My church youth group took a trip to New York City in 1964, my senior year in high school. A highlight of that trip was attending a performance of a new Broadway musical, West Side Story.
I was stunned. I had seen movies of other Broadway shows; The Music Man and Oklahoma. I enjoyed them but they didn’t have the impact on me that West Side Story did. Maybe it was the classic Shakespeare storyline, or possibly the Bernstein score, or maybe it was the Sondheim lyrics. Or it could have been the incredible choreography, though I still find it hard to be afraid of street gangs that dress in pastels and dance like that. My wife and I went to the Richmond Rep Theater on our anniversary last week and saw West Side Story again. And I was moved, as I always am, by this masterpiece of Music Theater.
How does a work of art like West Side Story come to be? The ancient Greeks believed there were seven goddesses, the Muses who inspired artists in seven different artistic fields. Creativity and expressive ideas, the Greeks believed, are always out there somewhere, but the muse helps an artist discover them and bring them to life in their art. I am involved with several different media. I paint in watercolor and take photographs, and of course I write. My second book, The Art of Love chronicles the experiences of a young art student. I try to illustrate some of an artist’s creative process in that book. The young artist’s muse is the girl he falls in love with.
I find that an idea will tumble around in my head for some time, days and even years, before it becomes a story. A detailed story line emerges when I’m out running, or driving in my car. I wake in the middle of the night with whole pages of a story flowing out word-for-word in my mind. When I get home from that run or drive, when I wake up in the morning I must get on the computer and write down what I have already discovered.
Maybe it was that way for Mozart when he composed The Magic Flute. Maybe Michelangelo had a moment like that when he looked over a massive block of marble and saw within it the figure of David. Maybe it was like that for Bernstein and Sondheim more than a half century ago. My writing might not be up to their level but possibly that is how it happens for all creativity. As Homer once wrote, “Sing goddess, and through me tell the story…”
Peter Stipe is the author of Finding Our Way; a collection of short stories, and The Art of Love, a novel. Both books are available from Amazon and from hightidepublications.com and from Peter Stipe.com Facebook: PeterGStipe