Caroline Giammanco: Violence

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Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.

Violence

By Caroline Giammanco

Howling wind and the wail of sirens blew past the alley. Somewhere an emergency, perhaps a car accident or a domestic dispute, drew the police and ambulance into the darkness of a late November night. No one arrived in that alley to help Joe Langston as he bled his last drops of blood onto the dampened asphalt. His final moments ended with the siren, the wind, the dripping rain, and the coldness that enveloped his body. Then there was nothing but silence for Joe Langston.

No one would have believed that his love of music, his devotion to his craft, his discovery of true love, the power of pure ego, and the sickening sweetness of revenge would bring such a promising talent to such a lonely death, but it did.

Four months ago, the world was at his fingertips. The fingers that brought audiences to their feet performance after performance now lay silent. Soon they would stiffen as rigor mortis set in. As the last of his blood flowed from his body, so was lost the music that once flowed from Joe Langston’s virtuoso fingers. Four months ago, Joe sang a different tune than the pleas for mercy he cried as his killer drove the knife one more time into him. 

* * *

A soft coastal breeze blew through Rachelle Hyatt’s hair, and she breathed the refreshing air of pure happiness that lies in the hearts of those truly in love. The balcony of the beach house created the perfect vantage point to enjoy the Atlantic shore. Rachelle glanced over her shoulder and a slight blush swept across her cheeks. Even after all this time, the view she was most enthralled by was that of her lover, still dozing in her bed. 

He’s the sexiest man I’ve ever met. How did I get so lucky?


Good luck wasn’t something Rachelle was accustomed to. Growing up in an alcoholic family, her place in the pecking order was at the bottom of the heap. Both of her sisters married early and fled as soon as they could, and her brother, Rory, picked up the abusive gauntlet and terrified her until she, too, could make her escape.

“You’ve got all these pie-in-the-sky ideas about happiness, but Rachelle, you’re never going to be happy.”

“Rory, why do you say these things to me?”

As he backhanded her, he laughed. “You just wait and see. You go try to be happy—to act like you’re better than the rest of us. You’ll come crawling back here begging me to take you in.”

“No, I won’t! I’ll be happy and I’ll never see you again.”

Pure rage flickered in Rory’s eyes. He gently stroked her hair and said, “No, little sister. I’ll be here waiting for you when you have nothing left out there.”

Her mother and father were no better. Both preferred smoking and drinking to feeding children or worrying about who was on the other end of their violent outbursts. Sometimes it was each other. More times than not, it was Rachelle. She was an easy target. The youngest and most vulnerable of the lot, she was easy pickings for people who looked for someone to brutalize.

Rachelle knew she had to get away. She’d simply disappear as a human being if she didn’t leave the clutches of her dysfunctional family. 

Escape came in the form of Sean Hayworth, a successful stock trader from New York City who had an eye for beauty and power. For a time, Rachelle’s beauty disguised Sean’s true passion: power. The abuse began in small doses. A cutting comment. Forgetting the plans they’d made. They came slowly, but with increasing frequency.

“You’re not wearing that, are you? You’ll look like a whore at the cocktail party.” 

“Please don’t say anything at dinner. Just smile and look pretty. It’s the only thing you’re good for.”

Crushed, Rachelle slowly gave into him controlling her every move. Rachelle believed him. After all, it was the same narrative she’d heard her entire life. 

At least he doesn’t beat me. I know he loves me because he doesn’t beat me like my family did. I’m okay.

Abuse almost always escalates, and Sean’s brutality grew like a California wildfire. In time, Rachelle’s makeup hid the bruises and her dazzling smile covered a broken heart. It ended in dramatic fashion when police drug Sean from the hospital in handcuffs. He’d beaten Rachelle badly enough to put her in intensive care. 

“Please don’t arrest him. Please.” 

Fear that he’d kill her the next time overrode any hopes that he’d be punished or that she would be free. 

“It’s out of our hands, ma’am,” the officer told her. “The hospital notified us of the domestic abuse. They had to report it, and we had to arrest him.”

“But what’s going to happen to Sean?” Rachelle could barely speak through a broken jaw. 

“That’s up to the prosecuting attorney. Right now you don’t need to worry, though. He won’t be able to hurt you.”

Right now.

Those words brought no comfort to Rachelle. The bliss brought by the morphine slipped her into a deep sleep, but when she awoke she was fitful. A million thoughts buzzed through her mind. None of them were good.

What is Sean going to do to me now?

Where will I live? I can’t go back to the house if he’s there, and he’ll be able to bail out in no time.

I’ve gone from living in a beautiful house (even though it’s a violent one) to ending up in a homeless shelter.

It hurt to cry, and it hurt not to cry. Rachelle was certain her life was over. She had no reason to believe she’d catch a break.

The last time I thought I’d caught a break was when I met Sean. I caught a break all right—a broken jaw.

For once, however, Sean Hayworth came up against a force unimpressed by his wealth and swagger. Prosecutor Jason Reese was no stranger to affluence. His family was old money, and they were seldom amused by upstarts like Hayworth. Reese enjoyed his power as prosecuting attorney, and he relished in petitioning the court to deny bail to Sean Hayworth. A Class A Domestic Assault charge was no lightweight matter. It meant hard time in prison, and Jason Reese was confident that before-and-after photos of Rachelle would convince a jury that Sean Hayworth deserved time in a maximum-security prison. The trick was finding a judge who wouldn’t bend to Hayworth’s financial pull. Hayworth contributed to several campaigns and boasted of having politicians and judges in his back pocket.

The trick Jason Reese sought came in the form of Judge Wilson Bruffet. At seventy years of age with decades on the bench, Bruffet had witnessed countless cases of brutality. He’d had enough. Furthermore, he lacked ambition to run for office again, making him immune to Sean Hayworth’s financial charms.

At the arraignment, Judge Bruffet was clear. “Bail is denied and the case will be placed on the docket for a hearing. Mr. Hayworth, the charges against you are serious, and it is my order that you not be released from jail until your trial has been adjudicated.”

The smirk disappeared from Sean Hayworth’s face, replaced by rage. He began to speak. “Your Honor—”

“Young man, don’t say anything that could be considered unfavorable for you at this time. Listen to your attorney. You’ve hired an expensive one, so I suggest you take his advice.”

In a rare event, justice prevailed in the case between a wealthy defendant and a no-name victim. Judge Bruffet sentenced Sean Hayworth to ten years in prison. Jurors visibly recoiled from the photos Jason Reese passed to each of them. The damage done to Rachelle was immense, and many of the jurors had daughters close to Rachelle’s age. Careful jury selection helped Prosecutor Reese get the results he sought.

Rachelle sat stoically throughout the proceedings. A small whimper escaped her when the verdict was read. Sean gave her a menacing grin.

“This isn’t over, Buttercup,” he hissed as the bailiff walked him past Rachelle. “I’ll get out, and when I do, you’re history.”

Her knees buckled and she barely caught herself.

For several years, Rachelle lived a solitary existence, constantly looking over her shoulder even though she knew Sean was locked away.

If I’m going to have a life, I’m going to have to create it for myself.

Breaking the Hyatt family pattern, she enrolled in the local university. With no one’s footsteps to follow, she was unsure what to major in.

Her college advisor told her, “Try a little bit of a lot of fields. You’ll find something you enjoy. Is there anything you’ve always liked?”

Since childhood, music was her coping mechanism. She sang in the church choir from the age of nine, but learning how to play an instrument was her goal. At twelve she worked odd jobs for neighbors to buy a beaten up violin from the local pawn shop.

“That’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard anyone spend money on!” her father bellowed.

Undeterred, she practiced the violin every night after she did her chores. She saved her pennies and bought books of music. She watched tutorials online to learn how to play. She knew her family would never pay for lessons. When she entered high school, her orchestra teacher, Mrs. Nesbitt, saw her potential and begged Rachelle to pursue her talents. Fleeing her family and marrying Sean halted those dreams.

“I love music, but I know I’m not a good enough musician to perform at the college level.”

“Well,” her advisor said, “then take some music classes for fun.”

Rachelle slowly picked up college credits while she worked to support herself as a medical transcriptionist. It paid decently and gave her the flexibility she needed to attend school. Her life changed one day when, in her Music Appreciation II class, a group of performers from the Philharmonic Orchestra gave presentations. One of those was a charming violinist by the name of Joseph Langston.

His quick smile, keen sense of humor, and good looks drew her eyes to him. When he played the violin, Rachelle’s world stopped. It was as though she was drawn into the music itself. Joe Langston couldn’t keep his eyes off Rachelle as he played either. Love at first sight was real.

Their courtship developed quickly. Joe could hardly believe that someone as beautiful and caring as Rachelle even noticed him. Much like Rachelle, his childhood was traumatic. Passed from one foster home to another from the age of four to eighteen, he didn’t know what it meant to be loved. Rachelle loved him completely. Never athletic, Joe used music to escape his unhappiness. Little did anyone know he would one day become one of the best in his field.

Rachelle stepped back into the bedroom from the beach house balcony and kissed Joe gently on the lips. 

“Good morning, honey. As much as I’ve enjoyed watching you sleep, you should come downstairs for breakfast.”

Sleepily, Joe rolled over. “I’ll be down in a few minutes. I’m taking a shower, and then I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”

Fifteen minutes later, as Joe stepped out of the shower, he heard Rachelle scream below. Throwing on his robe, he raced downstairs. 

Joe found her crumpled on the floor near the refrigerator, holding her cell phone in her hand. Sobbing and shaking, she handed it to Joe. “It’s a text message.”

“Ms. Hyatt, this is Jason Reese. I wanted to let you know Sean Hayworth had his parole hearing yesterday. They granted it to him. He will be released in four months. Please contact my office if you have any questions.”

This began the worst four months either Rachelle or Joe had known since they’d met three years before. Every knock on the door, every slamming car door, caused them to jump in panic.

On the day of Sean’s release, Joe hesitated leaving Rachelle.

“I don’t have to go to work today. I’ll stay with you. I’ll tell them I need to take a personal leave.”

“You can’t take off work forever, Joe. Besides, Jason Reese said he’d have a patrol car circle past here a couple of times an hour. I’ll be fine. You go.”

Unwilling to leave, Rachelle gave him his coat and pushed him out the door into the November chill. 

“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

***

That night, as Joe Langston walked through the light freezing rain towards his car, a black Mercedes pulled beside him. The personalized license plate read, “Hywrth.” Joe quickened his pace, but his Toyota was still a block away. The opening and slamming of the car door caused him to bolt. 

He was not fast enough. A figure struck him from behind, dragging him into the alleyway. 

***

The Mercedes sped away as the driver, breathing heavily from exertion and exhilaration, laughed out loud. Rubbing his fingers together, like someone playing a tiny violin, he rejoiced in the slickness of the blood. 

Nudging his companion, he said, “What do you know, Sean? Looks like the cops will be looking for you. Too bad they won’t find you. But I appreciate the use of your car.”

The open eyes of the slumping dead man in the passenger seat stared into the distance.

“I’ll have you dumped down in the river with this car before you’re too stiff, Buddy.”

Looking in the rearview mirror, Rory Hyatt’s eyes filled with satisfaction. Once he rid himself of his pesky cargo, he’d use his own truck to swing by Rachelle’s house. 

She should be asleep by now. She never could stay up past ten o’clock. You’ll see, Rachelle. Your dreams of happiness really are gone. Welcome back to the family.

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Writers Unite! Workshop: Song Lyrics

Writers Unite! Workshop

Song Lyrics

A note. A chord. A word. A phrase. A song transports us instantly to the moment we first heard it and often floods us with emotions that the memory invokes, joy, fun, passion, sadness, heartbreak. Music is life.

While melody and rhythm affect us, lyrics speak for us when we cannot speak for ourselves. As writing is an art form, writing lyrics is a specialized version of writing poetry.

Our Attraction to Music

Studies have shown that when listening to favorite music, dopamine, the chemical released when doing other pleasurable activities such as eating or sex, is released in various parts of the brain associated with the anticipation of pleasure and deep emotional responses.  If the tonal qualities of a piece of music evoke this reaction, adding words that have meaning to the listener will deepen the connection to the song and the emotional bond formed.

“Music affects deep emotional centers in the brain. A single sound tone is not really pleasurable in itself; but if these sounds are organized over time in some sort of arrangement, it’s amazingly powerful.”    

              — Valorie Salimpoor, neuroscientist McGill University

Lyricist vs. Songwriter

The difference between a lyricist and a songwriter is quite simple. Lyricists write the words to a song. A songwriter writes both words and music.


 “Lyricists are articulate and detail-oriented, with a keen eye for observing the world around them and the discipline to translate their observations and insights into the formal language of song.”  

                                                                                    — Berklee College of Music

Qualifications for a Lyricist

Formal education is not a requirement to be a lyricist. However, a degree in creative writing with an emphasis on poetry offers advantages in a competitive field. Focusing on an art or history education is also a plus as these subjects provide a strong overview of life. Courses on lyric writing are often part of the curriculum in college and university music departments.

While it is not necessary to play an instrument to write lyrics, it is a valuable skill to have. Understanding the importance of meter in music is as essential as it is when writing poetry, so familiarity with an instrument is helpful.

Writing Song Lyrics

Berklee School of Music offers five tips on how to start writing lyrics:

  • Record your thoughts:  in addition to formal education, journaling daily thoughts and emotions is a valuable way to accumulate ideas and underlying emotions for use when writing lyrics. Take the five senses into consideration, taste, smell, touch, sight, sound, as well as movement, as suggested by the article. These descriptors bring the listener to the exact emotion or visual that you need them to have to engage in your lyrics. Use the “small moment” of a particular sense, such as the waft of perfume or touch of a hand, to capture emotion.
  • Read the words, forget the music: Read lyrics written by others and not to the recorded song.By concentrating on the words and not the music, you will gain a better sense of the simplicity and structure of good lyrics. Pay attention to the hook the lyricist has used and the repetitive chorus that ties the song together. Consider the message you want to convey and use the “small moment” mentioned above to make your point.
  • Speak Naturally: Write as you speak in the language that you speak naturally. Don’t force a word or a rhyme, or you will lose the meaning. Berklee uses the word authentic to describe the language you use, and that word is powerful. As with writing a story, the words must be real to connect to your audience. Don’t forget to change tense as you do not have to always write in past tense but can also write in present and future tense to tell your story.
  • The K.I.S.S. Principle:  Keep it simple, stupid is a wise adage. Write in five to six lines of verse and create repetition in the chorus. Longer lyrics can become confusing and obscure the message.
  • Collaborate:  Reach out to lyricists and learn from them. Collaborate on writing lyrics, especially with lyricists who are also musicians writing their songs.

Other tips from sterostickman.com:

  • First Impressions:  The opening lines of a song matter. Use them to hook the listener and keep them listening until the chorus and the message of the song.

Short Sentences: “I lied / He cried / We were both / Terrified”

Specific Storytelling: “The laugh lines around her eyes / Told a story of loving compromise / But the clothes she always wore / End up screwed up on the floor”

Instructions: “Everybody, clap your hands / Get those feet moving, too / We’re about to get wild / No telling what we’re gonna do”

  • Experiment building on lines. Write a line, repeat it with another word, until you get to the meaning you wish to convey. This technique will keep your listener waiting for the next word.

“I really want you
I really want you to
I really want you to go
I really want you to go further

  • Become a techie. If you run into issues with selecting words or rhyming, a website like http://www.rhymezone.com can help by making suggestions for rhymes, near rhymes, and synonyms. Rhyming is certainly acceptable but remember not to rely on it when writing lyrics. However, as long as the lyrics are authentic, it can work.
  • Time Management. Working under deadlines and being able to manage time is essential for both the project and the content. Commercial compositionsare time-sensitive, airtime on radio stations, for instance, is crucial for the artist’s and publisher’s success. Being cognizant of how to manage writing a song that conveys a message in an acceptable time frame is necessary.

Career Expectations

At one time, professional lyricists were in high demand, but as more musicians are penning their lyrics that need has dwindled. That is not to say that this is not a viable profession. There are still opportunities as top-line songwriters within the recording industry if you have some musical ability and can write a catchy tune. Music publishers also hire staff writers, and a small percentage of dedicated lyricists work independently, promoting lyrics to music producers. Music producers recording rappers also hire staff writers to write lyrics for their artists.

There are also opportunities within the musical theater world to write lyrics with musical theater composers and book writers to produce musicals and adaptations. Opera companies need librettists who collaborate with a composer or work as playwrights creating the plot, characters, and structure of the opera.

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If you are interested in a career as a lyricist or are currently writing lyrics or songwriting and want to learn more, please check out this link. Berklee College of Music offers a free online handbook on lyric writing, which includes material from some of their courses.

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Author’s Note:  I am not a musician or a songwriter or lyricist. This workshop concerns the basics of writing lyrics. A considerable amount of the information included came from the Berklee College of Music website. Berklee is world-renowned for the exceptional training provided to music students.

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Resources:
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_we_love_music
https://www.berklee.edu/careers/roles/lyricist
https://online.berklee.edu/takenote/5-steps-to-start-writing-lyrics
https://stereostickman.com/how-to-write-song-lyrics
https://learn.org/articles/How_Can_I_Become_a_Lyricist.html

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution. Voice sheet music is from https://www.music-for-music-teachers.com/, a free-use sheet music site.