Whenever someone finishes Grace Awakening and comes to me gushing with kind words, I always ask the reader what her favourite part was. Just last week I asked and, as usual, the response was, “the concert scene.” When I ask what readers like about this scene, they often can’t narrow it down. Some say they love the description of the music. Some identify that they most strongly sense the connection, love, and longing between Grace and Ben. Occasionally they wonder about the origins of the scene. I generally smile cryptically and make some remark about my vivid imagination. I don’t think they believe me.
All fiction comes from a germ of truth. It’s manipulated, twisted, mangled and broken apart, but it starts from somewhere real. So while the concert scene does come from my imagination, it also comes from a very vivid reality. So here’s a ‘truth behind the fiction’ moment for you.
Once upon a time, when I was Grace’s age, I was head over heels for a boy who was going to be a composer. While other boys were out playing sports, hanging out finding trouble, or avoiding homework, he was filling his world with music. Consequently, he was filling my world with music as well, because he shared liberally with all his friends: his comfortable friends from school as well as the obsessed friend of his little sister (a.k.a. me). We spoke of the day when his music would be played in a concert hall by a full orchestra. He told me that he had had a dream where I was at his concert sitting the front row cheering. I was completely sincere as I promised that when that day came I would be there to share the experience. I could imagine no greater joy. Drifting off to sleep, I would close my eyes and live the moment. I saw all the details. I could hear the music yet to be composed and my heart was full of the dream.
As often happens, youthful fantasies remain unfulfilled. I have never had the pleasure of sitting in a concert hall listening to a live orchestra play his music. That privilege has gone to others. However, one day I was visiting in Vancouver and looking in a tourist brochure for something to do when my eye was grabbed by a familiar name. I was astonished to see that my old friend’s music was being used as the score for a presentation at the H. R. MacMillan Planetarium. I walked from the hotel over a bridge and along the shore to the Planetarium to buy my tickets several hours before the performance. I didn’t want to risk a sell-out. The lady behind the counter smiled knowingly when I gushed that I was there because the composer was my old friend. I walked and shopped to kill time, and then returned at the appointed hour, flush with memories that had filled my head as I’d wandered. I think my eyes were sparkling with the adolescent adoration that marked many of my summers, because the lady seemed amused as she took my ticket and chuckled, “Enjoy the show!”
I settled into my seat and stared into the artificial heavens with the dozen or so other people in the auditorium while the adventure of space travel unfolded above our heads. I knew the score well, but in the blackened planetarium, with the surround sound echoing all around, it reached inside me and awoke memories and emotions that had been safely dormant for several years. Melodies and harmonies danced and stretched through my consciousness and into the distant reaches of space.
When the show was over, I blinked back to an unfamiliar reality. I waited until the room was almost empty before I stumbled, still lost in the music, to the elevator to join the ticket lady and an older couple . The wife remarked to her husband, “I didn’t think much of that music, did you?” The ticket lady grinned at me and said, “I’m guessing you didn’t have any complaints?” I gave her a wan smile as I shook my head and floated out of the building on the memories and melodies.
And that was the germ of the concert scene. The power of music can craft entire worlds, as it does for Grace. One can’t help wondering where that power comes from, and the pondering of these “What if” scenarios is what leads a writer to construct an imaginary world to answer the question. Memories are fuel for imagination.
(and here’s the main theme of the program, should you wish to hear it yourself)