Claire Legrand is a Texan living in New York City. She used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now a full-time writer, Claire can often be found typing with purpose on her keyboard or spontaneously embarking upon adventures to lands unknown. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is her first novel, due out August 28 from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Her second novel, The Year of Shadows, a ghost story for middle grade readers, comes out August 2013. Her third novel, Winterspell, a young adult re-telling of The Nutcracker, comes out Fall 2014.
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As I write this post, I'm listening to Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 and thinking about how different my life could have been if I'd pursued music instead of writing. If, instead of changing my major from trumpet performance to English literature, and taking audition after audition instead of writing book after book, where I'd be right now. Would I, as I'd dreamed all through college, be playing in a major orchestra somewhere, attending rehearsals and concerts instead of launch parties and conferences?
Strange, isn't it? When you stop and think how, if you'd made a different choice, however minor or major, your life could be a completely different life than the one you're currently living?
Sometimes I find myself wishing that I'd made the switch from music to writing much sooner. That I'd started out college as an English major, maybe concentrating in some sort of creative writing or publishing and editing. I could have gone somewhere far from home, somewhere glamorous and urban, instead of staying at the state college I'd lived down the highway from for years. Sometimes I wish that all that time in college and, even before that, in high school, when my second home was the band hall at my high school and I practiced trumpet till my lips bruised and my fingers callused, had been spent reading, writing, attending writing workshops, interning at publishing houses. Would I be farther along in my writing career right now? Would my journey toward publication have taken less time? Would I be a better writer than I am today?
Caption: Here's my high school marching band, performing a show that required 10-hour practice days in the summertime, rehearsals at 6:45 every morning before school, and often rehearsals on Saturday mornings after the Friday night football game. Texas marching band is like Texas football—SRS BZNS. In this show, I'm the drum major to your left; you'll see me run around to the back to conduct when the band turns around, and then you'll see me stand by the mirrors for a solo during the ballad.
It's easy, when you look back at certain periods in your life, periods that don't seem directly relevant anymore, to wish them away. Wish that you'd known better or you'd been smarter. Wish that you could have known then what you now.
But then I think about the experiences I had as a musician. The people I met, the friendships I formed, the trips to football games and marching contests we performed in the rain, the tears, the drama, the all-consuming passion of very literally pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into making art—and, yes, the sometimes-miserable hours hammering out tricky passages in a 6' x 6' practice room that smelled like pee and angst.
This is a short clip of me playing an etude for an audition tape I recorded in high school for the Honor Band of America. Sorry for the couple of cracked notes! I was nervous.
Would I be the writer I am today without those experiences? Without the hours bent over my piano trying to figure out how the heck Gershwin composed Rhapsody in Blue in the first place, much less how in the world I was going to play it? Would my imagination be as rich without those help sessions with my band directors, jotting down notes in my music and making up stories that brought even the most mundane etudes to life?
I'm not sure. And, even if I could, I wouldn't want to find out.
Yeah, maybe if I'd quit studying music much earlier, I could have started writing earlier. But my books wouldn't be what they are today. Maybe I wouldn't be writing about an angry little girl living in a haunted music hall, crushing on a trumpet player, and struggling to understand her eccentric conductor father, because I would have never had the experience of playing in an orchestra. Maybe I wouldn't be writing a re-telling of my favorite ballet, The Nutcracker, because I wouldn't care about Tchaikovsky's timeless music so much.
And maybe, I would have never written a story about a snotty little girl who goes to save her best friend from an orphanage—her best friend the budding pianist, whose music she holds onto for dear life when things are at their darkest.
And that would just be a shame. I love my books, exactly how they are. I wouldn't want them to be any different. I wouldn't want me to be any different. I think Victoria, the heroine of Cavendish, would agree. Maybe she would mutter about how music is a waste of time, just as she tells Lawrence at the beginning of her story, but in the end she would recognize its worth and its power. After all, without music, her story might never have gotten told. And if there's one thing Victoria has insisted upon from the first day she popped into my head, it's attention.
Caption: Yes, this is me playing the piano—RECENTLY. I no longer have regular access to a piano, so I'm a bit rusty. Also, the piano is out of tune, and I edited this video myself, so there are blips. SORRY.
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