Music Monday: Music and Poetry-The Connection

I wrote this guest post for the blog Spines in a Line (great name, right?) so I decided to post it here today.

Music and Poetry-The Connection

When you think about poetry, music doesn’t always spring to mind. When you hear your favorite song, most people don’t connect it to a poem. Song lyrics, on their own, have to be categorized as a poem, don’t they?

Definition of Poem: A poem is an arrangement words that convey or express a thought, feeling, or emotion, in an imaginative style. Poems will often have rhyming and rhythmic elements, sometimes in a repeating or predictable pattern.

It is a broad definition, which is why there are so many different classifications of poems. From the classic Shakespearean sonnet, Japanese Haiku, to concrete visual poetry, poem styles number in the hundreds. What I like about poetry is that as long as you are able to paint a picture with your words, you are a poet.

Music also has many styles, but I think composers have a harder time stretching the boundaries, because the human ear is used to the 12 notes in Western music (and a few more in Eastern). Because I am more familiar with the former, I will limit myself to that.

Music has been a part of humanity longer than spoken language, although you could say that music is a language in its own right. Tribal celebrations with music (or just rhythms) were some of the earliest ways to convey emotions and information. Early church chants were religious texts set to the seven notes of the modern scales. Traveling troubadours sang about events, and composers turned from instrumental compositions to operatic masterpieces. Africans, brought to America as slaves, fused their own culture with the music of colonial Americans, giving birth to Blues, Jazz, County, and finally Rock & Roll.

I started out writing song lyrics, some which became songs- others are still waiting for the right music to come along (good at writing melodies? Let me know…). Some of my songs remained short and unfinished, and those became some of my first poems. As I wrote poetry, sometimes inspiration would lead me to think that some of my poems needed a little something more to create that imaginative style.

The first poem that I set to music was, Never the Same, which describes the loss of a friendship. I think that I was noodling (that’s the technical term for playing random notes/chords on the guitar in hopes of finding something that sounds cool) on my guitar, and what I came up with was slightly sad, but introspective. It made me think of that poem as I played, and I believe that the poem is a much better creation because of the marriage of the two.

The next poem, If (The Refugee), started the same way, but this time I decided to write music specifically for it. I also experimented with recording techniques and layering.

I am going to do more with poetry and music. They are two of the things that I enjoy, and being able to combine them gives more depth to the creation.

-Leon


Leon Stevens is a composer, artist, and author of two books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures and The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories. Visit www.linesbyleon.com

Music Monday: So Many Genres

Music was the earliest form of artistic creation. It brought together people to share traditions and relay important cultural ideals. Do you know anyone who doesn’t like some form of music? Keep thinking…

Well? That’s right. I think that it is extremely rare. And with so many styles of music to choose from, it’s difficult not to find something that you like. Every style of music has its standouts, and those standouts will differ from person to person. Some will have a narrow range of favorites; others are able to appreciate a wider variety.

My high school buddies and I were into heavy metal. “We’ll never stop rocking out man,” we would declare with conviction. Fast forward and I don’t think there is a genre of music that I can’t find at least one song to enjoy. Some music is a far cry from what we used to listen to.

What do I enjoy listening to? I googled several different genres to see what category(ies) best defines my choice in music. Apparently, according to the Billboard year-end charts, the winner is Adult Alternative. Which means, there are more songs on that chart that I know than on the Billboard Top 100. Not to say there are not some good ones on that one too, The Weeknd, Lizzo, and Drake are there.

I’ll listen to orchestral music quite a bit. You’ll notice I didn’t say classical music-that’s an era of music (for you nik-pickers out there) which I do enjoy along with renaissance, baroque, etc. My nylon string (or classical) guitar compositions, while technically are 20th century “classical” music, are strongly influenced by two widely separated eras: renaissance and modern minimalism. Anne Southam and Philp Glass come to mind. My steel string acoustic pieces have country, folk, and Irish influences. Sunday morning is a good fit for listening to choral concerts.

I really enjoy some of the traditional Latin songs, to the Latin pop that has exploded onto the North American scene in recent years. And yes, I was listening to it before Despasito.  I can do country, when I am in the right mood, some hip-hop, and when a song from the 80’s comes on, I can usually sing most of the words.

There is not a genre that I dislike. There are however, songs within those genres, that I will turn off-or just don’t get what others hear in them, but that goes for anything, doesn’t it.

Music has played a large role in shaping my life. I am grateful for it. Music makes me happy, but it can also make me cry. My feelings and emotions flood out when I am listening, playing, or composing. Songs allow me to travel back in time to recall events in my life. Sometimes, a new song will remind me of a past experience because it just seems to fit.

What would I do without music? I don’t even want to entertain that notion.

Music on Monday: Places (acoustic guitar)

For me, music is emotional. I think that is true for most people. Music conveys the feelings of the composer without having to explain the impetus behind it. Can these emotions be misinterpreted? Of course they can-but that isn’t a bad thing either.

When I write music, I have certain ideas of what the music is saying to me, and I don’t expect others to feel that same way, but hopefully it does evoke a feeling or memory in the listener. Because that’s what music should do.

I started to write this latest piece, before I decided what it meant to me. I am working on a video for it, which I will share at a later date. The music may mean something completely different to you (it probably will), and that’s OK. It’s kinda like a gift card that you can go buy whatever you feel you need at the time.

-Leon