Very few of my early musical memories are independent of my parents, who listened to a wide variety of genres, artists, and time periods. Through them I was exposed to Meatloaf, John Denver, Bach, Bread, Stevie Nicks, and a host of other musicians to whom I still listen. Their album library contained the entire world of music as far as I was concerned, and I didn’t listen to anything they didn’t until I was twelve or thirteen, when my older sister brought alternative rock into the house by way of Linkin Park.
There are some albums I remember listening to constantly; others just seem like music I had been hearing my whole life. George Winston is one of these artists whose work seems as second-nature and familiar to me as my own voice. George Winston likewise had a varied musical upbringing, enjoying the work of rock groups of the age, old jazz and blues standards, and classical pieces. This led him to develop a style of piano he calls “rural folk piano”, others call ‘new age’ or ‘easy listening’, and I just call awesome. Whether he’s covering Vince Guaraldi’s Schultz scores, country songs, or performing pieces of his own invention, George Winston’s music has always been a favorite of mine and is great music to write to or relax with.
I have 10 of Winston’s albums, and am sure there is more out there which I haven’t heard yet. I think what attracts me to Winston’s work is the simplicity of his compositions and sounds. One man and a piano – that’s what Winston offers and that’s what you get. He makes a habit of playing shows in nothing fancier than jeans, a comfy shirt, and stocking feet, walking on stage with so little pomp and circumstance behind him that many in the audience mistake him for a technician coming out to tune the piano. His work is easy to absorb and yet infinitely captivating – I really could listen to it for hours; I know because I have.
As I get into my eighth round of edits for my novel, I’ve really taken the idea of simplicity to heart. Simple doesn’t have to mean boring, or demure, or slow, or anything like that. When you write in bare bone language, you force yourself to be exacting about what you are trying to convey, creating a clearer picture for the reader. When you allow your thoughts to come through with simplicity, you give them a force that complicated, roundabout sentences and structures steal away. Every word in a sentence should have a unique value to it, but you don’t need to be running to the thesaurus every thirty seconds to try to avoid bland words. A spicy vocabulary isn’t the key to good writing; it’s not the horsepower of your words, but the ideas that get registered in the reader’s mind that give a story its punch.
It’s the simple things that come to mean the most to us as life marches on. Sunday mornings with our parents; cups of tea we shared with friends; mornings we slept in; going on that ferry ride when you were five. It’s in some of the simplest things in life, a red rose, the sound of rain, a smile, in which we find the most beauty. It should not be too surprising then that art that is simple can often be the most beautiful, the most captivating, and the most memorable.