Yesterday my daughter-in-law sent us a photograph of something our older grandson had made that day. He is 5, interested in dinosaurs, fossils, sharks, stories about the Greek heroes (from Robert Graves), and other stuff typical of kids his age. But this surprised me.
I love its sense of rhythm, as though he is truly trying to notate something he has heard. We were discussing it on WhatsApp and I said it also looked a little like Hebrew, to which his father replied that Arthur wanted him to sing it and insisted he read from right to left.
When I was in grade one, a year or so older than Arthur is now, I remember being filled with an urgency to make something. A story, an object: something. What did I do with that urgency? I tried to write stories. I had the vocabulary but not the dexterity to print quickly enough to keep up with my thinking. I’d be imagining the story but I couldn’t quite figure out how to put it on paper. Ours was not a quiet household and perhaps I didn’t have a place to try to do this. I shared a bedroom with my younger brother and I had two older brothers who filled the house with noise and activity.
When I look at Arthur’s composition, I remember that urgency. His lines, free of bars or time signature, move like something alive. Like music. Last year I listened obsessively to Janáček’s “On an Overgrown Path”, a cycle of 13 piano pieces inspired by Moravian folk music and (to my ear) childhood memories of the landscape of Hukvaldy, his birthplace, not too far from where my grandmother was born. Maybe I want to hear these memories in the music but listen this piece, for example—”The barn owl has not flown away”—and you might agree with me. Imagine owls and huge trees and little breezes in the twilight as a child leans on a fence, watching. Listening.
What does Arthur’s music sound like? I might try to play it on a recorder if I can remember the fingering. In the meantime, I remember what Janáček wrote about his music, what he hoped it contained.
“Everything that came along: people, birds, bees, gnats; humming of wind, clap of thunder; swirling of a waterfall, buzz of hundreds of years old trees and whispering of a leaf, when it fell on cold soil in the autumn.”