Prayers from a Guitar

Abstract painting of musical symbols
Blue Painting (Blaues Bild), 1924 © Vasily Kandinsky. From Wikimedia commons.

The idea for “Prayers From a Guitar” came about from the persistent ways in which music, be it popular songs, instrumental scores or pieces from the original soundtracks of films and games, has helped with my writing process.

Each time I set off on a new story, I would put together a playlist of music and songs to form an auditory mood board. Listening to music helps with the ideating process, bringing to mind images, action and moments between characters that illuminate the direction of the plot or reveal characters at their best, worst and most vulnerable. For me, and for anybody who has ever imagined a whole self-insert music video on a bus ride, music has an inextricable link to emotion and the imagination.

However, growing up, I was not allowed to listen to music or engage in it in any way beyond singing the National Anthem every morning and doing the bare minimum for music lessons in school. My parents believed music to be irreligious. They often called it a product from the devil designed to make humans forget their duty to God. So, I’d hidden my portable radios, later my discman and CD collection, and MP3s from my parents throughout my teenage and young adult life. My parents are much better with music now. My mum even learnt how to search for and listen to her favourite tracks from the ’60s and ’70s on YouTube. Still, you don’t forget lessons like that.

It is also because of my upbringing that I never learnt to play any instrument, even though I always wanted to learn how to play the electric guitar.

My favourite electric guitar piece is Funtwo’s viral rendition of Jerry C’s arrangement for Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”. I saw and heard this piece on YouTube back in 2008, in all its 144/240p glory.

The electric guitar version of “Canon in D”, also known as “Canon Rock”, feels like a picture of happiness, the very soundtrack of what I feel triumph and celebration must be. In some silly and no doubt sacrilegious way, it is what I imagine an angel would play if we gave it an electric guitar.

In the story, this is the piece that the protagonist’s wife plays when they first meet and represents the freedom of self and identity, as well as her innate spirituality, that she discarded as part of her grooming to be a “good” Muslim wife. It is the piece that the being plays during their encounter and, in doing so, transports them to an otherworldly place where harmony is represented in a confluence of sentient and non-sentient species from different worlds and planes of existence. The universe being so vast, the possibility of what life looks like limited only by the depth and breadth of our human imagination, this is what I imagine heaven could be.

Nuraliah Norasid

(From August 28, 2021)

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