Category Archives: Music

The Resonance of the Creation

The clasps that held the case safely shut no longer function. The faded velvet lining peels away along the inner edges. Musty, dusty scents trigger a sneeze as I lift the Mystery Violin from the casket it’s been silently lying in for decades. A couple of strings swing loosely from the pegs, no bridge to hold them in place.

I gently turn the instrument, inspecting for cracks. Just a couple of surface scratches. That’s good. I tap along the seams, listening for the telltale thunk of open spaces between the pieces of carefully sculpted wood. All seems sound. I peek through the f-holes: the soundpost is miraculously upright.

And then, I begin the transplant.

I place my young, modern violin beside this antique mystery. I loosen one peg. I borrow the broken-in string from my fiddle. I carefully wind it onto the creaky, dry peg of the Mystery Violin. I repeat with a second string, then slide a bridge carefully into place, breathing a prayer that the sudden increase of pressure doesn’t cause some kind of catastrophic damage.

It’s the first hit of the paddles, this placement of the bridge. It’s the first look at the EKG, and the first blip is the pluck of an E string… The wooden body responds, and I can almost feel the shuddering breath in that hollow space between top and bottom.

It resonates.

As quickly as my fingers allow, I add the last two strings. Again, I breathe a prayer as I tighten strings into tune – will the violin handle the pressure?
I have no expectations of this violin’s playability. In fact, I suppose I have a rather negative bias. I don’t know anything about the financial situation the prior owner was in when she got this violin a hundred years ago. I don’t know how serious a player she was, how much she was willing to spend. I don’t know the maker, though I marvel at the tenacity of his craftsmanship over years of neglect after years of playing. I’ve played other people’s attic finds before (“This is a Stradivarius! It says so inside! Isn’t it amazing?” I try not to laugh at the common mistake of believing an obviously modern, fake label.). They’ve all been disappointing.

But I do know the woman’s great-granddaughter. And so I pause before I play. I imagine her, a century ago, lifting this treasure from thick, bright green velvet. I feel the thrill she must have felt, that intense anticipation when a new instrument is placed under your chin and becomes a part of you, and it’s yours forever. I see her, in my mind’s eye, all alone in her kitchen like I am.


I feel the pulse of her artist’s heart.

It’s a sacred moment, this few seconds’ breath before the first note is played (or first word is written… or first line is drawn). It’s a moment when every dream, every joy, every heartbreak, every loss, every hope wells up within until the only thing left to do is let it out.

And then comes the solitary act of creating, just the artist and her medium. It’s messy, often filled with a doubt and even a dread that has held the artist captive for too long. What if I cannot do this dream within me justice? What if I can’t get out of me the beauty I know is lurking within? What if I dare to expose it, a naked child in my arms, and then I dare even to share it… Because every work of art is made to be shared, but Oh Lord, what will they think?

And so the artist wrestles. Sometimes shyly, like a young woman receiving her first kiss. Sometimes fiercely, like a warrior battling to save his own life. Sometimes tenderly, like a mother holding her newborn to her breast. No matter what, there is a wrestling.

I draw my bow across the string, low and slow and steady, a tentative pull. I allow my spirit to direct the notes, and a yearning minor melody wraps around the strings from low to high, a dirge for the lost, silent years left in attics and garages. Before long, though, the joy and wonder breaks through in a triumphant major key. This violin is lovely, and I am almost in tears with the privilege of it all.

I spend an hour playing, just me and the violin and the memory of her, and the imaginings of the unknown luthier in an unknown place, alone, crafting this thing of beauty with no inkling of its future. He could never have imagined a 40 year old woman playing the Doxology in a house on an Air Force base in North Dakota a century later. Could he?

But art is made to be shared.


2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer
Inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to
And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd
Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to
– Anna Nalick

So I take a quick audio recording to text to my friend whose great-grandmother first owned the violin. That is not enough. I spend another hour practicing and recording, and re-recording, until the Doxology sings from the violin in every register, and although it isn’t perfect (because no artist ever thinks anything he or she makes is perfect), I share it, because I must.

Because art is solitary, and art is corporate.

But most of all, art is sacred.

The very act of creating a work of art breathes life into one’s soul, and causes one to feel but a small part of God. – Anitak Eyor

To create is to come into communion with the Creator. Once there, in that secret place of communion and creation, a testimony is formed.

And a testimony must be told.

So the artist rises from her solitary place, shaking and raw and feeling so exposed, and she dares to do this thing out there, to take the secret place outside, because if she doesn’t, she will be undone.

And if one person responds – if the resonance of the creation draws a vibrating hum from the listener – then the sacred secret grows, and the joy multiplies, and the wrestling is all worth it.

Regretfully, I remember that the real world awaits – mouths I must feed, chores I must accomplish – and I place the Mystery Violin back in its case. It will not stay there long, though; we have a story to tell, and I cannot leave it within.

Tara Wiley is a writer and violinist who writes at She is also a regular contributor at and www.


Banjos in my Belly


You know that feeling you get in the pit of your belly right before you laugh? Everything starts to warm up a little, and little giggles bounce around inside of you, trying to get out. This is how I feel when I listen to a banjo. I’m listening to some bluegrass music right now, and I am sitting here grinning like a person who is too polite to laugh out loud at the stranger she just saw walk into a closed door. Someday I’ll learn to play, oh, yes, oh, yes I will.

I have to admit, I was bored with the idea of sitting down to write today. Sometimes I reach a point where I am not sure why you would want to know what I have to say about anything anyway. I have lots I could share this week, too. There’s been tragedies in Boston and Texas, a touching Dove video circulating, and a challenging rebuttal to that same video. These things, among others, are leaving me feeling relentlessly sentimental and caught under the swinging pendulum of others’ opinions, mapping out in my mind just where I stand, or fall.

And you know what? I could use a good laugh. But in all of the ideas for topics I had moseying around in my noggin today, not one of them seemed to fit the bill.

I have a method of getting thoughts out of my head and onto paper, and that is to take some nice white printer paper and fill it up with ideas using magic marker. There is something magic about marker, isn’t there? I sat down with the paper and stared at it. Almost put on some music that generally evokes some thought when I write, but that music is rife with sentiment,and I was already bloated from too much of the stuff this week. Fresh, I needed fresh.

I looked at what I had written on the page so far. Some clever titles, but not a lot of substance. I started to think about what makes me laugh. I love clever and quick wit, and things my son says (“I don’t want to get rid of my wart. It’s where I have my secret superpower: the power of grossing people out.”) and my daughter when she busts out with a laugh of her own.  And I, on a consistent basis, make myself laugh, and others, if they are near and get to watch. Because I do and say funny things, not on purpose, in a class clown kind of way, but accidentally. Remember the stranger I mentioned at the start of the post, who walks into a door? I am that stranger. But I don’t try and hold it in. I laugh out loud at myself all the time. I’m sure it is unnerving if you happen to be standing near me in an aisle at the grocery store, and I start to chuckle because my hair is full of static electricity and I can feeling floating away from me.

It’s usually when I am trying something new that things really get good. This week I decided I would dye my hair in the new and fashionable “ombre” style. Oh, yeah. I am no stranger to dying my own hair. Only the addition of banjo music could have made this better. I put about ten ponytails all over my head, and started the process of dying just the ends of them. After forty-five minutes of sitting very still so as not to drip, I finally washed my hair to reveal the finished product. My hair looked….exactly the same. I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to take a picture to send to my sister, so the picture I sent made her laugh. I love to make other people laugh, and I don’t mind if the joke is unintentional.

And don’t you think a good giggle can cure so many ails? I wanted to make you laugh today, but I am afraid my wit isn’t so quick. So instead I am giving you an assignment. You have two choices, or, if you are an overachiever, you can do both.

One: Add banjo music to a stressful task, whether it’s trying something new (think ice skating, or cooking a complicated meal- Gordon Ramsey would be a different man if banjo music were played in his kitchen), or something you dread to do (I’m thinking of my parents and the raccoon they recently trapped in their yard, or changing a dirty diaper…)

Or, two: If you are a writer of any kind, the next time you sit to write, for fun, for work, anything, write to the tune of some banjos. You’ll type faster than you thought possible. And even better, if you have to delete something, just sit and hold your delete button down, to the tune of some down-home bluegrass music. It is way more amusing than you might realize. Trust me, I just did it with a good majority of this post.

Let me know what you do. We could all use a good laugh.

And now, let the hilarity ensue!!

(A quick P.S.: thanks to Randolin Music for letting me come in and take some pictures of their banjos!)


Billy Joel and the Bards That Were

Scanned Image 4
My first published article. Kill me now.

When I was a teenager, and full of emotions and hormones and sadness that sucked the life out of me from my short hair to my painted toenails, but also hilarity that bubbled up at any given moment, I channelled most of it into writing. Where else do you put all this stuff? I was curious if I was the only crazy teenager out there. All of my friends seemed so normal. But then I would get to know another writer, and I realized I was completely normal. For a teenaged writer. We used to muse that all of the writers we took a shine to as teenagers were certifiable, or “misunderstood,” and figured we, as writers who fought equally crazy and dangerous demons, must be on a path to post-mortem success like all the other crazies, Poe and Dickinson topping the list.

It did not take much to push me feverishly to my desk, or into a corner if a desk or table was not near, pen and notebook in hand, ready to fight it out through words until my shoulders tensed up to meet my ears and my hand was cramped around the pen in a way I imagined could only be undone surgically. Every thing was just so big, every look from a friend or stranger, every prank played on a pal, every crisis a friend faced, real or imagined, took my feet out from under me, my breath from my lungs, twisting my stomach in knots until I could write it out. I was obsessed with journals, and had about a dozen. I had then, and have now, very serious and set opinions regarding pens and pencils. The best pencil was a Red Velvet, one no longer manufactured. Curse those office supply conglomerates. Don’t they understand? I’m pretty sure my parents even got them for me for Christmas once. Pens had to be fine point for college-ruled paper, and blue. I preferred college-rule, because I wrote neater on it; I was forced to control my wild hand as it flew across the page. And I liked blue because it was brighter than black. Simple as that.

This was all when writing was the most romantic thing I could imagine. Every song made me fall in love, not with anyone in particular, just in love. Every book held possibility, and was granted forgiveness and grace if it didn’t live up to my standards, by the mere fact that I knew a better book could be waiting for me under the next cover I would open. Poetry was

Though I decorated my tiny writing space with care, i did not attend to it with such care.  Ahem.
Though I decorated my tiny writing space with care, I did not attend to it with such care. Ahem.

magical, not because it was well-crafted, or perfect, but because it was there, and its presence made me feel somehow like I was less of a freak for writing poetry of my own. I don’t reflect on my teenage years with much dew in my eyes, though as I write this I imagine I should perhaps give my friends and family a little more credit than I did then. I hurt over the fact of my being misunderstood, when maybe I should have relished a little more in their patience and tolerance. (Another poem, Allison? About stars this time? That’s…great. Well done, you.) Their praise was rarely peppered with sarcasm. Yes, I owe their memories a little more than perhaps I have given.

One great punch in the emotional gut was music. I know most teenagers are fueled by music, but our little group stood on the same level of strange as me on this point. We were listening to the Beatles, and Billy Joel, when a more appropriate adolescent choice would have perhaps been Green Day or Soundgarden. We like those bands, too, liked finding new music. But classic rock and pop were where we all connected somehow. I have a distinct memory of a friend miming riding a motorcycle around the room while we listened to Uptown Girl. His beach visor was worn upside-down and his clothes spoke to the volleyball we played on the South Florida beaches each weekend. But the CD in the player was Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Volume 2.

This past week I was in Barnes and Noble and I wandered the bookshelves, picking up random volumes and reading the dust jackets, wondering on how some books ever get published, and would my own ever grace a shelf other than the digital one in my Scrivener file? I rarely do this in bookstores anymore. Usually there is at least one, if not two kids in tow,  and the oldest is only in the bookstore under coercion of promised treats at the cafe. He loves to read, loves books, but cannot understand the pleasure of books when you are not buying, or borrowing, for the purpose of reading.

Wandering is what I do best. I wander stores (later becoming frustrated at the time I wasted), I wander the house while I clean, I wander the page as I write. I wander, waiting for something to give me pause, something worth paying attention to, something worth following. As I wandered the bookstore, relishing a bit in my wandering, Billy Joel’s “Shameless” came on the store radio. I paused. I smiled. I let my mind slip back to a time when I let myself feel everything I had to feel, then wrote about it, not for the work, but for the words. For four minutes and twenty-eight seconds, I tried to think of a way to find a corner, a pen, some paper, and just go to town. I didn’t. The song ended, but Billy kept singing. They must have the whole CD in there, I thought.

“Lullaby” came on soon after and I vowed to be ready the next time I was was invited in my wandering to follow a thought until it was finished with me.

What gives you pause? What songs stop the world for you, if only for a few moments?

Mental Cobwebs

I must apologize to anyone who has an intense fear of spiders, but I feel led to confess that I have a brain full of cobwebs. They are at their thickest in the morning, and it seems as the sun warms the dew from real spiderwebs, making them less apparent, it also helps to fade my mental cobwebs, making it a little easier to function. I don’t always want to wait for the sun, though, and sometimes I can’t.

Winter is creeping closer and as much as I love to watch everything change with each season, including the way the light seems to move through my house on a different path with each season, my mental cobwebs have a smaller window of time to be cleared by the sun. And that doesn’t include the number of heavy grey days ahead. Snow and rain work, too, to wake up my brain, but they seem to speak to my right side a little louder, and as much as I would love to spend my days wallowing and rolling in my active imagination (it’s crazy fun in there) I do have to function as a well-intentioned human for a majority of my day.

I requested last night that our family have a screen-free day today. I’m looking forward to it, but I hadn’t posted yet this week, and my commitment to post once a week is still strong enough that I must pay attention to it. With great effort I pulled myself out of bed early this morning so I could finish a post before our son wakes up. The day doesn’t really begin until the kids are up, right?

Cobwebs are most visible in the morning, and my brain isn’t any different. I stared at my computer, I doodled on a piece of paper. I read over some poems I have, which I would love to share someday, but today didn’t feel like the day. I gulped a cup of coffee, and tried my best to ignore the sounds of my husband playing with my daughter. I put on some music.

Ah, the power of the right tune at the right time. The cobwebs started to clear. I am very picky about my mornings. I can be a beast from another dimension if things are not right. I need a few moments to myself, time to pray, time to stretch out the cerebral knots my brain has danced itself into as it dragged me through dreamland the night before.

Music with lyrics often serves as an abrasive distraction in the morning and when I am trying to work. But this morning I put on an album by a French artist named Zaz that I fell in love with a couple of years ago. I do not speak French, so her voice moves in the music like another instrument, and the music itself is the right amount of upbeat to clear some of those cobwebs away without leading me to want to squash flat any living creature that dare come near me. (I’m saying a beast. From another dimension. I am not fooling around.)

Isn’t it interesting how unique the human mind is, one from another? And even at different times, my own mind has it’s own varying needs that must be met in order to function. Stephen King talks of the dark metal music he blares when he writes, and that music would send me into catatonia before it would spur on a creative uprising.

I will leave you with a link to Zaz, but I’m curious, what helps you with your mental cobwebs? What music? What rituals? Share with me! I am always willing to try something new.