Descriptions that give you chills

In my work-in-progress, a stand-alone Dragon Blues novella titled Dragon Mama Blues, my dragon-man hero plays blues on a tenor saxophone. This is one of my favorite instruments, yet at one point, I wanted to describe the sound of a saxophone … and my mind blanked out. I couldn’t think of anything except perhaps mellow.

So I did what I usually did when I’m stuck. I googled, and there’s actually a site that answers that question. The first description was amazing. So vivid and, just like the saxophone itself, it gave me chills. I didn’t use it in my book, but I wanted it for this blog, so I emailed the poster for permission. He never replied, so I’m not going to post it. If you’re interested, you can read it here.

Instead I’m going to share this brilliant poem by Carl Sandburg, who vividly brings Chicago to life:

CHICAGO

by Carl Sandburg

HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Bareheaded,
Shoveling,
Wrecking,
Planning,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

I love that poem! But back to my dilemma, I think I described the saxophone as sexy and sultry. I didn’t want to put too much description because it would have slowed the story. Otherwise, I would have tried for something better. But I’m curious. How would you describe the sound of any instrument? Even one word is fine.

If you’d like to describe a tenor sax, here’s something that might inspire you. :)

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8 Responses to Descriptions that give you chills

  1. Mary Hughes says:

    Hi Edie,

    I love this post! So many authors don’t bother to get the sounds right. Fewer still go to the trouble of making the descriptions have an emotional impact.

    Tenor saxes to me are full-throated and robust. They have a darker timbre than an alto and a creamier sound than a bari. Although that is from the audience. Right on top of it it’s a bit boxier sounding and feels alternately meaty and soaring, depending on the part. The throw of the keys is much longer than the flute. All of which would have been too long for the paragraph. Lol.

  2. Amy R says:

    I think you nailed it, Edie with sexy and sultry. However, it could also depend on what type of music they are playing, right?

  3. Misty Evans says:

    Oh, Edie! I love what you’re doing, describing the sound of the sax. I’d definitely say the sax is seductive for sure! Sad, at times, too. Like a wounded hero. ;-)

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