SOPHIE Where the story begins. Tasha's mother was a frustrated painter. TASHA Driven from composition, Tasha finds her passion in the violin. ALEX She has the gift Tasha wanted, the ability to compose beautiful
music of her own.
THE MUSIC INSPIRED BY THE BOOK I tried my best to do justice to one art form using another, but I wanted to hear how a real musician would bring my verbal descriptions to musical life. For help, I contacted an old college friend of mine, Nick Weiss. Instead of writing music based on one of the compositions from my book, Nick decided that he wanted to create music out of one of my scenes. I loved the idea: I use words to render musical compositions on a page. He'd use music to set my writing vibrating off into the air.
READ MORE | LISTEN
Sophie Darsky's collapsed dreams send debris down through three generations. My grandmother's did the same, though in a very different way. She had a real knack for making all the women in the family, especially my mother, her daughter, feel bad about themselves. When my mother got her PhD from Princeton, my grandmother bought her a housecoat as a graduation gift. When my mother was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Award, my grandmother waited a full month before calling to congratulate her.
But one afternoon, when I was about 14 and my sister was seven, I saw something that changed the way I thought about my grandmother. We'd been talking around the lunch table about what we girls might like do with our lives, when my sister turned the question around, asking my grandmother what she'd like to be when she grew up. To my little sister, it seemed a reasonable question to ask a woman in her 70s. To my grandmother, too, apparently. She responded without missing a beat, as if she'd been waiting all her life for someone to ask precisely that. A musician. My grandmother had wanted to be a musician.
From then on, whenever she sat down at the piano to play Chopin or Mozart, I'd feel a little woozy with regret. It wasn't just for my grandmother, but for whole generations of women. I've never been able to fully move past that feeling or what it's helped me understand: the terrible power of disappointment, of great passion squashed by small circumstance. I've known for years that I would write about it someday.
Let me confess something: I'm a happy person. You might think this is a good thing, but for a writer it's a shameful secret. After all, everyone knows that great literature, like all great art, is born of anger and misery.
Or everyone says it, anyway. Frankly, I don't know where this idea came from. My guess is angry people. As far as I can see, anger has no more claim to being the mother of art than any other deep, honest emotion. Why not joy, love, and that awe-blasted feeling you get when you walk outside on the first day of spring? Why not the expansive flash one sometimes gets in the shower, that sense that the world, at its core, is a pretty gorgeous thing?
Tasha was my chance to explore the idea that great art can burst or trickle from all varieties of emotion. What made me adore Tasha was not the fierce fight in her, but the way she fights - always for and through an expansive, greedy love: for art, for beauty, for the people in her life. She's no model of moral rectitude, but she does wring great art out of what many would consider the unlikeliest sources.
Alex was hard for me to write. Her love for music is so pure and complete that for me, as a non-musician, there was no back door into her mind. With Tasha it was easier because she's an artistic schemer: she wants the fame, she wants the acclaim. That gave me something more tangible to grab onto as I felt my way into her inner life. But Alex was something else entirely, a thoroughly musical mind. I can barely even sight read, despite the best efforts of my childhood piano teachers, so in order to become Alex, I really had to dig deep into my research. I read biographies of performers and composers, and devoured music magazines. But most of all I listened -primarily to pieces by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Bach, composers who I felt would particularly resonate with this skittish, dreamy prodigy. I listened incessantly for several months and eventually Alex began to introduce herself to me. By the time I started writing her chapters, I felt I knew her as well as I knew myself - and I never starting writing a character until that's true.
My characters work in sounds. All I have at my disposal are words. I tried my best to do justice to one art form using another, but I wanted to hear how a real musician would bring my verbal descriptions to musical life. For help, I contacted an old college friend of mine, Nick Weiss.
Instead of writing music based on one of the compositions from my book, Nick decided that he wanted to create music out of one of my scenes. I loved the idea: I use words to render musical compositions on a page. He'd use music to set my writing vibrating off into the air. Together we chose the scene in the old church, when Tasha hears Jean Paul's Raphsody From Hell for the first time.
Another composer, Benjamin Morison, decided to try his hand at the method of Sublimated Tonality I describe in the book. Sonya Chung, a close friend from college and a truly brilliant violinist, agreed to perform the two pieces.
When I finally heard the two pieces performed I was overwhelmed. Such beautiful music and it came, however indirectly, from me! Maybe I have no right to feel proud of it, but I'm going to allow myself to anyway because that's about as close as I'll ever come to creating music of my own.