Chapter 1: The Power of Music

Publishers Weekly epigraph described Ann Patchett’s novels as being “rich in imaginative bravado and psychological nuance.” Throughout the first chapter I noticed this writing style immediately. Patchett has a consistent pattern of telling a story without first giving it’s background information, possibly to provoke questions and even confusion for the writer. An example of this is her opening paragraph on the first page.

All Patchett talks about in the first paragraph is a kiss. She lets the reader know some form of a performance just happened by saying “when the lights went off the accompanist kissed her”, but it is not until the end of the page do we see that she is a singer from Patchett’s subtle remark, “they were so taken by the beauty of her voice…”.

Just as Patchett foreshadows Roxanne is a singer by use of imagery of a crowd clapping,  she also foreshadows the intrusion of terrorists by allowing us to see what Simon Thibault thought and saw. The text read “what he saw was the narrow beam of a flashlight, one and then another, and he felt his heart crave down inside his chest, a feeling that could only be described as sadness….it was already in place, without him needing to see any of it…the web was spun and snug around the house…Ambassador Thibault drew his wife, Edith, into his arms.” Why did he feel his heart cave? Why was he sad? Why are there webs around the house? Are they in danger? Is that why he drew his wife near? These are some of the questions going through my mind as I read this paragraph. My questions were not answered for quite a few more pages. I was also confused when she all of a sudden men burst into the party and she started talking about a man named Benjamin with shingles, but then she clarifies by saying the word “General”, showing the reader these were not just soldiers, but enemy soldiers since they were creating a “state of animal panic.”

Another pattern I noticed was her tendency to skip around. When the party was being intruded by terrorists the author suddenly described the back-story of Mr. Hosokawa and his translator, Gen Watanabe. I found it strange yet somewhat enticing that Patchett left a cliff-hanger of who the terrorists were going to arrest by telling how Gen met Mr. Hosokawa, and at the same time tie it into the story-line at the end by saying “His Spanish was extremely fluent” since the terrorists spoke Spanish.

The main theme I noticed in the first chapter was the power and effect music can have on an individual. “There were others there that night who had not heard her name, who would have said, if asked, that opera was a collection of nonsensical cat screechings, that they would much rather pass three hours in a dentist’s chair. These were the ones who wept openly now, the ones who had been so mistaken.” Patchett makes it clear that music can elicit strong emotions that are not just limited to aficionados, such as Mr. Hosokawa. Another group that music made an impression on and reached out to was the terrorists. “No one having explained opera, or what it was to sing other than the singing that was done in a careless way… No one having explained anything. Even the generals, who had been to the capital city before, who had educations, held their breath so as to better hear her.”

To get a better understanding of the theme portrayed in this chapter, I turned to an article which described the power music can have on the mind. “Science all but confirms that humans are hard-wired to respond to music” (“‘The Power Of Music’ To Affect The Brain.”). Despite ones ethnicity, nationality, religion, etc., music triggers a response in our brains. Whether that be through memories, happiness, or sadness, anyone can be affected. This shows why the terrorists got lost in Roxane’s voice during a liberation and kidnap attempt; despite the circumstance, her voice swept their minds away like a current and drifted them out to sea, only to be brought back to reality by the ending of her performance.

The diversity among the people who attended the party also ties in to Patchett’s theme of the power of music. Many of them attended the party for their own country’s political reasons, but when Roxane began to sing it was as if they all spoke the same language. They didn’t need a translator to evoke emotions, the command of her voice did that alone; it broke down any language barriers, leaving them with only one common language- music.

“In closing, I offer one simple suggestion to help us all tune in to the power of music in our own lives: take a moment; close your eyes; and reflect upon a time in your life that a piece of music helped you to connect more deeply with another human being, or group of people, whether someone you know intimately or a group of strangers” (Fitzpatrick).

Fitzpatrick, Frank. “WHY Music: Bridging the Cultural Divide.” N.p., 6 June 2014. Web. 2 Sept. 2015.

“‘The Power Of Music’ To Affect The Brain.” N.p., 1 June 2011. Web. 2 Sept. 2015.


3 thoughts on “Chapter 1: The Power of Music

  1. annawallace003 says:

    When I first began chapter one I totally skipped over the epigraphs, unknowingly. Clearly the epigraphs have proved to be an important aspect that introduces what Bel Canto is all about.
    I also noticed that the author isn’t as straightforward with her story. Although this creates some confusion I think that at the same time it creates a sense of anticipation that a lot of authors aren’t able to convey. I remember that I began reading and then before I knew it I was already done with the chapter.
    I enjoyed reading the research approach you took because it covered things that I seemed to have overlooked. For example when the terrorists felt the connection to Roxanne’s voice I didn’t pay much attention but this brief detail revealed a lot about the terrorist’s character. This connects to when we talked in class about how their character doesn’t reflect how a stereotypical terrorist would behave. They actually showed a sense of feeling and as a reader I felt like I was able to dig a lot deeper than expected into the groups personality. Details such as when they stopped to smell the flowers in the garden and refraining from handling the women’s skirts is able to tell the reader a lot and possibly a bit of foreshadowing.
    I like how you brought up how diverse the group of people who are attending the birthday party are. It ans important element that I overlooked due to the fact that my mental image while I was reading reflected events that I go to, usually consisting of one culture of people.


  2. Colin Murphy says:

    Hi Courtney,

    You’ve written an excellent contribution to our class blog! Patchett certainly does utilize quite a few literary techniques to keep her audience engaged throughout the chapter. Her use of foreshadow is particularly highlighted when Simon Thibault noticed “the narrow beam of a flashlight… and… felt his heart crave down inside his chest…” I too was considerably anxious as I read through the pages following this quote to find out why the Ambassador was so nervous. Obviously, we find out terrorists had planned an attack, though it is not a quick introduction we go through in learning this.

    Your identification of the main theme of the chapter is a piece that also stands out to Sarah Riegel (feel free to have a look at what she wrote and the reply I left for her as well). Patchett takes great care to leave no detail behind when conveying the emotions felt by Mr. Hosokawa, the audience, and even the terrorists. She makes her point abundantly clear that anyone can be moved by the sound of music or opera. Where you quote Patchett as writing how “even the generals, who had been to the capital city before, who had educations, held their breath so as to better hear her,” you also confirm the viewpoint discussed during class where opera is generally arranged for those of middle/upper-middle class status.

    The research you conducted on “‘The Power of Music’ to Affect the Brain” absolutely supports Roxanne’s ability to captivate the attentions of her audience; it also seconds what Sarah has written in her post. Roxanne’s singing significantly serves as the “one common language” that unites the admittedly diverse group of party-goers held captive at the chapter’s conclusion. Do you believe music – either through Roxanne or some external source – will continue to play a key role in bringing everyone together and possibly affecting the complex situation’s outcome?

    – Colin


  3. ballen68 says:

    I chose to respond to your blog post because I myself am a musician. I see all the things happen that are happening here in Bel Canto when I play or am with other musicians. All I have do is pull out my cajon and start jamming at my apartment and singing and everyone that’s there tends to gather around and just “chill” I guess haha! Often times I am making up my own lyrics so they just listen to the words and enjoy whatever is coming out. It has always allowed me to make a deep connection with people. Music brings out some of the deepest emotions in people. I have the ability to tap in to that as a musician, I can control how deep I want to go to. It’s also interesting that you spoke of how the language barrier means almost nothing. It really doesn’t. I have been in Spain, and also the Dominican Republic and been singing in English while around people who spoke only Spanish, yet a crowd still gathers. Music breaks down language barriers, it’s like a tool that we have access to that allows us to forget all about language, really a beautiful thing! I also thought it was interesting how you spoke about how socioeconomic classes were not a barrier to the beauty of Roxanne’s music. The beauty of her voice was able to push back every single difference that people in a room had, whether it was age, language, culture, economic status, nothing kept them from having that intimate connection with the beauty of her music, and that is an amazing thing!



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