The Cantabile of Writing

A little-known fact about me, The Molesworth Diarist, is that I used to play the piano. As in, studied it for eight years with exams, scales, two hours of practice a day, the whole shebang. It’s been many years since I played, but I was thinking the other day about my lessons. When I reached a reasonable stage of proficiency, my teacher spent a lot of time encouraging me to play each note cantabile, which is the musical notation for ‘in a singing tone’.

Now, this may sound kind of obscure if you’ve never played the piano, but if you have it’s actually quite easy to figure out. There is a way you can play each key with just the right touch that makes the note ‘sing’ with an extra special quality, where the sound seems to suspend in the air more fully, and more satisfyingly than usual. The method my teacher taught me, as I remember it, was to lean my fingers into each key until the cantabile sound started to resonate, and then lightly release, and repeat for every single note of the piece of music.

As you can imagine, learning this technique was not easy or quick, but the results were amazing. Just before I stopped piano lessons altogether, I was practising a Debussy Nocturne in A minor using the cantabile technique. It was a sweetly haunting piece of music, which turned unbelievably beautiful when I learned to make every note ‘sing’.

Anyway, I was thinking about all this in relation to writing, and how when I write a blog post I’m happy with, or read a really great book, I feel that same sense of satisfaction and ‘rightness’. It’s as though the writing seems fuller, with more resonance and import, than just the sum of its words. In fact, you could go beyond writing and apply it to life in general. Haven’t we all had moments, days, months, even years, when everything seems to be hitting just the right note? When the tone of life is sweet and full and life resonates with promise, fulfilment, happiness?

It’s been some time since I’ve felt my life really ‘sing’. I come close in some areas (when I’m on my block, with my pets, or in nature), and then other areas (like feeling bored in my job, or frustrations with the build) seem to drag me down again. I remember from my piano-playing days that getting that really beautiful tone, hitting the ‘sweet spot’ on each piano key, took not only many years of technical practice, but also required a deep feeling and sense of one-ness with the music.

I suspect it’s the same with writing, or indeed any endeavour. You need to have the technical stuff, the nuts and bolts down pat, and this comes with years of practice and learning. But, just as crucially, you also need passion, feeling, love, emotion, the ability to be in the moment. When all those things are working together in unison, it’s then that the piano key, the writing, and life itself start to really sing.

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One Response to The Cantabile of Writing

  1. New to this blogging business and scrounging the net for “who’s doing what” and finding a lot of neglected blogs and some which would more accurately be labelled “rantings/ravings” …… so am pleasantly surprised to read your post and see that you have some history, and consistency.
    I resonate with your “making the note sing” concept/visual … and as you hint, it can easily be applied to many areas of our lives.
    In this Post, I believe you made the notes sing. Thanks for the expose….
    and would appreciate your reaction to my own Postings @

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