroll itself, the very sinews of the musician the strings.
In the final sketch below I finally opted to allow the beauty of the violin face and the female figure to reflect each other. I wanted to show two perpendicular axes, with the violin 'suspended' over it in sort of a 'magic moment'....The east-west axis would represent the actual music and the north-south axis would represent the connection between heaven and earth. I really liked the sketch after I drew it. Sometimes that happens and it is great- you sketch something and other meanings come out that you hadn't even thought of...I loved that it showed how music is the 'mediator' or the 'means of transportation'. I knew in the final work that I should play that up.
At this point, I began to paint the lady on the violin. However, I really struggled with her. For what reason I am not really sure, but I have since developed a bit of a theory....I think that there is a real element of her that was obviously autobiographical. I decided at that point to name the piece “Transfiguration”, and just accept the fact that the work was not only about transfiguring the listener to heaven through the music, but it was also about transfiguring me through whatever the process was I was experiencing. However, I just couldn't see her. At first she was looking down. I had her arms crossed, at first in modesty. The more I looked it seemed that the pose I chose was more as a symbol of 'transporting', so I decided to have her looking up, since I decided her longing is ultimately for the divine at the particular moment that I wanted to capture. I struggled for literally weeks, months even, going over and over the layers and getting so incredibly frustrated. Maybe I couldn't finish her because I was so early in my journey. I decided to just completely give up and put her aside. She laid inside a cloth on my shelf for over a year, and I honestly thought I would never finish it at that point.
The following spring, something happened- I had an opportunity to present work to a local festival, and that piece just popped into my head. I innately knew in the pit of my gut that it had to be resurrected. Don't even ask me to explain, the best I can do is to tell you that I just knew. It was just complete instinct. I got the lady out in a fit of passion and I swear, she was complete in a matter of a day. That is just how it is sometimes. I have absolutely no control over when and how things happen through me, all I can do is be the best and most honest conduit for the creativity. Now with my joy of having her done, I was pumped up for finishing the piece.
The music 'wave' became an actual groove in the wood, onto which I decided to add gold leaf (to add brilliance and motion). I decided to add color and texture with acrylic paint for the background to really show a movement from earth to heaven. I chose a very dark sepia brown color that would look like dirt, added a whole bunch of liquin to give it some serious texture, and applied it with a palette knife. Logically I rode up the spectrum of colors to heaven being a blue/indigo, with the warmest colors hugging the music wave. I decided to give that area a hint of the image of fire to express the energy of the soundwave.
Piecing it together:
In placing the lady on the background, there was a bit of debate in my own mind about how to actually suspend the wood and whether to use violin strings. I did want strings because to me as a string player, they are so integral in the physical part of making the music. Not only are they 'what you feel' when you play, but they are the hypothetical vocal chords. They CREATE the vibration in time. I thought of putting the strings behind the wood, thus giving the visual effect of the lady 'suspended' in the moment. This honestly just didn't look right, and I opted to be a bit literal and put the strings in the right order, G,D,A, and E over the face, and the face was simply just glued on to the background with little chunks of wood dowels. Since I didn't have a scroll, I didn't think pegs were necessary to secure the tops of the strings so I just used some simple philips-head screws to represent four 'stars'. At the bottom I had to find some hardware that would mimic the action of the tailpiece and found some fun loops and hooks to attach the bottom.
In the end, she was very well received, both at the initial festival and for the two years following. The biggest fan I have of this piece that I know of is a very interesting fellow I see periodically as I travel with my daughter to anime festivals, a tradesman of articles from Asia, (my daughter and I call him “the Jade dude”). He is actually, I believe, some kind of a priest from that area, and really the only way to describe him is one of the most gracious people I have ever met. I showed him a photo of the piece and it actually brought tears to his eyes. He told me it was one of the most incredible things he'd ever seen and for over an hour explained to me just what I had done, in words and thoughts that I didn't even know I had. For instance, the colors mimic the 'Chakras' and follow the figure of the body, and the sound wave becomes calm as it enters 'the womb of the woman'.....every time I see him he reminds me that he has it printed out and at his desk to see every day.
This is my biggest joy, if I can touch others with my work, if it connects me with them. In this way I am never alone! This original work is still available for purchase- contact me for details!
Thank you again for reading!