Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Music Magic

When I was a little girl my mother listened to the radio every morning as she did her chores, and she would often sing along with her favorite music. I listened as I worked with her or played where I could hear the radio. Programs were about 15 minutes in those days, with few commercial interruptions. One program of popular song and light patter involved several singers and lots of laughter. I remember one inconsequential little ditty, a tribute to the joy of camaraderie:

In the cool, cool, cool of the evening,
Tell 'em I'll be there.
In the cool. cool, cool of the evening,
Better save a chair.
When the party's gettin' a glow on
And singin' fills the air,
In the shank of the night,
When the doin's are right,
You can tell 'em I'll be there.

Of course, in my child mind, it never occurred to me that a party getting a "glow on" might refer to the consumption of alcohol, with which I was unacquainted. Nevertheless, it was a catchy tune and I've remembered it all these years.

Mother also listened to a program of inspirational music every morning, and then later in the day there was Arthur Godfrey from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I knew where all these programs were on the dial and could run to the console radio and change the station when one program ended. In the evenings we listened to Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Nat "King" Cole. On Saturday mornings the sounds of the Metropolitan Opera broadcast from New York wafted through the house, and in the evenings we heard a program of island music, "Hawaii Calls," complete with steel guitars and ukuleles, followed by the authentic Western sounds of Gene Autry's "Melody Ranch" and the sweet harmonies of the Sons of the Pioneers.

To say that my musical influences were eclectic is to understate the situation, especially when you add to this the fact that I grew up in the 60's with Pat Boone, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and folk music at hootenannies. I listened faithfully to the Top Twenty countdown on Saturday nights to see if my favorites were there. (FYI, Elvis never appealed to me and I didn't see the charm of the Beetles--too shallow, not enough substance, like 99% of the rest of popular music.) Later I discovered jazz--nothing like the Modern Jazz Quartet--and then in college the world of classical music opened up and filled my soul and spoke to my spirit. All that explains why my present music collection is still rather diverse, including Bach played on the marimba, British folk tunes played by a harp and harmonica, and masses from Spain, Africa and South America.

Fast forward to my life as a writer of fiction--a computer with iTunes on the desk in front of me, with the potential for playing uninterrupted music of my choice for three or four days straight. Early on I discovered that if I chose a piece of music representing characters in my book and played it while I was writing, my brain was sharper, my vocabulary quicker, my ideas more forthcoming. With the music the words began to flow, and writing a 300-page manuscript was practically effortless. I can't listen to anything with words because they're telling a different story than the one I'm engaged in portraying and that's too confusing, unless it's a language I don't know--think Daphnis and Chloe, Rachmaninov's Vespers, or Carmina Burana.

Now I'm working on a trilogy of stories based on the Book of Mormon, and I'm struggling with ideas and sometimes the flow of words that I've been accustomed to is more like a puny drip. It's like swimming through old honey. But why? I didn't understand. And then it occurred to me that I haven't assigned a piece of music to these books yet, something that will stimulate the synapses and make it cascade rather than trickle. So what am I waiting for? Excuse me while I go find a CD that fits. I think I'm going to start with the Mahler First Symphony, one of my favorites, and see where that takes me.

Any suggestions? What music inspires you?


jww said...

Very nice. (I assumed "glow" was candles or lights to light up the evening when it got dark. But then I'm pretty naive, so who knows.)

Music to me must fit my moods. I'm not sure it helps me think and create as much as it does you, but it certainly helps calm me down, lift my mood, make cleaning go faster, warm my heart, etc. I do enjoy wit in music, and I like music that makes me laugh, but I enjoy Ravel and Beethoven, and quite a lot of Chopin, actually. I enjoy music from musicals ("My Fair Lady," "Guys and Dolls," and "Brigadoon" are probably my top 3). And I also enjoy the 99% crap (including a few Beatles tunes). I like Nat King Cole as well.

I guess eclectic tastes in music run in the family. Don't even get Jordan started.

As far as what music inspires me, it depends on whether it's creative inspiration or spiritual inspiration, but there are many pieces and songs that do, and frankly silence does the trick sometimes, too--maybe because I don't get a lot of it. Musically, there is just a lot to enjoy, and there are a lot of options for finding something that speaks to YOU.

Jeff King said...

The “glow on” would be smoking pot… especially during those days.

Music is a wondrous thing. Very few things can affect the spirit as music can.

Pam Williams said...

Actually "Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" was a song from the 50s, long before pot smoking entered the songwriting world in a public way. It wasn't taboo to talk about drinking in popular songs, however.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I love having a wide variety of taste in music. Keeps me going when I get tired of one kind. My sons have even gotten me into Power Metal, especially Symphonic Metal. If the guys would just not sing, I love their music and amazing guitar talent.

Nice post.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Love this post. I have playlists for each of my books, and even now when I hear a song it will take me back to that story. One of my current playlists is actually songs that are my granddaughter's favorites (and ones I like that make me think of her), since she's the inspiration for the mc.

Mary said...

Only three or four days of straight music? At last count, my husband, Kent, had over 40 straight days of music available at the click of a button. Maybe that's why I mostly listen to talk radio. I do have a love for classical music, though, with Chopin and Vivaldi at the top of my list. I appreciate country music on a cyclical basis, and Kent has even helped me gain an appreciation for the complicated tones of goth metal. (I like to listen for the bass line.)

I like your idea of having background music for your writing process. I'm not sure if that would be distracting to me (with or without lyrics) or helpful. I'll give it a try.

Jordan Williams said...

I like Beethoven's 9th. In classical music I like adagios, which are more melancholy. I do like the occasional jazz, but more often than not, I'm listening to indie-rock such as Death Cab, Arcade Fire, and the National.

When I sit down to write my great American novel, it will be to the grunge music of the 90's. In fact, I've been thinking about having a sound-track with my novel. If I could strike up a deal with Napster, I could embed smartphone scanners in my book which would download the song the characters are listening to.

Music does build thought and thoughts are stitched in rhythmic avenues that present themselves in even well-worn music.