When I came across this watercolor from the late 1980s I still liked it, but had no recollection of the scene. It reminded me of twisted trees I saw last year along the coast of Florida, but I knew that couldn't be it. I studied and studied the painting, and then suddenly it came to me - these were the branches of a Siberian peaberry in our Vermont garden, and the ferns that grew underneath them. When we sat on our terrace in back of the house, you'd see this view up underneath the branches. I must have been trying to capture the energy and busy-ness I found in the mixture of foliage. Once the memory snapped into place, I was right back there.
The painting also reminded me of a recurrent dream: I am seated at the piano, or preparing to sing, but the music in front of me is a painting or picture, not a score. I have to "play" or "sing" the painting.
This watercolor looks like music to me! The rhythmic punctuation of the spiky vertical foliage at the top; the twisting branches could be chordal structures; the curving ferns a repetitive, looping pattern of melody. Last night at choir we worked for two hours on works by Stravinsky for our upcoming annual fundraising concert, November 2. We worked hard on a piece called Credo, which has a complex rhythmical structure that our director parsed for us; we went rhoguh,marking our scores, then saying the words in rhythm, then singing them. It took a lotof concentration, and it's no wonder that my mind went in that direction this morning even though the dreams were a while ago.
My bedtime reading lately has been a book called The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World's Wild Places, by Bernie Krause. Krause is a musician, recording engineer, and scientist with a PhD in bioacoustics who has spent a great deal of time making recordings in very wild places, capturing and studying their particular "sound signatures." In a lot of ways, his premise seems pretty obvious to me, and has since I was a child - of course music came from the natural world, of which we (and our voices, our talent for mimicry, and our ability to make sounds with tools) are an intrinsic part. I read the first half of the book, and skimmed the rest. Of course, Krauses' book is all about animals and the natural sounds of water, wind, and rain -- he doesn't say anything about playing or singing inspired by foliage or rocks! But visual rhythm and pattern exist everywhere, and I see no reason why they too can't be translated into sound, music, dance and movement.