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How artists imbue their art with magic



The magic of artistic creation. 4/30


I believe that we infuse the things we create with who we are. Beyond this, as a songwriter I actively engage in magical work when I compose, meaning every song that matters to me is one that bears my intent, my passion, and a part of my self. My favourite songs tell stories, and my favourite stories are folktales. Storytelling is what I do.


Creation myths are found all over the world in almost every cultural history, and I think the reason we keep telling them is that we as human beings are fascinated with how something begins. How did these things I know, use, say, believe in, become something out of nothing? What spark of consciousness developed? There was no song or poem or story and then there was. Every time an artist or storyteller creates, something is born into the universe where nothing existed a moment before.


When looking for a folktale to fit the prompt I was given this week for the song-a-week challenge I'm doing in 2020, I was directed to a Chinese (Chuang) folktale by my friend, Caroline, whose library I borrow books from weekly. There are variations on its title, but it is often called "The Magic Brocade" or "The Piece of Chuang Brocade." There are several versions available to read online (like this one).


The version I borrowed and read is The Weaving of a Dream, retold and illustrated by Marilee Heyer (NY: Viking Kestrel, 1986). Her illustrations are as breathtaking in detail as they are in the brocade that is central to the story.


I wanted to tell the story in the song in three parts: the widow who weaves a brocade version of a painting she loves that takes three years to complete; the hermit who lives on a mountaintop and guides each of the widow's three sons to their chosen fates; and the fairies who've stolen the brocade so they can copy the work of a master. In between these triple-verse-sections the sons act as vehicles of all these women's wishes and/or at their direction.


In the story, the widow cries tears of exhaustion and dedication onto her weaving, which she then turns into rivers. When drops of blood fall, some versions have her weave them into the blood red of the setting sun, or into flowers in the gardens that surround the castle in her painting-inspired brocade. A fitting metaphor for the blood, sweat and tears with which artists imbue their work.


The song I wrote inspired by this Chinese folktale will appear on my next Wanderlings album, The Wanderlings Volume Three, which I am currently writing.


A Widow Wove in Wonders


a widow wove in wonders her brocade

and traded one for a painting

of a castle with a garden

every stroke of brush beguiling

she took it home and longed to live there


a widow wove in wonders her brocade

two of her sons complaining

singing birds and flowers sighing

such a world of silken styling

rivers that flowed with tears ran through it


a widow wove in wonders her brocade

three years until its completion

in the sunlight see her smiling

every single thread was shining

that's when the wind rose up and stole it


one by one her songs set out

to see if they could find it

each in turn they climbed a mountain path

and found a hermit


I know why you have come here, eldest son

though it may cost you dearly

brave the mountain flames and sea of ice

that lie between you and your prize

but he turned back shaken


I know why you have come here, middle son

though you're uncertain clearly

knock out your front teeth and set them

in my horse's mouth so he can eat

or take this gold and go home


I know why you have come here, youngest son

soon it won't be as cheerfully

for the fairies stole your mother's sweet brocade

to make another

courage you'll need to reach Sun Mountain


so he did what she required

and took the stone horse riding

to the place the fairies

and his mother's work were biding


the fairies wove in wonder their brocades

doing their best to make copies

castle, river, garden, land

all woven by a master hand that

none of them quite could match completely


the fairies wove in wonder their brocades

none of them ready to stop yet

one more night and then they'd let it go

back to the one who made it

everyone working long past sunset


the fairies wove in wonder their brocades

one all in red deciding

took some silk and wove herself

into the scene while all were sleeping

she couldn't bear to be parted from it


off the youngest brother rode

to bring the hermit's horse back

there she fixed his teeth

and gave a gift of deerskin boots that

took him home at once

his mother overjoyed to see him


brocade became reality

the fairy joined their family

castle, river, garden, land

all woven by a master hand

magic all around them vision-made


a widow wove in wonders her brocade

a widow wove in wonders her brocade

magic was all around them vision-made

a widow wove in wonders her brocade




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