Twelve Notes

07 December 2018 on Blog  

I can’t stop thinking about Sam Elliott. His thundering voice, yes, which has haunted me since I first saw the Christmas movie Prancer as a little girl. But more than the magical quality of Elliott’s mythic-sized vocals, what I’ve been thinking about these days as autumn spills deeper into winter, is a line Elliott speaks as Bobby Maine, older brother of Bradley Cooper’s Jackson, in the newest remake of A Star Is Born. Quoting his younger brother, Bobby says: “Music is essentially twelve notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes. That’s it.”

Simply writing out the words makes my arms prickle with goosebumps. What a powerful way to distill the concept of art: just twelve notes. And yet, while it may be a distillation, this view of art is far from reductive.

I find the “twelve-note concept” deeply inspiring, on both a practical and an emotional level. To write is to struggle—for the perfect word, the unique action or choice that will make a character leap to life—and it is reassuring to reframe that struggle in a way that makes the task more manageable. English, like any language, contains vast possibilities; but when you get down to it, these possibilities are, in fact, finite, just like the twelve-note range that encompasses an octave. If we imagine our toolbox as writers to contain twelve distinct notes, hues, words, then the blank page becomes slightly less intimidating. Indeed, the rigid limits of an artistic medium give birth to—demand!—creativity.

Of course, the real power of the twelve-note concept is this: If Elliott and the screenwriters of the movie are correct that we’ve been telling the same story, singing the same song, feeling the same feelings, since the beginning of time, then how we tell our stories matters. We matter. Our individual voices are what make the music worth singing.

Alexandra Grimm is one of Barnstorm's Fiction Editors. 

No Comments Yet

Leave a Comment
error: Content is protected !!