Debussy, Chopin, Satie, Oh My!

Coming at you on this Thursday from a corner in the elementary library. My view is of rows and rows of “picture books”, mismatched curtains, and windowsills that desperately need dusting.

The life of a year one teacher. #DayJob

At night is when the magic happens, when my fun really begins (and, no, I’m not talking about happy hour at Felipe’s). At night is when I rehearse. When I’m an actor.

Or an ac-TOR, if I’m feeling superior to everyone else around me, which is never, unless I’m in Wal-Mart.

Last night, I began rehearsals for an original play by Bridget Erin called “A Sonata for Four Hands.” It’s a play about two teenagers whose friendship evolves over the years by way of piano and a meddling mother. And it’s beautiful.

I was attracted to this script right off the bat because of the piano element. I played piano for two years when I was younger. It was a skill my grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother possessed, so, naturally, it was my turn. I dabbled, but ultimately gave it up and chose dance instead. Wish I wouldn’t have quit, but you live and you learn. Also, you can’t break your foot in piano. While I’m all about taking risks, I should’ve chosen the safer choice. #EffYouDance #FootStillAches

The characters in Sonata are also something special. There’s three of them: Eliza, Jonah, and Jonah’s mother. The way they’re written is refreshing. They’re real people experiencing real life events. Friendship, heartache, heartbreak, defeat, joy. This play has it all. The first time I read it, I broke down and cried over my laptop.

Today during my planning period, instead of actually planning for my classes, I began planning for my role by researching famous composers as sort of an inspiration for developing my character, Eliza. She is a perfectionist and plays by the rules. It’s all in the notes. Everything is black and white.

First up: Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”

I love this song. The first time I heard it, I was sixteen. I remember feeling the swell of my heart as if I had just fallen in love for the first time. As a sixteen-year-old who had never been in love before, it set the bar pretty high, which  makes a lot of sense now that I think about it. A smile instantly swept across my face this morning, and I felt the surge of joy rush through my veins and ignite a flame in my palms as if I’d just gripped warmed coals (another unsafe choice). My eyes welled with tears, and I felt so happy. So at peace. Like Snow White, sans icky apple, flitting through the woods with singsong birds and flowers in bloom.

Second: Chopin’s “Nocturnes”

Jane Austen was the first person to come to mind while this played. Weird, right? I made a mental note that if I were being courted by a handsome man, this song would be the soundtrack to our love affair. I envisioned Jane and Tom Lefroy’s courtship dance. Eyes glued on the other’s, palms touching, and spinning around in a circle of wonderment and love. It made my heart flutter. This song, to me, is the sound of a bird’s wings taking flight.

Third: Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies”

After researching this composer, I discovered that he was heavily influenced by Debussy, which I can hear in this song, but can’t quite feel. This piece, to me, felt like a breakup. It wasn’t harsh, and it wasn’t angry, but it was a slow trickle of sadness. And it lingered. This is a song that I believe Eliza would listen to as she lay in her bed at night staring at her ceiling. She might be thinking of piano. She might be thinking of her family. And she would definitely be thinking of Jonah. She probably has a couple glow-in-the-dark stars up there on that ceiling. Maybe a single sticker of a music note too. I’d also say one of those old school scratch-n-sniff stickers (banana scented), but she’s far too mature for that. Also, why would that even be on the ceiling?

This song trickled like a half-empty bottle of honey as you’re squeezing it into your tea. You know the sweetness will be worth it if you can just tolerate the cramp developing in the center of your hand for a little while longer. And I mean that in a rather nice way.

Fourth: Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words”

“Sweeping.” This is the first thing I wrote down as this piece played. Sweeping. When you wake up the next morning and realize you’re alone. So you begin to clean up your surroundings, because what else is there to do? You begin to sweep. That’s what this song is. Your eyes are puffy, your hair is a mess, you’re probably wearing the same pair of sweats for the third day in a row. As you’re sweeping that one spot below your kitchen sink in a daze, nearing the five minute mark, you notice a flicker on the floor tile from the sun’s reflection. It reminds you of his smile.

Fifth: Debussy’s “Suite Bergamasque” (not sure which movement. I was probably too busy sobbing onto my laptop again)

All I could think during this piece was, “I’ll be okay.” I needed this. It was barely 10:00am, and I had already experienced extreme emotions from one spectrum to it’s opposite end, so I needed to know it would all be fine. In regards to Eliza, this is what she would listen to towards the last moments of the play. This would be her anthem. Her fight song.

It’s 3:00pm now. 3:04pm, to be exact. I feel okay, but I’m tired. I feel emotionally drained, which I’m kind of happy about. What was once a wall as high as the sky is now, slowly, but surely, inching it’s way down. I can’t see over it just yet, but I’ll be able to soon. I owe this to the music from this morning. I owe this to the notes, the black and white, but, most importantly, to the emotion behind it. It made me feel.

Thank God, it made me feel. Sometimes I forget I’m capable of that. It’s nice to know that I am.

Being an actor isn’t all fun and games. I try to tell my students that. They’re so excited to be on stage and have all of the attention, but when it comes to putting in the work, they’re almost unwilling. One of the things I love most about creating a character is the work you put into it.

The songs they like.

Their favorite color.

The way they wear their hair.

The secret that you, as an actor, only know about.

I love it. I love discovering it. I’m happy I started to today.

Walls down, bottoms up, and cheers to feeling.

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