Here Are This Year's Sounds Like KPAC Written Word Entries
Texas Public Radio put out the call for students in our listening area to share how classical music inspires them, and the eight finalists include several poems, a short story, and a personal essay about learning music.
In a normal year, we’d be sharing the work in person with an audience at our annual “Sounds Like KPAC” competition, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, we can’t hold our live show. With that, we hope you enjoy reading the work of these talented students online, who are all advancing to the Final Round of our competition.
The first through third place winners in the Written Word category will be announced during our live radio program on Saturday, January 23 at 2:00 p.m. on KPAC 88.3 FM.
Below are this year’s Finalists:
Gabrielle Beck, TMI Episcopal
Anthony Couvillon, homeschool
Catherine Day, North East School of the Arts
Soren Dickson, homeschool
Ilya Fitzhugh, NSITE High School
Auden Murphy, TMI Episcopal
Sunny Vuong, BASIS Shavano
Daniel Wang, Health Careers High School
Lost and Found
By Gabrielle Beck
Inspired by "The Swan" by Camille Saint-Saens
Lost in my mind
Thoughts draped in a silk blanket
Reality slips away
Dreams take over
Dancers tiptoe to the stage lights
Movements so graceful
Gravity no longer exists
Their delicate arms
Sway emotions through me
Acrobats float overhead
Letting go of all doubts and worries
Hand in hand, trusting
Leaping over obstacles
And catching new possibilities
Young artisan, paintbrush in hand
With smooth strokes
A swan forms on the canvas
Majestic and pure
So real I see the wings flutter
Sharing their gifts
Beacons of light in a dark world
Performers line the stage
Confetti sprinkles like pixie dust
As they take their last bows
A quiet tear
Slides down my cheek
Finds peace at last
Written by Anthony Couvillion
Inspired by Heinrich Ignaz Biber’s Passacaglia “Guardian Angel”
Like wine, Light pours out of the window in laminar flow
Non stop on my skin
And, unlike wine, washes the day’s dirt like water
And warms me like light usually does
Every second standing there strips another layer of dirt
Turns my heaviness into weightlessness
Where I then close my eyes, lean my head back, and fall
And keep falling
Just to wake up
A cold and meek light acknowledges me
Its protection is a blanket of snow
And gives the comfort of a faceless statue
Sunlight returns as Moonlight leaves
Where they meet, they make Dawn
When they meet, I make haste
To make the day mine
By Catherine Day
Inspired by the ballet "La Bayadere" by Ludwig Minkus.
The lights are usually the first thing you notice when you step out onstage; they shine like miniature suns from the rafters of the theater, irradiating the stage and eclipsing the midnight darkness of the audience. Tonight, that’s different; the stage is a twilight blue, the music floating like a gentle breeze, and all I focus on is the dancer in front of me, making sure that our steps are perfectly synced. Step one, two, three. Bring your leg up to arabesque, panché, bend forward. Graceful lines, keep the neck below the arms. Plié through fourth position, extend to third, breathe. Breathe. And again. And again, and again, just as the choreography demands. There are beads of sweat rolling down my spine, and my toes are screaming in protest inside my pointe shoes. Relevaé, and bring your arms to fifth position. I can feel the lights beating down on my forehead, bursting against my eyes. I smell the overpowering hairspray of the girl to my right. Extend your leg to battement, brush forward to tendu devant. The music swells, the violins hum and the harp sighs. I hold an arabesque, using the very last of my strength--then, I find more, and I keep going. Tonight is my debut in the corps de ballet with the most prestigious ballet company in the country, and I’m going to dance my very soul out on this stage.
It’s bedlam backstage as I steady my breath. Other dancers say their muscles feel like lead, but mine feel like sandbags, slowly leaking their contents--my energy--onto the floor. Behind me, people gulp down water, roll out their feet, and keep warm at one of the barres; we are all finding the stamina to keep going. We hustle to our places for the next variation, ready to leap back into the frey, as the danseur noble performs Solor’s entré into the mountaintop Kingdom of the Shades. Applause ripples from the audience as he lands an elegant asemblé, and although my legs are trembling in protest, I do a few pliés to keep them warm. The music swells, the timbre matching the tornado of jumps the danseur is now completing around the circumference of the stage. Leap--one, two, three, four, five--turn six, and land as the cymbals crash. At the sound of the cymbals, the prima ballerina is illuminated by spotlight, a dramatic entrance for a ghostly character. She begins to dance, approaching her long lost love with a tenderness and sorrow as deep as the night sky.
I have only a few minutes till we have to be in places. I should drink more water, or towel off some of the sweat from my soaked body, but the music reaches out a delicate hand, and I stop behind one of the curtained legs to watch the onstage alchemy of the pas de deux.
Even from the wings, I can see the glitter of sweat rolling down the principal’s back, the definition and tension in her muscles as she extends her leg into a beautiful developé. Though I’ve heard this melody in my dreams, danced this pas in my head a thousand times, I feel my breath catch. She seems to float out of her arabesque, arms extended gracefully to the heavens. I can see her next steps in my mind, but the way she brings them to life sends shivers up my spine. I close my eyes, and the bustle of backstage falls away.
All around me is mist, the ground rocky save for the smooth plateau where I stand. Above, the sky is a tapestry of gold and silver, and Solor stands at my side, his arms outstretched in longing. I run to him, grant my love a kiss, and the night is the music as we dance. We press together, then pull apart through a pirouette, him acting as my axis, my anchoring point as I spin beneath the stars. We leap together from moment to moment, celebrating our reunion through incessant movement and grace. He lifts my as though I am a bird, releasing me into the endless sky. Our dance--our love--is, like my body, ephemeral, but that only makes it more precious. We are finally free. Here on the mountain top, there are no expectations other than that we create something extraordinary.
The scene disappears with a rush of movement; I am brought back to the wings by a brush against my legs. The music plays across the stage, the notes greeting me, reminding me of all that is left tonight for me to do. Yet although my body still aches, my mind is now heady with a sense of anticipation for what will come. Not anticipation of failure or disaster, but for the second when the steps I’ve practiced a hundred times before become nothing less than magical. The moment when, like on the mountain top, you leap off your toes and take flight on the music; how the audience, transfixed by your every movement, seems to breathe with you when you fly into the air, and for a single second become a star in the sky. I will be the star I yearn to touch. Smiling, I take my place in line.
by Soren Dickson
The past cries out to me in verse of song;
The winter wind dost carry its embrace.
Her howling voice is bitter, cold, and strong;
Mine ears but do now hear the wails of wraiths.
My heart now hearkens at her petition,
For it awakens longings long subdued;
Which now I wish to be in fruition,
Hence forth I shall now walk in fortitude.
But I cannot now cheat that mighty thief,
Who locks away that which ought to be mine;
Devising cruel instruments of grief,
To torture me while in the cage of Time.
Such fate is each young man thus doomed to meet,
The tragedy of temporal defeat.
A Sonnet by Soren Dickson, inspired by Franz Schubert’s Serenade D. 957, No. 4.
- According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Anglo-Saxon word “wyrd” means “the principal, power, or agency by which events are predetermined; fate, destiny.”
[untitled] By Ilya Fitzhugh, inspired by Rossini's "William Tell" Overture
Click Click Click
The soldiers marching down the street
Signal the end of my regime
Their boots are singing on the path
Soon I will be greeted by their wrath
I bolt every window and door
My servants aren’t here anymore
My friends, I had to go and slay
My family has long since passed away
Closer, Closer, Closer still
The end is nearing
There goes my hearing
It sits on the road
Your humble abode
The secrets of Your home
Will never be told
You break in the lock
You step in (no knock)
The steps greet you dearly
Growing quite weary, you are
There is nothing to fear
You’ve been here before
The passage of time
Is what’s caused this
(or so you believe)
When you’re out the door
You’re different from before
The old you is gone
It’s the beginning of a new dawn
It sits on the road
Our humble abode
The secrets of our home
Will never be told
It is difficult to remember a time in my life when there was not a piano in my house. As a toddler, I spent many days with grandparents while my parents were at work. During these days, I recall climbing onto the bench of their ebony baby-grand piano and just barely lifting the heavy lid, so that it hovered mere centimeters above the keys. The glazed keys resembled teeth peeking out from large black lips, and it made me happy to think that the piano was smiling back at me. I would sit with my legs folded beneath me, opening and closing the lid as if the piano was talking, until my arms became too tired and could no longer hold open its polished jaws. However, it wasn’t long before I was no longer content with only playing with the lid. Every afternoon, my grandfather would turn on the radio and the house would be filled with the sounds of KPAC. I had heard the beautiful melodies and compositions, and all I wanted was to imitate the seemingly effortless and mesmerizing sounds for my own. So, one day I took a seat at the bench, my bare feet dangling above the cold peach-colored tile and pushed open the piano’s lips so that the keys were fully exposed and ready to be played.
My hands seemed to move of their own accord, and I couldn’t keep from smiling as I felt the power of the sound I was creating. My fingers flew up and down the keyboard, pressing any and every key. I felt like a professional pianist. However, my excitement quickly gave way to frustration as I realized that it didn’t sound at all like what I had heard on the radio. While the musicians had made the piano sound incapable of producing anything less than beautiful, I made it sound as if every key had been thrown into a mason jar and shaken with the vivacity that only a child of my little age could possess.
My attempts were not unheard, however, and my grandmother later asked me if I would like to try taking piano lessons. Eager to sound like the professionals on the radio, I immediately accepted the offer. My mother on the other hand, remembered her own unfavorable musical endeavors as a child and made it clear that my commitment would not be required. With mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness, I embarked on my musical journey. I started taking lessons every Saturday morning from 8:00-8:30 am at my teacher’s home/studio, and my parents bought me a small keyboard for my room so that I could practice during the week. This quickly proved to be insufficient as my lessons increased to an hour, and I needed a full-sized keyboard. As my skills further improved and my interest increased, I began to spend entire mornings and sometimes afternoons at my lessons, and it was soon necessary for us to get a real piano. On behalf of my parents’ checkbook, I am grateful for the 1-hour flat rate as the duration of my lessons began to require me to pack a lunch...and eventually a dinner.
My parents began to question what I did during these long lessons. Was I playing piano the entire time? Why did it take so long? Well, what they didn’t see when they dropped me off, was all the other pairs of shoes lined up outside the door. The house was constantly filled with music and the ever-present sound of the glass door sliding open and closed as students filed in and out of the practice and teaching room. Each wall was lined with pianos, from uprights to grands, to the custom built nine-foot grand with weighted keys in the corner of the teaching room. I was constantly surrounded by children above and below my age, and it gave me the opportunity to help teach those younger than me, as well as learn from those who had already achieved my aspirations of being able to play the pieces, I had heard on the radio so long ago. It was a community of musicians who quickly became my friends and role models. My lessons were spent not only learning and practicing my own pieces, but playing duets, trios, and quartets, listening to others’ music, and learning life lessons from my teacher and peers.
As the years progressed and I advanced in my skill level, I learned that playing the piano is not simply pressing the right keys at the right time. The rhythm, fingering, and note accuracy mean nothing if there is no feeling. Playing the piano requires emotion. My first real lesson in putting strong emotions behind my pieces occurred around the sixth grade when I had perfected Bach’s Prelude No.1 in C major. I had the correct notes, speed, fingering, and dynamics. I lifted my hands after every phrase, I knew when to play piano (softly) and when to play forte (loudly). I had balance between the left and right hands so that the melody would not be drowned out. I even had it memorized. However, my teacher knew that there was still something missing. She asked me to tell her how I felt when I heard the piece, what images came to my head, and what story was being told by the music. I struggled to give an answer. Unlike most of the pieces I had played before, with titles such as “Lament” or “Spinning Song,” I could not draw on the title to discern what the piece was about. I said that I felt peaceful and happy when I listened to it, but there were no images or memories that came to mind. She went to her piano and she asked me to listen while she played. I tucked my hands under my legs and closed my eyes as she began the piece. She told me to think of times in my life when I felt peaceful and happy. As she played, I could tell that she was not relying on her memory to know where to get louder and softer, nor was she consciously lifting her hands or thinking about balance. Rather, she was feeling the music. She knew where the crescendos and decrescendos were because she could feel them, she knew where to lift her hands because it was the natural conclusion of a musical thought. Her technique came naturally because she was using the piece as a tool to convey her emotion.
I was reminded by a time in my life when I had felt the feelings that the piece had evoked in me. It was the first time I had held my little sister as a baby. I continued to think about how much I loved her and my family, and I knew that from that point on, every time I played the piece, it would be for them. Before moving on to the next piece in my lesson, my teacher asked me to play the song one more time on the concert grand. I felt honored that she asked me to play her grand (it is only reserved for advanced students due to the weighted keys) and I knew that it would be able to produce the right sound to show how I felt. As I slid onto the bench and placed my fingers on the cream-colored keys, I took a deep breath and let go of thinking about anything except my love for my family.
After I gained more experience with using pieces as an expressive tool and focusing on technique only during the learning stages and practice, I began to experience all music differently. No longer was I merely impressed with the complexity of musical compositions, but I valued them for what/how they made me feel. This past year, my music teacher, Mrs. Linda Camann, passed away. She was the founder of the LGSM Foundation, whose mission is to help students use their music to overcome any obstacles in their path, and she was truly an inspiration. Before she passed, I had the privilege of being able to play for her one last time as a final goodbye. I will never forget that moment, seated at the familiar grand, with tears dripping down my face, as I played Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat major Op.9 No. 2., when I was able to express my love so clearly and completely for her through my music, just as she had for me all these years. I had never felt so intensely that “when words fail, music speaks.”
It still feels surreal to hear the pieces that I’ve learned playing on KPAC. And as far as my musical talents are concerned, I still think I have a long way to go. But with every piece that I learn to play, I learn a new way to feel, and that’s why I know that no matter where life takes me, music will always be a part of me.
“White Clouds and Parting Songs” by Sunny Vuong
Inspired by "Nuvole Bianche" by Ludovico Einaudi
Ivory wisps traipse across the sky
These delicate delights, a respite, though temporary
Trace their outlines with your fingers, bid them goodbye
And hold my heart in your palm, see how it beats
You used to close your eyes, sang the sky a lullaby
You’d never let them leave without a farewell
Tilted your head back, hummed a tune about July
And if the clouds ever heard, only time will tell
And yet, these moments in the grass never last forever
All things take their leave, no matter the song
So tell me, love, was I foolish to think us, together
Would be the ones to prove them wrong?
So you’ll take a waltz with the clouds, one day
To a place where you won’t be able to hear me sing
Do I let you go? Do I beg you to stay?
Or do I wait here, and see what the sky will bring?
"Graceful Ghost" by Daniel Wang
Inspired by William Bolcom’s “Graceful Ghost Rag”
A figure glides through soft dawn light
A little stooped but she still has grace
It’s so quiet in the empty site
She almost seems to haunt this place
The floorboards creak underfoot, her shoes leave prints in the dust
Her dress flows with muted ripples, silent in the dead air
The echoes of music have long faded away
So why is she here?
She used to glow just like this dance hall
Brimming with exuberant life
Weaving through the shimmering crowd
Nimble as a whittler’s knife
Her loved ones with her danced in the moonlight
Tapping to the swinging beat
They would shine against the dark so bright
Then the melody changed keys
They dispersed into the night, she reached out for her past friends
Only the sands of time slipped through her hands
Her mind comes back to the soft light
The night is gone, now she’s in the day
She can’t hold on, so she must let go
Or she’ll be haunted by this place