Sunday, May 26, 2013

Joyful Noise

Several scenes in Stone and Silt involve voices raised - in anguish and mourning, in praise, and in celebration.

At one point, Nikaia is surrounded by village elders who are crying out in grief. In writing that scene, I borrowed heavily from an unforgettable memory: the funeral of one of my closest high school friends. Tommy was quiet, smart, and kind. He had a subtle, wry sense of humor. He had a remarkable side-launched volleyball serve, full of topspin. He had a girlfriend he loved. And he was killed at age nineteen by a knife-wielding, drunken teenager.

In my grief I was unable to talk about it. The words weren't there. But at his funeral, the heartfelt wailing of his family and the elders put a shape around the loss I felt.

There is something transcendent, almost mystical, about voices being raised in community - whether those voices are lifted in communal agony or in shared joy.

I like to make my own joyful noise around the house - playing guitar or singing with my daughters. And one of my annoying traits is that, if I hear a song, I try to harmonize with it.

I have no particular skill in doing so - but it doesn't stop me from trying. My attempts frequently result in protests from my wife, Carrie. I'll get a sharp elbow-dig into my ribs at church. Or when she has Pandora radio playing from her MacBook: "Don't sing louder than the radio!" She doesn't like to hear a good song ruined.

Unfortunately for Carrie, my daughters have picked up on this habit. Our favorite tune to practice harmonies with is "The One Bathing Suit that Your Grandma Otter Wore." It's from Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas.

The other night we were cleaning up in the kitchen, and Hannah started singing Edelweiss. We are no Von Trapp family, but my other daughters and I joined in valiantly. We sang the lyrics loudly and with poorly-rendered harmonies.

At one point, through pure chance, we all hit the right notes to make a chord with the perfect amount of dissonance. We held the note and looked at each other in surprise. Then we burst out laughing and shared high fives. Carrie rolled her eyes and tried to suppress the smile on her face.

Now that... is harmony.

Stone and Silt is scheduled for release in August 2013.

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