Making Marvelous New Music with Euterpe

The Athenian Muse of lyric poetry and music has many gifts to share.

By Molly Anderson | Posted 3/8/06 | 9/23/23

Euterpe, the Athenian Muse of lyric poetry and music, has many gifts to share. Inspiration, wisdom, and a wicked sense of humor. Classical depictions of the Muses usually feature Euterpe in a toga, playing a flute or lyre. In the hopes of updating her image a little, I asked if she was ready for a makeover.

"I was hoping you'd ask. I was thinking, I need a more modern look. Something different. I've been wearing that damn toga for ages! I've heard of classic styles, but that's ridiculous!" She smiles, and asks me to imagine a new outfit for her.

I close my eyes, and visualize her wearing the summer uniform of girls in Durango: floppy sandals, tattoos, a long flowery hippie skirt, a tiny tank top, a big hat, and cool shades. When I open them again, she is transformed — and grinning. "I look amazing! Now, we can get serious," she says, giggling.

I have a confession to make. It hurts, but — "Euterpe, help! I don't really know much about lyric poetry. Sonnets? Odes? Where do I start?"

Her answer surprises me. "You start this type of work by playing, messing around, and goofing off!" Hmmm — Sounds great so far. Maybe I'll just take a nap. "Not that type of goofing off — I meant that we need to mess around with some different musical instruments. All lyric poetry is borne of music, so making music is the first step! Let's go!"

After a short walk, we arrive at a local music store. It's fun to play with the different instruments for a while, but the salesman becomes irritated with us after an hour of this. On our way out the door, I spot a bulletin board full of fliers for music lessons, instruments for sale, bands auditioning new drummers and lead guitarists, and live events. I shove a few into my pockets, right before the salesman escorts us onto the sidewalk. Euterpe mutters a foul Athenian curse at him, and we continue down Main Avenue.

Her mood lifts, and a smile returns to her face as she spots a young man sitting on a park bench, strumming a banjo and singing sad bluegrass music in a high, lonesome voice. We move closer, and as he spots her, his voice becomes stronger, more passionate — his playing, more intense. Soon, a small crowd of wealthy tourists and cool locals has gathered to listen. Clapping and singing along, they fill his hat with dollar bills.

Before we leave, Euterpe leans down to bestow a kiss upon his forehead. "He'll go far, that one. Oh, his voice was beautiful — the most beautiful voice I've heard in years. And what was that interesting music he was playing?"

"Bluegrass. What do you think? How does it compare to the sonnets of old?"

"One is ancient golden goblets; the other, mountains and trees — lonely rivers. I see why it is called bluegrass music, for it makes one feel blue, and at the same time it is very wild, natural — it evokes a place and time I do not know, and makes me long to travel there — what more can one ask of music? There is no way to compare." She thinks for a moment, then says very seriously: "You must tell everyone to see live music performed as often as they can; for if they wish to be poets, they must be exposed to copious amounts of joyful rhythms and gorgeous beats. And of course, dancing is required."

I pull the various music-store fliers from my purse. "Well, what about this? There's a bluegrass band playing a free show tonight. It's just a few blocks away."

"That sounds fantastic! What else did you find on the notice-board?"

"Well, there's a drum circle at the park this afternoon — an industrial goth band that wants to find a new drummer, tryouts for a musical at the Arts Center, an ad for guitar lessons, and an ad for a used saxophone — buy the sax and they throw in a trombone for free."

"Great! We'll do it all!"

"What?" I'm thinking, Please, don't make me audition for an industrial goth band. Please!

"The only way to find out what types of music you want to play, and what type of songs you'd like to write, is to listen to all types of music and try your hand at everything, even if it scares you! You must continue to expand your musical horizons if you wish to master new poetic forms. If you want to write sonnets and odes, go read a dusty old book! Break them down into rhyme schemes you understand and write your own when you are ready — and if you've always dreamed of being in a goth band, let's go check out that audition!"

On our way downtown for a busy afternoon, and a night of bluegrass, Euterpe shared a few thoughts about lyric poetry and music with me. "The important thing is to be familiar with the classics, without being afraid to try something new — something rebellious, wild, and crazy, and maybe a little strange. All of the greatest moments in music, literature, or any of the arts occurred because of an artist, poet, or mad, mad musician who decided to leave behind the rhythms of the past, and create a new song for the future."

Let Euterpe Inspire You:

  • Read lots of poetry and song lyrics, then write your own. Take a poetry workshop, or visit a live poetry reading at your favorite coffee-shop.
  • Find a friend or two, and make music together! Join a band, or start one! Go out for drinks and sing some karaoke. Join a drum circle and jam out. Take the tune from your favorite song, and write new lyrics for it. Play with music everywhere, anytime you get the chance. Visit a store that sells musical instruments and play them all. Make up a few songs of your own and play in a talent show, or sign up for an open mike night.
  • Listen to live music of all kinds. Dance whenever possible. If you're embarrassed, just close your eyes and pretend you're dancing alone — no one but you and the band.
  • Take music lessons from a professional — watch a band practice for a few hours — videotape yourself singing one of your original songs, then send it to a friend for her birthday!
  • Spend an afternoon with Euterpe at least once a month — guaranteed to delight, surprise, and inspire you in unexpected ways!

Next: Melpomene: Muse of Tragedies and Elegies

©2006 Molly Anderson. All rights reserved.