Tag Archives: Off Balance

It’s Acoustic Neuroma Awareness Week

Acoustic neuromas seem to want to feature into my extended family. If you’re one of my regular readers, you’ve likely heard the story of my sister and her acoustic neuroma, but a different sister found herself with an extra chapter to the story. Two years ago, she and her husband had an appointment with an ENT specialist following up on his own symptoms (headache, ringing in the ear). An MRI had been performed and the doctor now told the two of them, “What he has here is a rare condition, affecting 1 in 100,000, known as an acoustic neuroma. Now, what an acoustic neuroma is…”

“… is a slow-growing, benign tumor, located on the eighth cranial nerve,” my sister finished for him. “Yes,” she added, noting his surprise, “our family knows all about acoustic neuromas. My sister had one removed six years ago.”

So. You add two family members and my beloved character, Dena, from my novel Outside the Limelight to the equation, along with the fact that I’ve pledged to donate 10% of the proceeds for Outside the Limelight to the Acoustic Neuroma Association, and that’s why it seemed important to pause the button on musings about classical music and ballet to give the condition and the association a shout-out this week. Happy Acoustic Neuroma Awareness week to all of you!

What is an acoustic neuroma? Also known as a vestibular schwannoma, it’s a benign tumor that arises on the eighth cranial nerve leading from the brain stem to the inner ear. This nerve has two distinct parts, one part associated with transmitting sound and the other with sending balance information to the brain. The eighth cranial nerve and the facial (and/or seventh) cranial nerve lie adjacent to each other; they pass through a bony canal called the internal auditory canal. It is generally here that acoustic neuromas originate, from the sheath surrounding the eighth nerve. When they grow large, they press against the brain stem, which gets dangerous, as you might have guessed. Acoustic neuroma patients often deal with post-op issues that reflect the state of these compromised nerves: hearing can be compromised or destroyed on the tumor side. Patients can experience different levels of one-sided facial paralysis, as well, based on the condition of the facial nerve, and whether or not it has to be clipped during the extraction surgery.

I lived vicariously in the world of the acoustic neuroma patient for three years while writing and revising my novel, Outside the Limelight. I frequented the Acoustic Neuroma Association’s invaluable discussion board, which is an amazing place, a source of not just information but powerful stories of both struggle and success. Check it out HERE — you will learn so much and have the opportunity to hear the stories of real-life heroes and survivors.

To help celebrate Acoustic Neuroma Awareness Week and increase the opportunity for more people to learn about acoustic neuromas and how they impact a person’s life, Outside the Limelight will be free from Wed, May 10 through Friday, May 12 HERE. It’s Book 2 of a series, and, while easily read on its own, I’ve discounted Book 1 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles, Off Balance, to 99 cents for the month of May, if you’d prefer to start there.  You can find that book HERE.

Want to hear others’ stories about acoustic neuromas? HERE is a great blog from writer Lucie Smoker, an acoustic neuroma survivor. And actress and fashion designer Tara Subkoff tells her story for Harper’s Bazaar HERE.

Today, and all week long, I will lift my hat to all of you who’ve had to deal with this rare and challenging condition. You are warriors, survivors and heroes, each and every one of you.

 

Me and my sisters. Orange Classical Girl next to white-shirt, acoustic neuroma survivor, Maureen.

May 7-13, 2017 marks the fifth annual ANAwareness Week hosted by the Acoustic Neuroma Association®(ANA). ANA invites you to raise awareness of acoustic neuroma and the challenges facing acoustic neuroma patients, their family members and caregivers while recognizing their accomplishments. Visit www.ANAUSA.org and follow them on Facebook.

10 ballet novels [for adults] you’ll love

Book 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles, Outside the Limelight, is a Kirkus Indie Books of the Month selection for Jan 2017! Celebrating with a $2.99 sale HERE

photo by Jordan Matter

photo by Jordan Matter

For a long time, “ballet fiction” meant the books that catered to young girls, slim tomes with pink, appealing covers. Noel Streatfeild’s more substantial and highly popular Ballet Shoes comprised my ballet fiction-reading youth. I adored the book. I compensated for its lack of competition by reading it over and over, annually, through my youth and adolescence, until the trashy romantic fiction genre caught my eye and stole my attention for {{winces}} well over a decade. What can I say? I love the ballet world’s theatricality and glamour, its dangerous, seductive glitter, and ballet fiction for adults just didn’t exist. Fast forward two dozen years. The movie Black Swan happened. The equally compelling documentaries, First Position and Ballerina happened. And suddenly I wasn’t the only adult wanting to read ballet fiction.

I should clarify something about this Top 10 list. While I’m calling it ballet fiction, it doesn’t mean it has to take place in a ballet studio or theater (or necessarily be classical ballet, for that matter). In Outside the Limelight, one ballet dancer narrator spends nearly the whole story offstage, in doctors’ offices, out in the “real” world with new non-dancer friends and ideas. The Art of Falling uses flashback to reference the narrator’s actual performing days, and chronicles instead her slow, treacherous journey to finding wholeness beyond her lifelong relationship with dance, its dark hold, the mix of slavish love and despair its presence conjured. Likewise, Girl Through Glass features one narrator (of two) who is a dance historian and professor, steering clear of the dance performance world in a way of avoiding her own dark past within it. The thing connecting these ten books is that all the narrators are dancers at their core. The craft, and the scars the lifetime commitment has yielded, have made these characters who they are. And who they are runs very, very deep.

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Without further ado, here are The Classical Girl’s favorite and recommended ballet novels (and one short story collection), in no particular order:

  1. Girl Through Glass, Sari Wilson
  2. The True Memoirs of Little K: A Novel, Adrienne Sharp
  3. The Art of Falling, Kathryn Craft
  4. The Cranes Dance, Meg Howrey
  5. Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
  6. White Swan, Black Swan: Stories, Adrienne Sharp
  7. The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan
  8. Ballerina, Edward Stewart
  9. First Love (also released as The Sleeping Beauty), Adrienne Sharp
  10. Off Balance, Terez Mertes Rose

You’ll find each novel’s description further down. In the meantime, here’s a nifty chart. I don’t know about you, but when I hear about a new ballet fiction book, I want to know, is it dark and dramatic or breezy/funny? (Or, as in The Cranes Dance, both.) Is it a literary voice (Girl Through Glass, First Love) or does it have more of an old fashion storytelling voice, the kind of book that you can sink into and lusciously inhabit another world for the afternoon (Astonish Me, Ballerina)? Is it deeply immersed in the ballet world (Ballerina, First Love) or is the dance world somewhat peripheral to the story at hand (The Art of Falling and half of Girl Through Glass)? Do issues relevant to women and relationships—self-acceptance, the power of healing and/or the power of friendship—come up? (The Art of Falling, Off Balance, Girl Through Glass) So, here you go. All nicely spliced up to help you pick out that next favorite ballet read. I hope it’s okay with you that I included my own ballet novel, Off Balance. And I’ve also included, in the chart below, its follow-up, Outside the Limelight, forthcoming in October, so that you can see what category it will fall into.

Historical fiction
The True Memoirs of Little K: A Novel
The Painted Girls

Balanchine era, ‘70’s New York (“Historical-ish” Fiction)
Girl Through Glass (half the story)
Ballerina
First Love
Astonish Me (First section)
White Swan, Black Swan (select stories)

Edgy
Girl Through Glass
White Swan, Black Swan: Stories
The Cranes Dance
The Art of Falling
First Love (warning: gets dark & rather depressing)

Fun, beach read
Astonish Me
Ballerina (warning: grows a bit over-the-top dramatic and a little annoying. Published in 1979.)
Off Balance

Literary
White Swan, Black Swan
Girl Through Glass
The Art of Falling
The Painted Girls
First Love

Humorous slant
The Cranes Dance
Off Balance 

Women’s fiction (themes of self-query, acceptance of the past, healing)
Girl Through Glass
The Art of Falling
Outside the Limelight
The Cranes Dance
Off Balance

Sisters
The Cranes Dance
The Painted Girls
Outside the Limelight 

Powerfully drawn characters you will never, never forget
The Art of Falling
The Cranes Dance
Girl Through Glass

Friendship
Ballerina
Off Balance
The Art of Falling

Sexy (or erotic-tinged) scenes
First Love
Ballerina
Off Balance

Set mostly in the ballet world
Ballerina
The Cranes Dance
White Swan, Black Swan: Stories
First Love

Uses the dance world as the launch pad for a broader story and theme
Girl Through Glass (half the story)
The Art of Falling
Off Balance
Outside the Limelight
The Painted Girls

This Top 10 list does not take into account the quality young adult ballet novels out there, which seem to be increasing in number with each passing year. Yay! Maybe some day I will create a “10 Best YA Ballet Fiction” list. In the meantime, if you’re a crossover reader into YA, or if you have daughters/nieces who love ballet stories, it’s worth checking out works by the following authors: Sophie Flack (Bunheads), Miriam Wenger Landis (Girl in Motion and Breaking Pointe), Grier Cooper (Hope and Wish) and Nancy Lorenz (The Strength of Ballerinas and American Ballerina).

The following book descriptions are courtesy of Amazon. I just about blew a mental gasket trying to come up with ten summaries of my own, and halfway through, I gave up and dumped all fifteen pages out all by the cyber-roadside. I’d rather talk for pages about how a book makes me feel versus trying to summarize it in two neat paragraphs. I’d rather have oral surgery than attempt it ten times. Click on the book’s title to go to its Amazon page and read an excerpt.

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Girl Through Glass, Sari Wilson
In the roiling summer of 1977, eleven-year-old Mira is an aspiring ballerina in the romantic, highly competitive world of New York City ballet. Enduring the mess of her parent’s divorce, she finds escape in dance—the rigorous hours of practice, the exquisite beauty, the precision of movement, the obsessive perfectionism. Ballet offers her control, power, and the promise of glory. It also introduces her to forty-seven-year-old Maurice DuPont, a reclusive, charismatic balletomane who becomes her mentor. As she ascends higher in the ballet world, her relationship with Maurice intensifies, touching dark places within herself and sparking unexpected desires that will upend both their lives.

In the present day, Kate, a professor of dance at a Midwestern college, embarks on a risky affair with a student that threatens to obliterate her career and capsizes the new life she has painstakingly created for her reinvented self. When she receives a letter from a man she’s long thought dead, Kate is hurled back into the dramas of a past she thought she had left behind.

Told in interweaving narratives that move between past and present, Girl Through Glass illuminates the costs of ambition, secrets, and the desire for beauty, and reveals how the sacrifices we make for an ideal can destroy—or save—us.

The True Memoirs of Little K: A Novel, Adrienne Sharp
From Publisher’s Weekly: Sharp impressively conjures the grand life of Mathilde Kschessinka, Russian prima ballerina and mistress of Czar Nicholas II, in her sweeping third novel (after The Sleeping Beauty). Narrated by Mathilde–“Little K” as she was affectionately known–the story follows her early life under her well-placed father’s tutelage, and on through her determination, at 17, to catch Niki’s eye, their affair, his breaking it off so he can marry his Alexandra, Little K’s affairs with two grand dukes, Niki’s return to father her son, the removal of his family from power, and her escape before the imperial family’s slaughter. Sharp, a trained ballet dancer, gives the backstage escapades a lively spark and writes movingly of Russian dance. Though Mathilde is a bit narrow in terms of her icy ambition, her story is an unrelenting thrill ride and chockfull of the stuff that historical fiction buffs adore: larger than life characters, epic change, grand settings, and lusty plotting. © Reed Business Information

The Art of Falling, Kathryn Craft
All Penny has ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Kathryn Craft’s lyrical debut novel is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning.

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White Swan, Black Swan: Stories, Adrienne Sharp
The world’s most famous choreographer becomes infatuated with a coltish young dancer who proves both siren and muse. A rising star plunges into an affair with a principal but finds that ecstasy on the stage can’t be surpassed in the bed. A dying legend reflects on the evanescent beauty of a life of gesture, lost to everything but memory. Each bittersweet story plants the reader amid a cast of dancers and choreographers who struggle—valiantly, playfully, fiercely—to find in the rigorous discipline and animating beauty of ballet a counterbalance to the chaos of unscripted life.

The Cranes Dance, Meg Howrey
Kate Crane is a soloist in a celebrated New York City ballet company who is struggling to keep her place in a very demanding world. At every turn she is haunted by her close relationship with her younger sister, Gwen, a fellow company dancer whose career quickly surpassed Kate’s, but who has recently suffered a breakdown and returned home. Alone for the first time in her life, Kate is anxious and full of guilt about the role she may have played in her sister’s collapse. As we follow her on an insider tour of rehearsals, performances, and partners onstage and off, she confronts the tangle of love, jealousy, pride, and obsession that are beginning to fracture her own sanity. Funny, dark, intimate, and unflinchingly honest, The Cranes Dance is a book that pulls back the curtains to reveal the private lives of dancers and explores the complicated bond between sisters.

Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
Joan is a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, the great Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975. A flash of fame and a passionate love affair follow, but Joan knows that, onstage and off, she is destined to remain in the background. She will never possess Arslan, and she will never be a prima ballerina. She will rise no higher than the corps, one dancer among many.

After her relationship with Arslan sours, Joan plots to make a new life for herself. She quits ballet, marries a good man, and settles in California with him and their son, Harry. But as the years pass, Joan comes to understand that ballet isn’t finished with her yet, for there is no mistaking that Harry is a prodigy. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind—back into dangerous secrets, and back, inevitably, to Arslan.

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The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan
1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.

Off Balance, Terez Mertes Rose
Alice thinks she’s accepted the loss of her ballet career, injury having forced her to trade in pointe shoes onstage for spreadsheets upstairs. That is, until the day Alice’s boss asks her to befriend Lana, a pretty new company member he’s got his eye on. Lana represents all Alice has lost, not just as a ballet dancer, but as a motherless daughter. It’s pain she’s kept hidden, even from herself, as every good ballet dancer knows to do. Lana, lonely and unmoored, desperately needs some help, and her mother, back home, vows eternal support. But when Lana begins to profit from Alice’s advice and help, her mother’s constant attention curdles into something more sinister. Together, both women must embark on a journey of painful rediscoveries, not just about career opportunities won and lost, but the mothers they thought they knew.

Ballerina, Edward Stewart
[Note: first published in 1979.] Stephanie Lang and Christine Avery meet in ballet school. Although they share the same dream—to become great dancers—they could not be more different. Ballet is in Stephanie’s blood; her mother, Anna, is a former dancer who lives to see her daughter achieve the fame she herself never attained. Christine has lived a sheltered life, secure in the love of her family. But her privileged upbringing conceals a devastating secret.

Two teen dancers, one chance to make it. From the thrill and terror of auditions through years of meticulous training to landing a coveted spot in a professional company, Stephanie and Christine relentlessly pursue their ambitions. As they give their all to dance, they become inseparable—until they are torn apart by their passion for the same man, a brilliant Russian dancer whose seductive, mercurial temperament will have unforeseen consequences for them all.

First Love (also released as The Sleeping Beauty), Adrienne Sharp
Adam and Sandra are ballet dancers, friends since they were fifteen, and now lovers. Sandra is a dancer in the corps of the New York City Ballet who has just caught George Balanchine’s eye. Adam is an explosively gifted new star who has defected to the rival company, the American Ballet Theatre. They are in love, passionate and ambitious, but ill-prepared to handle the demands, seductions, and expectations that are visited on them as they come within reach of their dreams. The novel proceeds from a true premise: Since the beginning of his career, Balanchine sought to create an opulent ballet from the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, but never had the means and the muse come together at the same time. In First Love, Adrienne Sharp conjures in Sandra a last muse for the ailing ballet master. Balanchine promises to make Sleeping Beauty for her, and that it will be his final and greatest ballet. But Balanchine’s favor comes at a price, and Sandra is forced to decide which of her loves comes first.

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Outside the Limelight, Terez Mertes Rose    *A Kirkus Indie Books of the Month Selection*
Rising ballet star Dena Lindgren’s dream career is knocked off its axis when a puzzling onstage fall results in a crushing diagnosis: a brain tumor. Looming surgery and its long recovery period prompt the company’s artistic director, Anders Gunst, to shift his attention to an overshadowed company dancer: Dena’s older sister, Rebecca, with whom Anders once shared a special relationship.

Under the heady glow of Anders’ attention, Rebecca thrives, even as her slowly recuperating sister languishes on the sidelines of a professional world that demands beauty and perfection. Rebecca ultimately faces a painful choice: play by the artistic director’s rules and profit, or take shocking action to help the sister she came close to losing.

Exposing the glamorous onstage world of professional ballet, as well as its shadowed wings and dark underbelly, OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT examines loyalty, beauty, artistic passion, and asks what might be worth losing in order to help the ones you love.

Finnish perfection: the Sibelius Violin Concerto

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It’s complex, gripping, devilishly complicated, and sounds like no other concerto in the violin repertoire. Listening to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ violin concerto, you hear dark, wintry night; pure, crystalline melody above a cushion of pianissimo strings (starlight has a sound!); brooding motifs; a violin that laments but never stops singing. In the second movement, the adagio di molto, a gorgeous melody arises amid the lower voices that makes your heart swell and swell, even as it’s breaking.

“The movement is so haunting, so intense,” my violinist character Montserrat recounts to Alice, the narrator, in my novel, Off Balance. Years back, she’d performed the concerto in an international competition, under a crushing weight of anxiety and despair. “You hear the brass from the orchestra slowly building, and there you are with your violin, desperately trying to… I don’t know. Stay alive. Survive against the odds. The pain of it—I felt like a bird in the dead of winter, knowing I would die, because the cold was just too much to overcome. But you know what? I’ll bet that bird keeps singing sweetly until the instant before it dies. Because what else can you do if you were born to sing? That’s what the Adagio will always be for me. That feeling.”

More on my beloved violinist character later. First, let’s talk about Sibelius. He was born on December 8, 1865, which means in a matter of weeks, the world will be celebrating his 150th birthday. Most people talk about his seven symphonies as being at the core of his success as a composer. Some of them I quite like (No. 3 in C-Major and the No. 5, with its glorious ending). But the Violin Concerto rises above them all, timeless and omnipotent, more spiritual experience than entertainment. Commenced in 1899, completed in 1904, a mediocre premiere prompted Sibelius to hold off on publication. He revised, whittled it down, and the concerto re-premiered in 1905, this time to acclaim. And oh, what acclaim it deserves.

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Jean Sibelius is not just Finland’s most famous composer; he’s a cultural colossus, a national hero, having played a symbolic role in Finland’s quest for independence (granted in 1917). He’s a household name throughout the world, certainly the classical music world. His music is rich and unforgettable, and the classical music legacy he left behind for Finland is unparalleled in any other country in the world. (The annual Finnish expenditure on the arts is roughly two hundred times per capita what the United States government spends through the National Endowment for the Arts*. Further, Finland’s musical culture has produced more world-class composers and performers per capita than any other country.)

For being a hero and musical icon, however, the guy was human, and he struggled. For the last thirty years of his life he didn’t publish new material, although he worked away at an eighth symphony for much of that time. Like so many creative artists, he struggled particularly on the inside. In 1927, when he was sixty-one, he wrote in his diary, “Isolation and loneliness are driving me to despair. . . . In order to survive, I have to have alcohol. . . . Am abused, alone, and all my real friends are dead. My prestige here at present is rock-bottom. Impossible to work. If only there were a way out.” *

For many an artist, creativity tends to arise amid an environment of immoderation. That’s why you hear about alcoholism, suicide, rehab, breakdowns, among the artistic sect of the population. I’ll admit it; I myself feel manic, rather psychotic, when I’m in the process of producing my most creative work. It’s the place where you’re on fire inside. I can feel that, like a tactile presence, in good art. I can tell when an artist has gone inside the fire, trudged through the long, dark night of the soul, gotten lost in those places.

There is something immoderate about this concerto that enormously appeals to me. Something vulnerable and unspeakably beautiful, right there along something dark and brooding. They illustrate that not only do darkness and beauty coexist, they enhance each other. How fitting that a Finnish composer should have so aptly illustrated the beauty of light amid so much wintery darkness.

Listen to the Sibelius Violin Concerto for yourself and tell me what you think. Joshua Bell does a knockout job with the Oslo Filharmoniske Orkester, the young, winsome (!!) Vasily Petrenko conducting.

Ten years ago, in researching my second novel, I decided to give my character, Montserrat, the Sibelius Violin Concerto for her final piece in a competition she was desperate to win. (A long, rather dark backstory I won’t elaborate on here.) She and I both lived within the Sibelius all that fall. And the next fall, when I revised the manuscript. And the next fall, when I re-revised. And when that novel didn’t sell, I picked her and the Sibelius up and inserted them in the next novel-in-progress. She’s there, now, in OFF BALANCE. Her life is safer now, with its happily ever after, prize won, career launched, loving spouse found. It was fun to move her; I love being able to create happy endings for my characters. But at one point, my narrator Alice goads her into sharing the darker side of her successful career as a violinist. Bad girl, Alice. Your insecurity is showing.

I’ll never publish that earlier novel; it’s too dark. The characters suffered too much. But I do love the scene where Montserrat performed the Sibelius. After the months I’d spent crafting and re-crafting, it now feels so weirdly personal, as if the performance had happened to me. That’s what happens to a novelist who gets too deep into their work. Or maybe that’s what happens when you listen to the Sibelius. It has that much power over you.

So, allow me, dear reader, to share a bit more of Montserrat’s story.

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Desperate Little Secrets

The next morning— in truth, only a few hours later, Montserrat woke, and worked her way out of the unfamiliar bed, grimacing at the horrible sickly-sweet taste of alcohol in her mouth. In the gleaming marble and chrome bathroom, she looked at the stranger in the mirror and squeezed her eyes shut till the urge to throw up had passed. Then she ran the hot water till it reached scalding, scrubbed her face, her hands, until they both felt raw and tingling. She dried off, dressed and slipped out of the apartment. Outside, she walked for a mile in the drizzly, grey London morning before catching a bus to her flat. The music, she told herself. The Sibelius. The only thing that mattered. Although she’d planned to stay away from the concerto that day, competition day, it was the only place she could bear to be for the next ten hours. That, and the Bach Chaconne, the purest, most out-of-reach piece of music she’d ever played—the musical equivalent of prayer. Or confession time.

Sleep and appetite eluded her as she slowly, methodically, worked her way through a series of scales and arpeggios, then tricky passages of the concerto, then the Chaconne. Back to the Sibelius and again to the Chaconne. She grew calmer, settling into that meditative state of heightened sensitivity from where she could best perform. And then it was time.

She was the second of the six finalists to play to a sold-out crowd at the Royal Festival Hall, kept waiting an extra minute while she retched into a off-stage toilet. She stumbled onstage finally, the bright lights assaulting her, the rustle of her taffeta evening gown whispering as she walked unsteadily to her spot beside the conductor. She tuned the Vuillaume, tightened her bow an extra millimeter, then nodded to the conductor.

The opening bars were always the worst. She’d never outgrown her stage fright, even after years of increasingly high-pressure performing. She knew the stamina required for the Sibelius, even under the best of circumstances, was enormous. But her months of preparation paid off, the way she’d learned, unlearned, relearned from a different mindset, played passages backwards, even playing in the dark confines of a closet. Rote learning, and technical analysis now slipped away as her fingers landed with perfect memory and accuracy on every note. The music seeped into her, replacing her stage fright with focus.

The first movement was theatrical and epic, her violin’s solo voice flitting amid ever-building intensity from the orchestra alongside her. The passage work was fiendish—double stops with sustained trills; rapid slides from the lowest notes up to the highest, octave double-stops, all of which had to impart that ineffable sense of longing Sibelius conjured so well, a winter of the soul, haunting in its beauty, crystalline in its clarity.

The first time she heard the second movement, the adagio di molto, she’d bowed her head and wept. While she’d learned to curtail the emotion, the feeling was still there in the violin’s lament, dissonance from the brass section keeping the movement from ever turning maudlin. It was the aural representation of hope amid darkness. This then, was what she struggled with, time again time again, much like with the Bach Chaconne, this attempt to connect with something so divine, so out of reach. She could only play the music and hope her despair didn’t mar the effect. Tonight, especially, the despair.

Never before had she relied so heavily on the orchestra, nor been so rewarded by their efforts. As if sensing her failing energy, they hovered close in the adagio, then supported her in the spirited, syncopated third movement as she pulled from unknown reserves to tackle the music. For an instant, she stepped outside herself, marveling at the cleanliness of the tricky passage work, the electric mood generated throughout the hall. She observed the pale, swaying soloist and idly wondering how much longer she could last before her energy failed her.

The answer: after she’d finished. Amid the thunderous applause, she shook the conductor’s and concertmaster’s hands, managed a bow to the audience without tipping over. She made her way to the wings, which were now growing curiously fuzzy and indistinct. There, she felt arms grab at her and catch her Vuillaume as she slid to the soothing coolness of the concrete floor.

Dark, peaceful coolness.

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PS: the reference to this in Off Balance can be found in chapter 13 (roughly page 192). Want to check out the novel? Click HERE.

PPS: Care to hear some less familiar but still utterly delicious Sibelius music? Two of his shorter pieces made my list of Top 10 Spooky [Classical Music] Songs for Halloween. You’ll find them HERE.

* Factoids courtesy of Alex Ross’s informative and interesting article, “Apparition in the Woods,” from The New Yorker. The article is, itself, part of a splendid book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, which you can find HERE.

Classical Girl’s New Year’s resolution

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Do I want this blog to be the story of the fiery, relentless energy of the ten years in which I produced five muse-inspired novels? The aching loss as the decade-long dream of being traditionally published got pounded down into nothingness?

Nah.

The New Year is a great opportunity to end a pity party over what didn’t work, and move on. It’s what I did in January 2013 when my second ballet novel was on submission with editors, the third such process in four years, with the same discouraging results. I love writing novels; it was what I wanted to keep doing forever. But writing novel #6 wasn’t going well. Neither was writing #7. Or attempting revised versions of both. Hobbled by continued editorial rejection, my attempts to create new material felt awkward and disingenuous, like operating ventriloquists’ dummies where once there’d been flesh and blood characters. Alas, these are the perils of a creative vocation. The muse no-shows, for whatever reason, and you’re screwed, or at least embarrassed into silence about the dreck you’re producing. And what I missed, in truth, was writing about ballet and classical music, even as, fiction-wise, no new ideas had sprung up. Fine, I thought, a dance and music-related blog. That I could do, with or without editorial approval.

Nonfiction comes easier to me, and is not so heavily dependent on a muse. You show up to write each day, you work with diligence, you research to back up your glimmer of an idea, and eventually (for me, at least), out comes an essay or article. It doesn’t give me the same buzz as writing fiction. The latter is like a lover, the former the good friend always there for you, who makes you a cup of tea, lets you cry, then helps you brainstorm about Plan B.

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I’m all for Plan Bs now. Maybe they don’t take me where I thought I was going, where I was so sure I was intended to go, where I really, really wanted to go. But they are taking me where life is pointing me, and they are showing me the way.

Back to my 2015 New Year’s resolution: it’s time to self-publish my ballet novels instead of letting them languish in the drawer. Come spring, dear reader, out goes the first one, Off Balance. In July of 2016, it will be followed by the sequel-but-not, Outside the Limelight. These are books 1 and 2 of “The Ballet Theatre Chronicles” series. They are, if you might not have guessed, ballet novels. Except not really. They are stories set in the ballet world, featuring not just dancers but ex-dancers, dance administrators and others involved with the performing arts world, or just the world in general. They feature characters from all walks of life, who are being forced to deal with the shit that’s landed on their plate. Whether you’re a dancer or not, face it, shit finds its way to you. How characters deal with their plateful of shit, how they use it to grow (shit is great fertilizer, you know), to transcend and be transformed, emerging with stronger relationships and a stronger sense of self—these are the stories I love to write.

While I’m up here at the mic, making noisy announcements I can’t take back, let’s add a few more resolutions. After the two “Ballet Theatre Chronicles” novels are out, I’ll publish my very first novel, Black Ivory Tango, newly renamed because the original story (Black Ivory Soul) has a different ending now.* So does the novel I plan to publish at some point as well, shopped to editors in 2011 as Ecstatic, now renamed Ecstatic Interference. That novel’s been whispering to me a lot lately, coaxing me over to play around with it. I love when my older novels do that. They come back to life, however temporarily. In some ways, I feel as though all five of my completed novels have been given a new lease on life, because I no longer need to write them in accordance with the demands of the Big 5 ** publishing editors. I’ve taken out of the story what I didn’t enjoy writing. I don’t groove on gloomy, edgy stories, sorrow-packed endings. Call me unsophisticated, but I like old fashioned romance tucked into my intelligent fiction. A little sex, good food descriptions, some escapism. An optimistic, satisfying ending. Apparently (um, clearly), traditional publishing doesn’t want to sell what I love to write.

And, hey. How’s about a Book 3 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles? Sure, why not?

Bye, bye, traditional publishing. (And am I still thinking this is such a loss for me?)

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This is kind of scary, trumpeting out this news. Because it means that I’m going to have to do it. I’m that kind of person. My pride gets in there, and I dig my heels in. When I started this blog, two years ago, I said “minimum two years.” Those first six months, I was ready to quit, time and time again. But that pride thing made me keep at it. And now, I’m realizing that at the end of next month, I will have achieved my goal. Woo hoo!

So, consider it official. Classical Girl’s novels are going to step out into the world. Here’s what the lineup looks like:

  • Off Balance, Book 1 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles – spring 2015
  • Outside the Limelight, Book 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles – fall 2016
  • Black Ivory Tango – late 2017
  • Little Understudies, Book 3 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles – TBA
  • Ecstatic Interference – TBA

Please join me, dear reader, in wishing all of us success in our Plan Bs, our New Year’s resolutions, and may 2015 bring us all health, prosperity and satisfaction in our work, families and lives.

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* I blogged about and posted the opening chapter from Black Ivory Soul last year. Wanna read? http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/classical-girls-black-ivory-soul/

** Big 5 publishers = Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster. Yes, them. The enemy. But I forgive you. I have a hunch I’ll do just fine without you.