Julie Hughes is a writer and developmental psychologist. For the Body Project, Julie is creating a piece of music for YELLOW BILE.
Cellos are the best, right? Cello players can set any mood--bombastic, lovelorn, ethereal… You name it; we do it. I love playing my instrument for that reason.
I especially love playing in an orchestra, where we cellos can make all this happen en masse. Conductors know that we’re the private divas of the ensemble. They turn to the cellos and instruct us on a particular effect to produce, and we preen under the attention in rehearsal.
“Cellos! In this section, I need you to be - you know - ” And the conductor waves her arms over her head like fronds of kelp undulating in a current. “Can you do that?”
Yeah. We can. On to the next one.
“Now cellos, you get the melody here, but don’t over play it, like you’re - ” Her arms cradle an invisible baby. “Like you’re setting down your sleeping newborn, okay? Don’t wake it up! As gentle as you can. You know?”
Yep. We do. What else you got?
“Okay. At the start of this movement, cellos, you really gotta be -” Now her shoulders square, her fist hits her open palm, and she grunts. “Attack it, you know? Make us run for cover. Will you try that?”
Um. I’ll let the others take that one.
I mean, I know the musical vocabulary of anger. It’s dissonant, percussive, probably in a minor key, and unrelenting. It screams and it growls. I’ve heard it. I understand it. A cello can do this.
But, see, usually mine doesn’t. I’m most comfortable spinning out a melody like a spider web--glossy, twanging with vibrato, and pliable. This matches my personality.
And yet here I am producing a piece for The Body Project on my designated body humor: Yellow Bile. The root of anger, vengeance, and determination. All coming from me: composer and performer.
So… so… let’s talk about anger and vengeance. Let’s find that place inside Julie. Mm… Not easy. I’ve been raised to be sweet and forgiving. I love that about myself, in fact. I’ll say it: I’m not an angry person. Instead I’m self deprecating… a nervous laugher… one who seeks hugs under stress.
But now it’s time to get pissed! With my cello!
At first I think I don’t have the tools, fingers in the right shape, muscles with the right memory to conjure Yellow Bile with a cello. I resist it like crazy, telling myself all the reasons Yellow Bile is the worst humor, the most destructive, the one I least want to embody.
And yet I go to work.
I come up with a few themes, toy around with piecing them together, and… I feel like a failure. I just can’t make anger with my cello. My version of Yellow Bile sounds shrill, annoying, and to be frank, very out of tune. It reminds me of how I feel when I express my own anger: hideous, laughable, and impotent. I’m the worst image of an angry woman. So for a while I don’t want to perform this piece that I’ve made for anyone. I work on it, but I don’t want to share it.
But no act exists in a vacuum. Every day I am reminded of corruption and injustice. So I keep playing out my anger. I need to play it out. It feels so good. But… still, not for an audience. It just isn’t ready. Angry Julie isn’t presentable, not even when she’s hiding behind her cello.
This begins to change at the sentencing of what’s his name - Larry Nassar. I see brave women speak out against him. They do! It’s astounding - humbling - and it galvanizes my broken heart.
Does something change for you then, too? Do you begin to feel more comfortable with the sound of your wrath?
We all have a right to anger. We all need our Yellow Bile.
Even people like me, who shrink from anger, must harness it sometimes. Things happen to us that shouldn’t. And we need retribution. My anger is real, even if it doesn’t sound the way I think anger should sound. It isn’t coherent or logical. It’s repetitive and jarring and maybe even unpersuasive.
But it’s just as real and pure as anyone else’s anger. And so, I will share it.
We’ll see if anyone runs for cover.