The Undercover Soundtrack – Christine Tsen

for logo‘Freedom and life force’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s guest is cellist and poet Christine Tsen

Soundtrack by Josh Groban, Evanescence, Ennio Morricone, Brahms, Vivaldi, Chopin, Joshua Bell, Snatam Kaur

I’m a feeler. While many people tend to live and run their lives through facts and figures, I am guided by my feelings. I intuit my way through rather than intellectualise. Today’s close of the Dow Jones Industrial Average? Not a clue. Boring. How I felt after my performance this afternoon? Happy, relieved, tired, looking forward to a lovely walk. The same goes for my art. I am a performing cellist and poet. Playing the cello and writing poetry are two spiritual activities in their own right, and yet they merge as music inspires poetry through words, cadence and feeling. And I am not afraid of experimenting and falling on my face.

Glissando on the way down

Glissando is one of the poems in my book Cellography. It refers to the fall from trying to attain some disgusting perfection of one’s life, entrapments, and surroundings. It refers to complete humiliation and humility. A period of pruning back and eating it. I believe I was listening to Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up during this period of writing and howling. And O how I howled. During this time of admitting the truth and being indelicately thrust into an orbit of change, both of my dear parents died. I couldn’t have gone much lower. But there’s always some sort of renewal, growth. There’s the getting back up again.
Just around the corner.

Glissando rising up

Symphonymphony is about becoming utterly one with the music, and opening to the depths of something profoundly mystical. It’s the same whether I play in a symphonic or chamber music setting. Music turns me on. Poetry turns me on. Art, what have you turns me on. There is such freedom and life force behind it all.

And soul.

Along with feeling, faith and spirituality inspire my poetry and music. I am not a musical snob. If it makes me feel something and has heart, I’m in. When I wrote Playing Love, I was listening to Playing Love, the Ennio Morricone tune. And I wrote the poem with the intrinsic declaration that art is in fact an offering of the heart, whether chalk on a sidewalk or a musician playing in a garden. I was inspired to write Playing Love after hearing about the experiment with solo violinist Joshua Bell when he posed as a street musician and passers-by continued on past him with nary a glance. A free concert by the virtuoso who would be charging over $200 per seat later that day (yes, it was sold out).

In the quiet periods of contemplation when I’m not writing poetry, I listen to Vivaldi and Bach, any and all Bach. YouTube Vivaldi. All of it. It lifts and clears out unnecessary residue. They are like a spritzing drink that cleanses the palate between two courses and a meal.

And after a Grand Pause, a dearth of poetic productivity, life handed me another rollercoaster. Truths shifted, internal realities trumped external formalities, and I stumbled and bumped through a Gothic-laced night of the soul. Let’s just say I have encountered my share of narcissists, their games and manipulations. And out of this ride, a veritable feast of creativity came gushing forth. Evanescence accompanied me through creating Renaissance Waltz, Harmony, Sodden Kisses, Depression, and September. She walked me through the dark humor, the cloudy sad weather. But through this in a place of pain, I experienced catharsis. I lifted this Goth from my teenage daughter and there is no finer stuff, however passé.

My poem, Songmaker, is about Chopin, Brahms, these glorious men of my dreams. I began listening to their creations in utero, and they’re like food.

I’ve been mentioning the music I listened to and yet I should also include the music I was playing. For example, there is Chopin’s Polonaise Brilliante. I found this piece in an attic and fell in love with it. So did my dog, or at least he humored me by joining in. I recorded it on my album From the Land of Song and wrote the poem Divo at the same time. A lovely pup-and-cello duet that also made its way into Bark Magazine, a periodical on all things canine.

Cellography coverSometimes ideas, images, feelings come to me and yet I find myself struggling to express them. Then after a while, all of a sudden, the words come forth. Quickly, furiously, unfettered. And after the typing I look up to see them arranging themselves into a poem. Ambition: Untamed is one of them. And my accompaniment? A soft cacophony of birds, the padded paw-steps of my dog, and Snatam Kaur’s album Grace, so soft that I don’t even notice. Beautiful.

The message always means more to me than the words in poetry. I don’t so much want to make people ponder. I want them to feel, as I do, and from different perspectives. Compassion. Empathy. Passion. Humour. Joy. Sorrow. These emotions make me feel alive and uniquely human. So often we try to soften them with distractions. Is it that we’re afraid if we start we won’t be able to stop? It’s all too risky? Well let it be, I say. There is a natural motion to the ways of love and joy, sorrow and pain, as well as the fervent still points such as Beethoven’s space between the notes. If nothing were ever moving us, where would the meaning be?

Christine Tsen is a cellist and chamber musician performing throughout New England. She graduated from the Eastman School of Music (BM) and the New England Conservatory of Music (MM). A lyrical musician and poet, she believes in grace and the power of a smile. Her CDs, From the Land of Song and Cello Ornithology are available at CD Baby or by request. Her poetry collection, Cellography, is published by Vine Leaves Press. Her poetic journey began in her toddlership but was encouraged by her inspiring and kind brother, Jeff Thomas.  Her website is here.

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  1. #1 by Beth Rudetsky on September 9, 2015 - 6:39 am

    Great piece, Christine. As a pianist, composer of works for piano and cello and a fellow dog lover, your piece was especially moving and relevant to me and full of some of my favorite composers. You would enjoy speaking with my cousin who is a professional Animal Communicator and writer.

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on September 9, 2015 - 9:30 pm

      Hi Beth! Glad this struck a chord with you.

    • #3 by indigocello on September 12, 2015 - 3:30 pm

      How kind! I’m so happy that a kindred spirit has read my piece 🙂

  2. #4 by mrb on September 9, 2015 - 6:39 am

    Christine, you are a spirit between the string and the voice of word. How delightful to meet you though your art and thanks for sharing your influences. Snatam Kaur a real surprise, “Hari Har” is like nothing else. Sampled your cello work in “Playing Love” a surprisingly sensitive piece of music. It’s really about the hurt of beauty that a few of us take time to see, and then it is gone – we and only we have seen it. Have to read your poem now. Thanks for putting the link to the Tim Roth movie Legend of 1900 – a prodigy that never sets foot on land – terrific metaphor. Laughed at lifting the catharsis of goth from your daughter. Mine went through Evanescence. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are always two cups on my table.

    Roz, thanks for another alternate look at reality. -mrb

    • #5 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on September 9, 2015 - 9:34 pm

      Hi Mark! i love hearing the musician’s take on our wordy art. It’s like we’re hearing natives of a language we have adopted as second speakers, translating it back to us.

    • #6 by indigocello on September 12, 2015 - 3:38 pm

      Thank you for reading this piece and for your understanding every nuance here! In the end, just about everything about becomes catharsis doesn’t it! A toast to the barbarians 🙂

      • #7 by mrb on September 13, 2015 - 2:36 pm

        Christine, must thank you further. All week I have let your music work about the studio. Really touched by your selection ‘Playing Love.’ Watched the movie ‘The Legend of 1900’ with my lover Joanna – wow! What a metaphor for music. What a precious film. Not to give away spoilers, but “Take off the breaks” may be my favorite movie line. What a marvelous scene follows, what a kenning. Best to your art and what you do.

        Undercover Soundtrack, Your Source for Imagination, Roz – In every sense, best of all possible worlds to you.

  3. #8 by drstephenw on September 18, 2015 - 3:01 am

    Cellography and Symphonymphony are just best titles ever!

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