The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 June 2006

Dream with strings

I've never had a Muse, and it never occurred to me to ask for one. For one thing, we're talking daughters of Zeus here, and while he might go slumming, it's simply not their style; for another, they specialize in things like comedy and epic poetry and dance, and so far as I can tell, the Greeks never assigned a Muse for marginally-competent wordsmithery.

But if I ever were to work up the nerve to put in a request, the Muse of my dreams would be something like this:

  • She would have long ago put aside the silly "absolute" vs "program" music debate, and will point out to anyone who asks that every musical composition, no matter how generically named, has a story to tell, if you just pay attention.

  • She would be a synthesist on a grand scale: individual genres mean nothing except to the extent that they can contribute to something new.

  • She would fear no boundaries, be they musical, textual, or personal.

  • And oh, just because this is a wish list, she would be implausibly and agelessly beautiful.

Far as I know, she's not available for Muse duty, but otherwise, this is exactly how I'd describe Deborah Henson-Conant, whose Invention & Alchemy concert video, as mentioned here, arrived this week and which absolutely flattened me. I have never seen anything like this before. The influences are clear — you can hear bits of Robert Burns, Raymond Scott, Rimsky-Korsakov, here and there — but it's all Deborah and her amazing harp and her marvelously-crafted orchestrations, telling stories you had no idea you wanted to hear right up to the point where you don't ever want her to stop. If this sounds like the Arabian Nights writ small, well, there's a wonderfully-inventive number from about a week before the end of the Thousand and One. (Call it, as she did, "996.")

But Deborah has many more stories to tell, from a shaggy-dog tale about how she became a harpist, to an ode to someone who's indispensable but whom you don't ever think about, to vector analysis of the top half of an evening gown, to the best birthday song ever. The music is sometimes soft, sometimes ferocious, but always infused with the sort of spirit you'd want looking over your shoulder. And when she sings — but never mind that; she's always singing, even if it's through her fingers across the strings. The verve is contagious: you can actually see it catching the members of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra as they play along. The only problem with Invention & Alchemy is that at 97 minutes, it's about a thousand days too short. Then again, you need some time to catch your breath.

Posted at 9:35 PM to Tongue and Groove


You'd probably just get Olivia Newton-John on rollerskates. ;)

Posted by: aka_monty at 9:56 PM on 24 June 2006

That's quite the heady recommendation, Mr. Hill. Muse or no, sounds like she's inspired you.

Posted by: Jennifer at 11:03 PM on 24 June 2006

Thanks for the intro, Chaz. Somehow, down in my rabbit hole, I had totally missed, as in unaware, Ms. Henson-Conant. Maybe she'll trek down through Nashville on tour one day.

Your wish list for muse construction is, in my humble opinion, incomplete. What about boobs? Ahhh ... maybe you included those by implication in your fourth qualification.

Posted by: Winston at 6:38 AM on 25 June 2006