March 31


Music and Lyrical Writing by Karen Chow 

Music requires lyricism. The best musicians make you feel a certain way through their music, expressing emotion through the notes on a page. I grew up learning, listening to, and loving music. I started learning the piano at five, flute at ten, piccolo at eighteen–and then, cello, handbells, and harp, each for a couple of years as an adult. I’ve performed in shopping malls, recital halls, nursing homes, churches, football and baseball fields, gyms, and in a lot of competitions—long enough to have a good grasp of performance and can emote with the necessary lyricism. 

Writing is like performing music. The goal is to gently bring a reader into a certain emotion through the words on a page. To capture them, enthrall them, transform them. When it came to writing about music, I knew the lyricism had to follow. The emotion of what the character was feeling needed the accompanying lyrical words. That was the challenge in my middle grade debut, Miracle. 

Miracle is about a young Asian-American girl, Amie Cheung, who loves her father so much she does everything he likes: reads his favorite books, listens to his favorite music, and most importantly, plays his favorite instrument. When he passes away, Amie is very lost and loses her ability to play the violin. It takes patience, help from her friends, and reconciling with her mom to make her realize that life without her father is different, but can still be joyful. Once she’s able to realize that, her music ability comes back—and that’s the miracle. 

When I was brainstorming for Miracle, I heard a Bible story about Simeon, who waited on the steps of the temple to meet Jesus. Simeon was probably an older man, and after meeting Jesus, Simeon declared that his life’s purpose was fulfilled and he could die peacefully. I began thinking, what if that happened to a young girl? What if she fulfilled her purpose early in life, then what? That’s when Amie’s voice came to me with the line “Ba-ba always told me I was a miracle.” Amie became a girl who did everything her father asked, and most especially, she became a violinist, with music infusing her life. 

I also pulled on life experience. In the book, Amie’s dad passes away from cancer, and so did mine. I’ve always wanted to write about my dad because he was an amazing person. When he was sick, I was in my senior year at a university and lived twenty-five minutes away. I helped when I could, around classes and marching band. I drove my dad to radiation appointments, stayed with him in the hospital, talked with him while he sat in his recliner. He studied the Bible extensively and meditated while he was alone. He told me his diagnosis was a wake-up call: to spend less time on work and more time with our family. He had his ups and downs, but he had a great sense of humor. That’s where Amie’s dad mirrors mine: his buoyant spirit and outlook on life.  

And then, there was the music. My dad loved hymns, and he took comfort in the melodies and harmonies of older songs. I think that’s where the idea of music as comfort came from. Amie has the ability to play the worry off her mom’s forehead and lift her dad’s spirits.  

Because Amie was a musician, I knew her voice had to be lyrical. I took a nod from books with lyrical writing: The Book Thief (by Markus Zuzak), Princess Academy (by Shannon Hale), Echo North (by Joanna Ruth Miller), and several others. I admire those authors for writing so beautifully. What I discovered was that those authors phrased their words like their settings. The authors played with the vocabulary to match a feeling. If the feeling was cold and brisk, the descriptions became short and jittery. The words became a character themselves.  

So, in Miracle, I restructured my sentences to make them sound like phrases of music. I read my sentences aloud, checking for flow and emotion. I used onomatopoeia. I tried repetition. And then, I had the idea to replace adjectives and emotions with musical terms. I unearthed my very old copy of Alfred’s Pocket Dictionary of Music, which I’d kept from my piano competition years, and browsed the definitions. I’d forgotten that music is a language in and of itself. (Of course, this is also because a lot of musical terms are Italian.) Sforzando, sostenuto, staccato. The language feels like the word: sforzando is a sudden strong accent, sostenuto means sustained, staccato is detached. I incorporated the musical language into the book. The line “…everything [Mom] said afterward was sforzando to my heart,” means Amie was daggered by her mom’s news. It was a new way to play with words, and most importantly, it sounded like Amie’s voice. It felt right. 

With the inspiration and the musical terms and the lyrical writing, the story weaved together. The musical terms became a frame for the chapters, and the words emote Amie’s experience through her grief. I hope it created enough of a harmony that readers will enjoy it. 


Chow_Karen_by Rebecca EvensonKaren S. Chow is an engineer by day and middle-grade novelist by night. She lives in Gilbert, AZ, with her family Miracle marks her writing debut. She invites you to visit her at