Friday, February 15, 2019

Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman's "Sounds Like Titanic"

Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman is the author of Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir. Her recent writing has appeared in McSweeney's, The New York Times Magazine, Brevity and Hippocampus. She holds a BA in Middle Eastern studies and an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and a PhD in English from the University of North Texas. She teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University, where she recently won the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award. In her spare time she enjoys cooking (Italian), dancing (Beyoncé), and dreaming up clever Halloween costumes (Large Hadron Particle Collider).

Hindman applied the “Page 99 Test” to Sounds Like Titanic and reported the following:
From page 99:
At some point I realize that the lyrics to The Composer’s musical mention Jesus, even though the Book of Ruth is from the Old Testament. At some point I realize that The Composer has merely played some chords from his keyboard into a sophisticated computer recording system and emailed us an MP3. He has no idea how to write a violin part, which is why he’s asked Harriet and me to do it. The pit violinists of this Christian musical I’m transcribing will never know that The Composer didn’t fully write the music in front of them, couldn’t have if he wanted to. They’ll never know that the violin part was composed by a 23-year-old amateur violinist working for free, and not for love of Jesus but for love of Dolly Parton. Whatever. I want to go to Dollywood. I want to eat something else besides stale bagels and slices of Supreme, which I order from Pepperoni’s because it’s the only way I can think of getting vegetables and protein.
In this section of the book, I am describing what life was like on the God Bless America Tour of 2004. My fellow musicians and I have been stuck at a hotel in rural Georgia for days. We’ve been eating the hotel’s complimentary breakfast and ordering delivery pizza and going stir-crazy. The Composer makes us a deal: If we, his musician employees, transcribe the violin parts for the Christian musical he is working on, he will take us to Dollywood.

This passage offers an example of the ways in which musicians in The Composer’s ensemble found themselves exploited. We completed days of free transcription work, a task that, had we been charging per hour, could have amounted to hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars. And we never made it to Dollywood. It’s a small example of the idea of false promises, which is a larger theme in the book.

Sounds Like Titanic is a nonfiction account of my life as a fake violinist. When I performed with The Composer’s ensemble, the microphones in front of me weren’t plugged in and a CD recording of a far-more-talented violinist was blasted toward unsuspecting audiences. But on a deeper level, the book is about class, gender, geography, mental illness, and American culture in the years immediately following 9/11. It is an investigation between the real and the fake, and what happens when an individual, and the society she lives in, can no longer tell the difference.
Visit Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue