Corinne Demas has written many books in a variety of genres. A violinist herself, music has influenced her work. She is a Professor of English at Holyoke College and Fiction Editor of The Massachussets Review.
Welcome to Blogcritics Magazine, Corinne. Let's start by talking a little about your violin-related children's book, Nina's Waltz. What is it about and what was your inspiration for this story?
School Library Journal — in a wonderfully insightful review, called Nina’s Waltz “A hymn to the transforming power of music,” and it’s a perfect description of what I hoped to do in the book.
Nina’s dad, Nick, writes her a fiddle tune as a birthday gift “a tune that would get inside you without you realizing it — the kind of tune you’d find yourself humming when you walked along a country road on a star-filled night.” They head off to a fiddle contest together, where Nick plans to play the waltz and win the prize money, which the family desperately needs. But he gets stung by wasps and can’t play. Nina is terrified of performing in front of an audience, but she gets up on stage to play the tune in his place.
I wanted to write about a father who couldn’t afford to buy his daughter an expensive present for her birthday, but gives her something of far greater value. What better gift that music? Nina’s gift to her father is that she overcomes stage fright so “Nina’s Waltz” can be heard.
When did you start playing the violin? Do you still play?
I started playing the violin when I was in elementary school, and have been playing — on and off — ever since. I started taking lessons again when I began teaching at Mount Holyoke College and heard Professor Linda Laderach play Bach in a recital. She kindly took me on as a pupil. (All my bad techniques had years to solidify.) When my daughter started Suzuki violin at age four I went through the course of music with her. She’s now a far better violinist than I could ever hope to be.
What is it about the violin that is so alluring and mysterious when you compare it to other instruments?
I had started taking piano lessons when I was child, and began the violin later. In my memoir, Eleven Stories High: Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948—1968, I describe the difference between the two: the violin was “an instrument,” the piano “seemed more like a piece of furniture.” With a violin “you had to create the notes. At the piano you simply pushed down the keys. I loved the violin, the way the wood curved and the grain rippled in the light, the S holes that let me peer into the secret depths.”
Have you written any other violin/music related books?
That’s an interesting question. As I look over the books I’ve written I see that music plays a part more often than I’d realized.
Two Christmas Mice is a picture book about two lonely mice who discover they are neighbors on Christmas Eve when Annamouse plays “Silent Night” on her violin, and Willamouse, hears her playing through the wall (“Only a mouse could play that well”). Both mice claim “Mouzart” as their favorite composer, and Santamouse brings Annamouse a silver violin charm. Stephanie Roth illustrated this story and her violin-playing mouse is adorable.
In my memoir, Eleven Stories High: Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948—1968, there’s a whole chapter called “Music,” and music is a theme in a number of my short stories in both my collections. “Lifelines” in Daffodils, Or, the Death of Love is about a woman who takes up the violin as an adult. “Ears” in What We Save for Last, is about a woman who is a page-turner, and travels with her violinist lover, turning pages for his accompanist when they are on stage. “Memorial Day,” in the same collection, is about a divorced couple who are together when their daughter plays her trumpet with her school band.
In my picture book The Boy Who Was Generous With Salt the characters sing sea shanties (the music for “Cape Cod Girls” is in the back of the book). The Title of my YA novel If Ever I Return Again comes from the refrain of a sea shanty that is sung during the story. In "Hurricane!" the Daddy in the story plays his harmonica to comfort the little girl during the storm.
Do you listen music while writing? If yes, what is your favorite 'writing' music? Any composers or pieces that you find particularly inspirational?
I don’t listen while I’m working at my desk, but I do listen while I swim laps at the pool and work on ideas in my head. My son gave me an amazing little player that works under water. I’m currently doing the crawl and the backstroke to Beethoven symphonies.
I understand Nina's Waltz includes violin music which was played by your daughter. How did this come about? Was it your idea or your publisher's?
The tune was composed for the book by my cousin, Alex Demas, a fiddler, and the editor decided to include the music is in the front of the book, so anyone can play it. I wanted everyone who read the book to be able to hear the tune, even if they couldn’t read music, so I had the idea of making it available on my website. My daughter, who was around the same age as Nina in the story at the time, plays the waltz.
Where is the book available?
Unfortunately the publisher let it go out of print, so people have to find it on the internet. I’ve bought some copies there myself!
Do you enjoy reading violin-related fiction? Any title you'd recommend?
Tolstoy’s “The Kreutzer Sonata.”
Do you have a website where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Wishes for a music-filled holiday season!