Musical Scores and Manuscripts–Layering in the Theme







The local symphony’s season opened this week, debuting with several numbers bearing a Spanish flair, including Ravel’s “Bolero”.  If you’ve heard the work, a simple melody is repeated over and over as it threads its way through the orchestra.  Each instrumental section is layered in, one at a time, beginning with the flute, followed by the clarinet, then the oboe, continuing on through the different families of  instruments like a genealogy, building into a climatic finish with tympanis, cymbals, and bass drums. 

Throughout the entire thirteen minutes, a drummer beats out a rhythm that is also consistent—ret, ret, tat-a-tat-a, tat-a-tat-a, ret, ret—like a backdrop of scenery flavoring the melody’s journey. In an interview after the number’s premiere, Ravel explained that Bolero constituted “an experiment in a special and limited direction. . .consisting wholly of ‘orchestral tissue without music’—of one very long, gradual crescendo.”

Listening to the orchestra perform, I noted how similar this piece’s structure is to writing a book. An author sets the scene, weaving the characters into the plot, one at a time. As the story progresses, the characters react with each other, the layering of the story building to a climactic finish that leaves the reader breathless.

Even though Bolero repeats the melody line several times, I couldn’t help but wonder if Ravel agonized over each note in the score, or struggled with the order of the instruments as they entered the melody—just like authors wrestle with each word typed on the page.

Perhaps it is in the battle for the perfect word or note our inspiration finds value, our inner quest finds peace. For if we reflect on our finished manuscripts, we want to see a masterpiece worthy of others’ attention. I can only believe that need for perfection was instilled in us by a loving heavenly Father. 

For when God created the world, and added the layers of vegetation, animals, and people, He looked over what He had done and said, “It is good.” Only then, did He rest.

As His children, we do the same.


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