Living in Fear: The Banshee by Henry Cowell
I have always had an overactive imagination. I have a vivid memory from childhood of actually seeing the monster under my bed. Movies and television have always fueled my imagination, especially when it comes to horror. I do not do well with horror. All it takes is a single image to keep me up at night. Every once in a while, I dive in again to see something popular and I always regret that after a few sleepless nights.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.” – Frank Herbert
When I was a child, our elementary music teacher had a Halloween tradition. Every year, with the music room decorated in ghosts and jack o'lanterns, he would turn off the lights and play a piece of music called “The Banshee” by Henry Cowell. The first time I heard it was first grade; I was only six.
As a composer, Cowell pushed boundaries. For this song, he used the strings inside the piano rather than the keys to create a haunting sound that wormed its way into my developing brain.
That night, I had nightmares. It was traumatic, though I don’t remember the specifics, and my mom promised me I didn’t have to do that again. I would have anxiety each year after just from the idea of having to listen to it again. So every year, the music teacher let me wait in the hall while he played “The Banshee” for my classmates.
“Find out what you’re afraid of and go live there.” - Chuck Palahniuk
As the only student in my class who hadn’t listened to the song every year on Halloween, my music teacher asked me if I wanted to stay this time. I considered it and decided that I would be okay. And while everyone else was bored by the song, I didn’t even remember it.
He turned off the lights and put on the recording. And I listened. I really listened. I felt every screech in my spine, like nails on a chalkboard. I didn’t feel fear, though I still think it’s a haunting composition. I felt an appreciation for the art. I understood why my teacher was so enthusiastic to play the music for the class, even if not everyone felt moved by it.
When the song was over and the lights were on again, my music teacher turned to me and asked, “What did you think?”
“That was amazing! I want to hear it again!” The other kids laughed. I had been made fun of for six years because I was too much of a baby to listen to a piece of music, but I didn’t care.
I Feel It in My Bones
What I do care about is that I’m the kind of person who has a strong emotional reaction to art. It’s one of the things that makes me who I am. My connection to that art, and by extension, my writing is something that comes from my soul. Because I feel intense fear, sadness, or joy, or whatever other emotion, I try to put it on paper. Or the screen.
It’s what drives me. I can do it for myself, but I also love to share it with others.
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