I think in pictures. That’s just the way it is. My brain stores information in vivid, colourful images. Language and sensory inputs work together as a colourful mosaic, blurring into and out of focus to create meaning for me. There are some challenges to having a brain like this. For example, linear thinking, organization, and step-by-step processes are skills I’ve had to learn. And I don’t do well when external structure is imposed. Often ideas, or even entire projects, take time to form, and then come out as a complete work, rather than in manageable steps. After years of judging myself to be artsy-fartsy, scattered or too abstract, knowing and accepting that this is the way my beautiful brain works is a huge gift. I now continue to develop personalized strategies that address the real-world challenges of my ‘sparkle cloud brain’ while still allowing space for me to watch the mosaic take shape.
So I totally get it when composers, like Claude Debussy for example, use music to evoke an image, or to paint a picture of a moment in time. Really, wasn’t that the essence of the impressionist movement; the artist/composer creates an impression of a moment. The spectators/audience then create their own mental imagery either in response to or to interpret the artist’s impression, or as a new act of creativity. Think of a Monet painting. Colours are blended, there is a play of light on faces or objects, lines are soft – it’s dreamy. The same is true with impressionist music. Tonality is blurred, texture and timbre help express the image, form and structure are implied but the music doesn’t depend on time for meaning.
Debussy is perhaps best known for his orchestral colour, and certainly for his piano pieces, such as Clair de Lune. I also love his Le Coin des Enfants or Children’s Corner Suite for Piano. Likely written to capture moments in time that he observed in his two and a half year old daughter’s interactions with the world, the pieces are playful and evocative. My favourite, great for this time of year, is La neige danse. Perhaps Debussy noticed how his daughter delighted in watching the snowflakes swirl, tumble and dance their way to the ground. His music paints a picture of her experience, and the experience in general of watching snow fall, wondering when the sunlight will appear. Here is a great performance of this piece. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfY_JUIykoY
What if Debussy is ‘right’; what if the snow is dancing? What if, because of the energetic relationship between hydrogen and oxygen molecules, in combination with the thermodynamic factors of wind and weather, in relationship to the plant, animal and human energy in the surrounding environment, the very best way to describe the path of the snowflake is to say that it is dancing? The dream-like possibilities for beauty, imagery and emotion are, I think, one of the legacies of the impressionist composers.