Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A hobby with sounds

Today's guest blogger is Ann Parker, author of the Silver Rush series. While you're reading this, I'll be lucky enough to be hearing her in person as she launches the third in the series: Leaden Skies.

If you see this in time, drive over to San Mateo, CA and join the party, July 7, 7 PM at M is for Mystery.

Here's Ann!

The Music in Words …

I’ll begin by saying that I’m not a musician. Well, I did play a few years of violin in grade school and then struggled a few more with the piano before throwing in the towel on musicianship. But music has always been a part of my life, from the very beginning, and has managed to find its way into my writing as well.

Both my parents were accomplished pianists; from my earliest days music always floated through our home, whether it was my mother at one or another of the pianos or one of the many many classical LPs (for those of you under a certain age, LP = “long play record albums” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LP_album). I can remember lying under the grand piano while my mother played Chopin (pieces which, I now realize, are pretty darn difficult to play). When I drive, I have my radio tuned to the local classical station. When I write—whether it’s fiction or the work-a-day writing I do for clients—I’m plugged into one or another of the streaming classical stations, with earbud-surround-sound.

No wonder that the protagonist of my Silver Rush historical mystery series, Inez Stannert, plays the piano in addition to running the Silver Queen Saloon in Leadville, Colorado, and doing a little gambling and what-have-you on the side. Music was one of the “entertainments” that flourished throughout the 19th century (remember: no Playstations, Wiis, computers and so on back then!). Music took the form of singing at home and church, as well as in the concert halls and taverns of the time. The fiddle or violin was a common instrument, as were the harmonica and banjo. Young women of wealthy families—such as Inez—were often taught to play the piano, and singing ballads with the piano was a central part of parlor entertainment. (In this case, I mean “proper parlors” … not parlor houses of the variety found on Leadville’s State Street!)

Music was as much in the air of Leadville during its boom days, not all of it particularly melodious. Here’s a snippet from a local Leadville newspaper in early January 1880: “Down State street a female voice is singing murder. Struggling up Harrison avenue is a band of carousals singing something about not going home until mor-horning….” And again, in July 1880, the same newspaper notes that Leadville is a jumping place on a Sunday: “… the dance hall violin squeaks its invitation as vociferously as on other nights, while the various bands seem to vie with each other more bitterly for its [sic] respective house …” Most theatres and dance halls hired brass bands to hang around the front of their businesses and draw in the customers with concerts and parades.

Inez Stannert, however, uses music more as an escape, a way to relax and focus her thoughts. And sometimes, she uses it to seduce. Each one of my books has some piece of classical music buried in one or another key scene. In Silver Lies, it’s Mendelsohnn’s Music without Words, Opus 19, No. 1 (played by Daniel Barenboim here ). In Iron Ties, it’s Franz Listzt’s La Campanella (Yundi Li playing here … My gosh, listening to it even now gives me goosebumps!). For the latest book in my series, Leaden Skies, I slipped in Chopin’s Waltz No. 7 (a nice rendition here ).
And for the next book? I’ll just have to be patient, keep writing, and eventually the “musical muse” will strike.

Ann Parker earned degrees in Physics and English Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, before falling into a career as a science/corporate writer. During the daylight hours, she scribbles about solar energy, chilled beam systems, and “human capital” strategies; at night, she delves into the past. Her ancestors include a Leadville blacksmith, a Colorado School of Mines professor, and a gandy dancer on the Colorado railroads.

Her critically-acclaimed, award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series is set in the silver boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, in the early 1880s and features saloon owner Inez Stannert. The series includes Silver Lies, Iron Ties, and (the newest) Leaden Skies.

Ann is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Women Writing the West, Western Writers of America, and the National Association of Science Writers. Ann and her family reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, whence they have weathered numerous boom-and-bust cycles.


Terri Thayer said...

Welcome to Killer Hobbies! I can't be there tonight but it sounds like a great launch.

Ann Parker said...

Hello Terri, and thank you! And thank you, Camille, er, Margaret for giving me a spot on the Tuesday bench!
Can't say my little hobby comes anywhere close to the amazing things you-all do, though. Wow, what a crafty bunch!

Camille Minichino said...

How nice of you to give us music links, Ann!

I heard the NY Philharmonic in an all Russian program last week -- surely The Sabre Dance has inspired many a novel!

Betty Hechtman said...

Hi Ann. I'll join in welcoming you to Killerhobbies. Did you know that LP's are still being made? I was surprised when I went looking for the soundtrack from Twilight and saw that a vinyl record was available. It costs a bundle, like around $26 and has limited availability. I wondered who would buy it. My son said DJ's. I think he's means the kind at dance clubs and parties as opposed to on the radio.

Ann Parker said...

Hi Camille! -- Sounds absolutely wonderful. Better than streaming audio, in any case. :-)
Hi Betty! -- Actually, I've heard that there are those who insist that LPs are the way to go to listen to music recordings. I still have a bunch of 78s passed down from my grandparents (Grand Canyon Suite is one I recall off the top of my head).

Record players and typewriters ... all part of the same gestalt, I think!

Suzanne Adair said...

Hi Ann...Ah, Inez and the piano. I remember that scene with Rev. Sands in your first book well. I thought, how classy is that, foreplay and a piano. :-)

Music! I play piano almost totally by ear. Took 3 years of lessons as a kid, then gave up the sheet music so I could happily pick out my own melodies and chords. I also taught myself guitar. Love classical music, esp. composers of the Romantic period, but that figures with my love of ballet. (I dance as well as watch.) I've sung medieval and Renaissance music with folks from the SCA, parts of Handel's Messiah with my high school chorus, and liturgical music for church.

Back in the 80s, when I was a microbiologist, I read that there's a chromosome connection between musical aptitude and science/math aptitude. Do you suppose that's what happened to us?

Thanks for rounding out Inez's character with music. Best of luck on the release of Leaden Skies!

Suzanne Adair

M. E. Kemp said...

I ejoyed reading Ann's take on music -- and I also enjoy reading her books. We both write historical mysteries set in America, altho mine are in colonial Boston; as I always contend, American history is just as bloody and colorful as medieval Britain. M. E. Kemp, author: DEATH OF A BAWDY BELLE

Ann Parker said...

Hello Marilyn! And Suzanne!
I agree with you, Marilyn. American history is fascinating ... although my bias leans Westward. :-)
And Suzanne, I think I've read the same thing about the music/math connection. (Camille ... yr wonderful 24/7 tech support and all around good nice guy is another data point for that.) And how cool that you can play by ear! I wish I could do that.

Ann Parker said...

... Just want to add a bit THANK YOU to the Killer Hobbies bunch (particularly Camille) for the welcome and for the Tuesday ramble. May all of your hobbies be fun and your writing fruitful!

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