Where is Piazzolla?

Is the whole question of voice oxymoronic? It seems to me that everyone has a voice, as surely as they have individual fingerprints or unique handwriting. Yet, we all know an author who has a compelling, powerful, gripping, or funny voice. We fall in love with the writer who grabs us by the lapels and shakes, embraces, comforts, or mocks; the Pied Piper sounding in our ears and leading us down the Story Path. Like the children of Hamelin, when we hear that song, we don’t care where we end up. The storyteller can take us anywhere.
So what’s going on here? If we all have voice, than why are some voices so much more compelling? Is it something that must by developed, like an opera singer develops their pipes so the high notes bounce from orchestra to balcony? If so, we should be exercising our writing muscles daily. Steven King’s admonition comes to mind: A writer isn’t a serious/real writer unless s/he writes four hours a day, and reads four hours a day. Sound advice. Ideas, tools of the craft, and more come from reading. But the writing part . . . What happens there? Is a muscle exercised when we write, or rather, is it an opening to the flow of the creative mind? If our fingerprints are unique, is writing a way of taking off gloves to reveal what’s at our core?

I’ve been playing with the latter idea, that voice is not something to be developed through exercise. Instead, we need to get out of the way of our voice. We’re human. We have fears, and (ahem, not me!) blocks. If I knock down the blocks, quell the fears, and get out of the way my voice emerges; my true, expressive, authentic voice. My unique spirit as a writer.

Voice isn’t elusive, just shy, It’s just under the surface, waiting to be freed. When I stray too far from myself, I think about the story Astor Piazzolla tells in his memoir. If you’re not familiar with Piazzolla, he’s an Argentine composer that wrote masterpiece tangos. In his memoir, he tells of his meeting with famed composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger. He showed her some of his scores, to which she responded, “It’s very well written . . . Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but you know what happens? I can’t find Piazzolla in this.”* Later, Boulanger dragged out of him what he’d been hiding, that he wrote tango, and played the bandoneon. “. . . she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly opened her eyes, took my hand and told me: ‘You idiot, that’s Piazzolla!’ “*

This story captures the essence of voice. When I’m tempted to write like the authors I admire, when my words fall flat, I ask myself, “Where is Piazzolla?” I’m certain he’s in heaven inspiring some sultry dancing, so the real question is, “Where am I?”

Please see http://www.drbilllong.com/CurrentEventsVI/Tango.html for a wonderful discussion of the Piazzolla quote.

*From Astor Piazzolla, A Memoir

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