portion of the artwork for Merridawn Duckler's stories

Merridawn Duckler’s Comments

Last night I went to a concert at my alma mater. The professor of music was retiring, and in honor of that occasion were three public concerts from his body of work.

I like modern classical music. I like the squawks and jerky rhythm, atonal honks, nest of wasps of violin in a frenzy, and flutes going where only dogs can hear them. I think if we still had court music, it would be this, because modern classical music truly represents our lives: sticky, disordered, flashes of undeniable beauty, extreme puzzlement, guilt of happiness, etc.

I enjoy watching the musicians. So many emotions pass across their faces, like clouds in the sky. At one point, last night, the pianist bent down so low he almost face-palmed the keys and I wondered if that had been written into the score.

But there was something about the scene that was odd, and it took me a minute to figure it out. Then I realized the composer himself stood in front of them, conducting. I had never seen anyone conduct a quartet before. Why not? I don’t know that much about conducting though I recently read a commentator who said: They all stay so slim! From moving, constantly. I pulled my mind back from inventing a workout based on conducting and tried to think why it was unusual. I supposed it was because most quartets are playing classical music written by classical composers. They know the strokes, scores, and notes very well already. They are very familiar with that music. If their job is to figure out an interpretation that considers the whole history of interpretations, they can do that without any assistance, amongst themselves.

But this music was new. The composer said some of this stuff he hadn’t heard in 20 years. There was only one person who could guide them through an interpretation, mark the moment the oboe needed to come in, or where the pianist palmed. The person who wrote it. There might be a backlog, a history, and a past someday, but for now, this was it.

That’s what it’s like to write new work. The subject shows up, newly arrived from that triggering town, and you’re a conductor, making a space for all the players. You say something and mean something. Get everyone safely through it, together, to the end.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 53 | Spring/Summer 2019