An update from our seventeenth Weekly Writing Workshop!
A summary of the workshop, plus some of the output published below
The Stone Soup Weekly Writing Workshop is open to all Stone Soup contributors and subscribers. Every Friday, we meet for an hour-and-a-half via Zoom to respond to a new writing challenge, write together in our virtual room, and then share what we have written with one another.
Our session on July 24 included young writers from across the US, from France, and the UK, and was the third one that was led by one of our participants–this time, former contributor and current Stone Soup intern Anya Geist. It was a thought provoking and inspirational presentation: thank you, Anya, for a really great job!
Anya guided us through a number of different musical styles, asking us to think about how the music made us feel, what mood it expressed, and what colors it conjured up for us. We moved from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, via Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, Sousa’s classic marching band tune Washington Post, and a Puccini aria (O Mio Babbino Caro), through to Helpless from Miranda’s musical Hamilton, gathering people’s responses to each one as we went. We talked about the different colors (blue for classical, brown for jazz) and moods (from joy to yearning) each one evoked. We then moved on to consider the impact of different arrangements–from symphony to soloist–and the varied feelings evoked by different instruments, whether brass, strings or wind. Finally, we were asked to consider the sensations conjured up by the setting the performance takes place in. Anya closed with a piece of writing from Matt Killeen’s Orphan Monster Spy, that demonstrates the powerful evocative language that music can bring to a passage: “. . . random drops of high notes, like falling spring rain across the minor bass chords. Raindrops that streak across the windowpane, barely making their presence felt, but ruining the day.”
The Writing Challenge: Use any musical element–different instruments, arrangements, styles, and settings–to write about music. It could be about how music makes someone feel, or the story of someone involved in music, or anything else you think up.
The Participants: Simran, Abi, Liam, Nami, Maddie, Hera, Shreya, Heather, Sofie, Aditi, Tilly, Vishnu, Gracie, Janani, Michele, Charlotte, Enni, Lisa, Suman, Ever, Scarlet, Madeline, Shreya, Kanav, Anya, and more…
Read on to experience some of the powerful, evocative writing created in the workshop!
Aditi Dinesh, 11
Lynn took a deep breath. She sat up straight and started to play. Her fingers flowed over the keys like a stream on a bed of rocks. Her foot pressed down on the pedal. The sharp notes dulled like they had been covered in cream. The richness was broken by the thunder. Dull at first then moving closer from the left. An incoming storm. The cries of children came out of the wood. Seeking shelter. Afraid of the lightning. Then it came. Crackling and booming, paired with the thunder. A gale was ripping through the keys. Then it was calm. The eye of the storm. As suddenly as it came, the calm was gone. The music turned violent. Louder. Louder. Louder.
Lynn leaned back, her heart pounding. She looked out the window and saw a bright and sunny day.
My Brother was the Bayou
Liam Hancock, 12
“I want to listen to the man tonight,” I said nonchalantly, leaning back in my rocking chair. I glanced over to Mama, who seemed a world away. With needles, and thread, and table cloths strewn about tables.
She sighed, her fingers artfully dancing around one another in a timeless ballet. Needle, thread, tablecloth. Tablecloth, needle, thread. “If Pops is in the mood,” she replied, her voice distant as the indigo sky spanned out about the swaying trees and warming bayou air. A small, wooden raft trundled by. “And it’s up to the man, Jackson, if he wants to play.”
I shrugged, grabbing hold of our shambled roof and yanking myself to a stand, nodding in satisfaction as the rocking chair rolled back and slammed headlong into our small swamp cabin, sending the precarious boards shuddering in protest. I leapt down to the muddy banks, swatting away an assault of mosquitoes.
“He plays when I want him to,” I pressed, the brown-greenish sheen of river water and soppy dirt seeping into my hunting boots. “And when I want to sleep, he stops.” I hesitated. “I think he likes me.”
Mama took a pretty second to cast me a quizzical look. “That’s the most fine dandy and rediculous idea I’ve ever heard with these two ears.” She returned back to her knitting. “Pops should be nearby, maybe on Elkdead Island. Why don’t you take the skiff over?”
I grinned. “I knew you’d come around!” I cried, leaping into our humble two-seater skiff and unknotting the rope in a supersonic leap.
Pops’ favorite hunting stop was Elkdead Island, and on a good day, he’d return back to the cabin with a hunk of deer meat and some camouflage paint smudged over his nose that Mama would fuss over for the entirety of dinner meal until he washed up. It wouldn’t take much too long to find him in the shallow sawgrass. The island didn’t offer much in the way of tree cover, naturally making the job of gator hunting much cleaner than on the other side of the river.
I was out onto the river with a good shove of the arms and started on my way. Oars in, oars out. Oars in, oars out. And hope none of the gators are about.
Elkdead Island was a fifteen minute skiff ride across the winding river. Weaving like Mama’s fingers through the bayou, easing along with everywhere to go but nowhere to be. Sometimes I’d hear the man marching through the forestry beside me, and I’d ask him to play, and he’d stop and he’d duck back into the trees before I could get a good glimpse.
Nonetheless, I reached the narrow dock at Elkdead Island in decent timing, roped the skiff back up, and waded onto shore. The sawgrass was singed by a recent fire, although it was already rebounding to give the gators a decent place to hide. I doubted the hunt would be easy, but Pops had his ways. Crunched around in the grass, sometimes ripped out blades even when they tore up his palms and fingers and nails till he came home with a mess of an arm but a meal for the evening.
Carefully, I pulled down my jeans till there wasn’t no room for the grass to crawl up my breeches and sting me with its catching thorns. I leapt over grasses and into fine clearings, keeping an eye out for my father on the island.
I found him a quarter, maybe half mile in, stalking a gator away from the water. It looked like he’d already caught us the meal tonight, was just doing some pleasure hunting. I hated the words, pleasure hunting. It was wrong and it was crude and it was horrible, but Pops knew his rights and he didn’t let me stand between him and his gators.
Shaking my head in disdain, I trudged out to the dock again and looked out over the small bay of water.
I dipped my hands into the water. “Play,” I ordered, looking around the area. “Please. Play.”
And, like a ghost slaved unto me, the music floated from the tree line. I closed my eyes as the sound pierced the waning sun, easing it into the horizon. Sending me into the sky in place. Arousing the stars and forcing them through the dark sheen of night. The notes, they slashed and they slaughtered, but they loved and they cared, but they lost and they died.
I brought my hand up from the mire, deciding not to mind the mess on my shirt mama would surely have a fit over when I sat down for evening supper. Instead, I pulled out the small locket, dimly shimmering as the sun coursed through its links, its strings. Winding. Weaving. Like Mama’s fingers on the mantle. Like Pop’s on the shotgun.
Like the man’s, dancing across the harmonica and bringing me back, every time, to the brother that I loved.
I opened the small locket, watching my heart split open and my lungs split open and my life split open seeing his face. I slowly looked back up to the bayou, watching the easing water. Everywhere to go but nowhere to be. My brother was the bayou. He left his papers at home and he wandered into the wild with his harmonica and his heart, and let the freedom take him away.
I shut the locket as the boards creaked threateningly on the dock. Something grabbed me by the shoulders. I whirled around, fists curled for a fight…
“Hey, Jackson.” And there stands the man, a harmonica wedged into his teeth. And he’s my brother. And he’s got those kind, rich chocolate eyes and the short, now thinning red hair, and that same locket. That same locket as mine, shimmering under the sun such as mine.
I collapsed into his arms. “I’ll come,” I sobbed, grasping his solid arms. “I’ll come!”
He laughed, letting me go. “No,” he said. “We’ll come. Together.”
I smiled softly, watching Pops chase the poor gator across the island. Mama fingering her mantle. And I looked back to the skiff. “Together,” I repeated.
Madeline Kline, 12
I sit on the piano bench, eyes closed and listening to the music pouring out of the computer screen. Nervous about my turn, whether the microphone will work, whether I’ll mess up, whether my beautiful dress makes me look good.
When the previous performer’s song fades away and fizzles out, I set up the microphone and sit on the bench, rigid and nervous. My first piece is a duet, played with the computer instead of my teacher, who would normally play with me. I play it well, catching all the jubilant, excited notes springing from my fingertips and wrist. I roll through the dreamy parts and stop my wrist bouncing until the music regains its jubilant tone. I end my duet on a low chord, bellowing into the microphone that I’m done with my first piece.
That was my warmup. I wait for the other kids to finish as I take my turn, second to last performance in the recital. I turn on the metronome, silently flashing back and forth, back and forth, to use as my guide while I play. The music starts flowing from my fingers and wrists, just as I practiced. The notes are synchronized, steady triplets, like a clock ticking three times instead of two. I get louder, intensify, soften, hide the sound, following my left hand’s guidance. I end with four bold chords, sounding like fireworks, making the piece go out with a bang.
The audience remains quiet (being muted) as I switch to the next piece, turn off the metronome, and play through the beginning in my head. I lift my wrists a little and drop, creating the mysterious, suspenseful first chord, described by my teacher as being like the first step into a mystical enchanted forest. It continues into a bright flower field, with the soft brush of grass being the left hand, and the birds trilling into the chirpy animal sounds of the right hand. The piece continues, suspenseful, bouncy, suspenseful, bouncy, suspenseful, bouncy. Suddenly, the tempo changes, faster and louder into a jubilant dance. Continuing, the dance tires back into the bright meadow, with the animals and birds, and calming grass. Falling from the sky start gentle flurries of snow, running up and down gently and smoothly. Finally, the snow fades away, dissolving the picture into a final, almost silent, note.
The audience begins silently applauding, muted while I silently mute myself and the teacher introduces the next performer. After the recital, everyone who was there for me called, gushing about how amazing I was. Flowers were given, and compliments and congratulations. Afterward, I can honestly say that this virtual recital may very well have been the best one I’ve ever had.
An Oddly Musical Halloween
Vishnu Mangipudi, 12
It was a crisp, fall night. The candy hunt was on, and me and my friends were ready to begin knocking on door after door to see who could collect the most treats. That’s right; today is Halloween, and the festivities are just beginning. After an hour or so of candy hunting, I was on top–50 candies above my best friend. Excited, we went to our homes, but before long, we noticed that the amount of candy we were holding greatly slowed us down. Tired and hungry, we sat down for a treat. We had to find a place for shelter, and fast. We scrambled inside a nearby shed for fear of the sheer cold, when suddenly, a rich, deep tone emanated from the room. We looked up, to see a woman playing on the harp, its soothing tunes resounding in the large interior. None of us could predict that this same music would lead to a horrific journey which nearly cost us our lives.
In the shed, the soft music quickly put us into a deep slumber. That’s when the woman no longer hid behind her virtual mask; she opened a trap door located beneath us, and we fell down… and down… and down until we plopped face first into a bale of hay.
We were awakened by another tune, this one more intimidating and menacing. We could not locate the source, but the brash, uneven melodies accompanied by intimidating notes worried us greatly. We backed off to a corner, to realize that this was yet another trap; Spiders began to emerge, seemingly moving towards us at a pace on tempo to the music. Terrified, I tripped and fell down another layer. Worried about my friends safety, I hurried to find a way out.
This third and bottom-most layer was not accompanied by music, however, giving me an eerie and strange feeling. As I traversed the room, I could make out the sounds of my shoes pressing the soft, rubbery floor, the raindrops trickling down from the ceiling, and my heart pounding out of fear of what’s next. Instead of being greeted with a mysterious evil, however, I was greeted with a choice–it had seemed that the woman of the first floor had deposited all of our candies into one, massive, bag, and the second floor had cornered and trapped my friends. I was asked to either save the candy, or save my friends. The choice was easy–I was going to save my friends. Before I was able to say this choice, however, my best friend messaged me: “Don’t worry about us! We have already escaped!” Realizing that I wouldn’t have to save my friends anymore, I chose to save the candy. “Foolish choice” the monitor remarked, before giving me the candy and lifting me out of the trap. “Not quite”, I said, before exiting the elevator and leaving the building.
After the journey was over, I had met and reconciled with my friends, glad that they were safe. They said that, to combat the oncoming wave of spiders on the second floor, one of them took out their iPod, and played a retro-like piece of music. The onslaught of opposing notes caught the spiders off-guard, giving the children enough time to escape the room. At the end of the journey, however, there was one last task we needed to complete; how should we distribute the candy?