Creative Garden: Part 1
Part 1 in a Series
Leonard Bernstein wrote the music to “Candide”, one of my all time favorite operettas. It debuted in 1974 on Broadway, and I had the pleasure of seeing it in 1975, at the Ed Sullivan theatre in New York City. The experience was one I will never forget, and watching the story unfold, with musicians and actors close enough to touch, was reason enough for me to fall in love with it.
Yes, I had seen various operatic and theatrical productions in the days leading up to that performance, but, I had yet to witness such a creative approach to the art of “musical theatre.” In fact, seeing “Candide” changed my entire outlook on a career in music. It wasn’t a result of the music alone, but for how the visual spectacle touched my soul, and created memories that I hope will never fade. This also spurred my interest in the process of the creative arts; how and why people create what they do.
I decided that playing in a symphony was not for me, and yearned to play for opera, ballet, and musical theater. I needed more than just the ink of musical notes on a page, of long black skirts and white blouses, and endless solo guest artists satisfying their tiresome egos. I wanted color, dimension, and variation.
As a young flutist, I asked my coach how she played with such feeling. She told me, “Tell a story with the notes. The phrases are your sentences, and the piece, a reflection on the story’s theme.” From that point on, I always wrote a story to go along with what I was learning to play. The story created a mental image, as I played the notes and perfected the “art” of making music.
This process did not develop quickly, and is something that I continually improve upon. I realize that now that I am writing more, and playing less, my experience of making music, compliments, and actually enhances the “flow” of whatever I am creating with the written word.
Additionally, because I am a “visually stimulated” person, the things that I see often ignite my creative writing. The inspiration for my first novel came from reading a series of love letters that my father wrote to my mother in 1940, a few months before she finally agreed to marry him. Holding those letters, and reading his glorious cursive script, permitted me to “feel” his words and passion. Reading them aloud enlightened me to the depth of his love for her, and how being apart from her tortured his soul. Thus, touch and voices became secondary influences to my creative process, as does my love of the outdoors.
Looking through old photographs of my ancestors, those greyscale photos from the early days of photography, I awakened to my heritage. Weary faces inspired me to learn more, and I spent weeks researching the history of the where’s, why’s, and how’s of both Russian and Armenian immigration in the years preceding WW I. A subsequent “writer’s block” sent me to travel back to where I was born, and spend quiet time in the park/zoo where my parents had many of their early dates. Although I frequented this place as a youth, I had never walked or viewed it through the eyes of two people in love during The Great Depression.
That evening, while attempting to get some sleep, the idea of creating a MIP entry on creative “flow”, sizzled inconveniently through my brain. It was then, that the lyrics to “Make Our Garden Grow”, the climatic ending song of “Candide”, flooded my mind.
Let dreamers dream what worlds they please
Those edens can’t be found.
The sweetest flowers, the fairest trees
Are grown in solid ground.
We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
We’ll do the best we know.
We’ll build our house, and chop our wood,
And make our garden grow.
Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Richard Wilbur, crafted these words for Leonard Bernstein’s exceptional music score to “Candide”, in the 1950′s, and while they are beautiful on their own, Bernstein’s melody, combined with the passionate voices of the singers, impacted my young self, and induced my adult self to ponder, “How Does Your Garden Grow?”
At that moment, I realized that creative people have individualized processes of invention, and that I should seek out various “artists”, and discover what “makes them tick”. Did childhood experiences impact how their creative process was born? Was Richard Wilbur correct when he suggested that the best things are grown from a solid foundation? Are the simple things in life what shape our creative thought process?
I want to find out, and as Professor Pangloss proposes in the final two words of Candide, “Any Questions?”
I respond, “Yes, sir. I have many.”
PART 1: The Poet/Author
Richard Pierce, a poet/author, living in the town of Stradbroke,Suffolk, England in the U.K., population 1250, recently did an online reading from his book, Dead Men, on Radio Stradbroke. A man and a woman have met by happenstance, on a train, and end up going to a museum together to view artifacts from a bittersweet Antarctic expedition. The woman is obsessed with discovering the truth behind the mysterious deaths of the explorers. When her new friend tells her that he finds her quest futile and silly, she exclaims, “Go away. Read some books about what I’ve told you. See if you don’t become addicted. If you can’t see the mystery, if you don’t see how someone wouldn’t want to let go of trying to find out what really happened, then don’t call me. If you end up wanting to find out more, ring me.”
For this woman, Birdie, just reading about the explorers had not been enough to satisfy her. She needed to touch their belongings and “feel” what they had held in their dying hands. After communicating with Pierce, I discovered that he had gone to the Antarctic, on his own personal journey, planted by a seed from the diary of Robert Falcon Scott, whose South Pole expedition party perished, on return from reaching their destination in 1912.
In interview Pierce revealed: “As far as Dead Men is concerned, the seed, I suppose, came when I lived in Germany as a child. The English book we had at school featured Scott’s last diary entry, and I became fascinated with it in a throwaway school boy fascination type of way, meaning that it burrowed into the core of me, but just sat there, unmoving, because it wasn’t something I’d ever be able to follow up, and the Antarctic not a place where I was ever likely to go.”
“Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away,
but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift.
I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick
it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end
cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more.
For God’s sake look after our people.”
(Robert Falcon Scott,Final Diary Entry)
Ironically, over 30 years later, Pierce began working for a charity, whose trustees were interested in supporting the restoration of Scott’s “Hut” in the Antarctic. When the funding was in place, Pierce was invited to go there for a week, and helped with the restoration work. He refers to the trip as “one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
That voyage, along with a considerable library of books, accumulated during his research of the South Pole race history, spurred Pierce to write a novel about the expeditions. But, it was not until, “I was standing in the Tube in London, saw a very beautiful girl standing opposite me reading a book, and wondered what would happen if she fainted into my arms,” that Pierce had an inclination of where his book would proceed.
A few weeks later, while out for a run, Pierce had a creative blast go off in his brain, and , “the whole framework – love, motivation to delve into the mystery (girl has same name as her dead hero) – fell into place.” A dedicated family man, Pierce has said of the female character, Birdie, “She’s the first female protagonist created by me I’ve fallen in love with, who isn’t based on any woman I know in real life, nor have seen.”
For Richard Pierce, the creative process for his novel began from a seed planted in the fertile, open-mindedness of childhood, nurtured by a lifetime of experience, and born of a dream trip to the Antarctic. A glance at a pretty woman, and a run in the park, led to a completed novel, with just enough quirkiness to make me want to read more.
His recipe for creative ignition contains: ” Music, snatches of conversations, faces, the contrast of beauty and ugliness (and not just in people, but in landscape, actions, words etc), the belief that there is good in all of us, and that we can, if we try hard enough and believe hard enough, redeem ourselves.”
After several email discussions, I discern that Richard and I share visual stimulation and physical activity, as parts of our creative processes, yet, he includes music, conversation, and belief in the human condition, as additional stimuli. (I suspect the latter being the result of being a natural poet.) His love of books, and study of German and French language and literature, initially aroused his desire to write about his own view of the world. Pierce confides that an early string of failed relationships, flames his recurring theme of love. The honesty in his writing is refreshing and endearing, and reveals the fragile nature of the male psyche.
“Do I still call her? Probably not. Why make life complicated?
But it became complicated the moment I decided to stand
in the same carriage as her, and when all those following moments,
those little shards of time, joined together into one fragile
coincidence. Today, on my birthday, something’s changed.
I’ve changed. And I won’t ever be the same again. But for now,
all I’m left with is her card and the bitter scent of lemons.”
(End of Chapter 3, Dead Men ©2010, Richard Pierce)
Aside from being a writer, Richard paints, is an avid cricket player, a school governor, works for 2 charities, DJ’s at Radio Stradbroke, and manages a wife, 4 children, a cat, and is project managing the building of his new home. I encourage you to check out his website and blog at: http://www.tettig.com You can listen to Richard on Radio Stradbroke at: http://www.stradbroke.org.uk/profile/RadioStradbroke, and follow on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/radiostradbroke For those who adore poetry, check this out: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Passion-Fruit/dp/B004HIM1OE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1294506143&sr=1-1
Discovering how others create from their own inner ink is my newest quest, and, like Candide, I shall travel the world, from the convenience of my laptop and telephone, in search of the various ways to cultivate one’s creative “garden”. Who will be my next “test” subject? Hollywood Screenwriter/Actor, Henry Barrial, who’s latest film, “Pig”, was recently awarded the “2011 Best Feature Film” at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival. Bravo!
Thank you to Ben Bertolinni, Age 8, for his beautiful photography of a “Finnish Bee”. One day, I hope your love of photography, and your excellent “eye”, will send you to creative places your young mind can only dream about at this time. Much love to you for a splendid future!