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Music as Substance and Form in Grace Notes

Music as Substance and Form in Grace Notes

In the novel Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty, Catherine’s growth as an artist through the story provides both substance and form to the story.

Early on in Catherine’s life, she was taught and influenced by the people close to her. Miss Bingham was her first formal teacher. She taught Catherine things she seemed to have known beforehand: “Miss Bingham says it’s all inside her head and all she has to do is draw it out” (99). Miss Bingham also gave Catherine her first manuscript jotter, taking her on her way to becoming a composer. Catherine’s family was also a big influence. Granny Boyd taught Catherine songs they would sing in “the rounds of the kitchen” (145). In contrast to Miss Bingham and Granny Boyd, it seems as if her father wanted to have more control over her music interest. When listening to the Lambeg drums, her father called it “Sheer bloody bigotry” (258), yet Catherine thought it interesting with the complex rhythms. The strongest influences on Catherine, as with most children, come at an early age, and for Catherine this all happens in her home town.

There are also outside influences on Catherine’s development as an artist. Catherine first saw Huang Xiao Gang at a composition workshop at the university. Huang talked about “pre-hearing and inner hearing” (33), and other ways of thinking of music in very non-western methods. Catherine remembers the ‘pre-hearing’ and ‘inner hearing’ quite a few times later, when she has ideas about music. Catherine also learns while visiting the composer Anatoli Melnichuck in Kiev. She does not actually learn directly from Melnichuck, but learns about things when she is there. When she visits the Refectory church she hears the bells in the bell tower, making a reverberating “Tintinnabulation” (124). Catherine as well hears the monks in the church singing. The singing came without warning, “it was not sacred singing – there was a lightness to it” (125). The singing there at the Refectory church reminded her of Granny Boyd singing ‘The Bell Doth Toll’. The outside influences in Catherine’s life gave some contrast and some interesting aspects to her music.

The influences and teachings in her life all come together to create Vernicle, which is played for the BBC at the end of the novel. Her music comes in two parts, like “the bilateral symmetry of a scallop shell” (273).

Trapped by Two Cultures in Beets, Made You Mine, America, and Sangre 24

Something that has always fascinated me is the confrontation with a completely different culture. We do not have to travel far to realize that people really lead different lives in other countries and that the saying “Home sweet home” often applies to most of us. What if we suddenly had to leave our homes and settle somewhere else, somewhere where other values and beliefs where common and where people spoke a different language? Would we still try to hang on to the ‘old home’ by speaking our mother tongue, practising our own religion and culture or would we give in to the new and exciting country and forget our past? And what would it be like for our children, and their children? In Identity Lessons – Contemporary Writing About Learning to Be American I found many different stories telling us what it is like to be “trapped” between two cultures. In this short essay I aim to show that belonging to two cultures can be very confusing.

In ‘Beets’ by Tiffany Midge we meet a family of four, where the mother is an Indian and the father is white. The eldest daughter learns about the Plains Indians and their culture in school, but the “truth” she is told there is different from the one her father wants to prove. Such mixed messages are also what the speaker of Abraham Rodriguez Jr’s ‘The Boy Without a Flag’ receives. He refuses to salute the American flag, because his father keeps on talking about all the bad things America has done to their home Puerto Rico, and thus believes that he has done what is expected of him, but the father gets angry with him for jeopardizing his education and future. The boy feels as if the father has collaborated with the enemy and does not understand how this could have happened. It took him until he had grown up to understand that the father only wanted what was best for him.

In ‘Made You Mine, America’ Ali Zarrin describes his coming to the USA as a teenager to study and find himself a better future. It was a struggle for him to cope with the differences from his native country in the Middle East: America was to be the country of dreams and possibilities, but he had to realize it had the poor and homeless people as well.

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