Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Soundtrack for a Story: The Summer Country

Music and writing have a kind of odd relationship for me. I adore music, and it definitely inspires my writing, but unlike a lot of people, I can't listen to it while I write. Either I get too focused on the writing and wake up to find I've missed my favorite part of the music, or I listen to the music and can't concentrate on writing. I guess it's because when I listen to music I like to savor it; to listen closely to every note, to wait for those favorite moments and relish them when they arrive.

But as I said, music still definitely inspires me. Mostly instrumental music. Some people draw inspiration from song lyrics that tie into the themes of their story; while that does happen to me occasionally, I get a lot more from listening to classical music and film scores. They become the soundtrack to my story. I imagine certain scenes playing out to them, or link particular musical themes with characters. My favorite time to listen to music like this is late at night, when it's dark and quiet and I can pay full attention to it and let my imagination spin. And then eventually the things I dream up work their way into my daytime writing sessions.

Sometimes it's just one piece that I listen to over and over; other times I have a "playlist" of sorts for a story. That is true of The Summer Country—there's half a dozen or so compositions that have gradually fallen into place as companion pieces to the story, and they look like quite a hodgepodge when you see them listed side by side:
  • The "Mississippi Suite" by Ferde GrofĂ©. As with most of the pieces I choose, there's really no connection between the original intent of the music and the subject of my story. The Summer Country is set entirely in New York and—well, in dreamland—so there's not a drop of the Mississippi to be seen, but the themes in the four movements of this suite, ranging from perky and mischievous to dreamy, romantic and even a touch melancholy, match up so perfectly with my scenes and characters.
  • Suite from the film score to The Heiress (1949) by Aaron Copland. Here I think there is a subconscious mental link, with the film being set in old-world New York City, albeit several decades earlier. It sets the mood nicely for my city scenes and some of the more dramatic moments that will come later in the story.
  • "Waltz" from Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. A waltz plays a rather key part in The Summer Country, and when I was first thinking about it, the beginning of this one was what kept running in my head. Most of it's rather bigger and grander than the one I have in mind, but the rhythm of that first theme definitely inspired it.
  • "Jumpin' Jack Rabbit" by John Williams. A cheerful and frisky selection from an episode of Wagon Train which goes nicely with the exploits of children and a historical setting.
  • "Morning" from Peer Gynt by Grieg. This lovely, idyllic number has been one of my favorite classical pieces for as long as I can remember, but only recently did it occur to me that it perfectly matched a certain setting in the book.
  • "After the Ball." This one will, of course, always be inextricably linked to Corral Nocturne for me, but the particular arrangement that I have on my mp3 player has also provided inspiration for the waltz in The Summer Country.
  • "Jim's New Life" from the score to Empire of the Sun (1987) by John Williams. Another lively, soaring piece that just seems to fit well with children and the mood of some scenes.
As for that waltz in the story...well, I'm trying to write it myself. We'll see how that turns out. I'm a rank amateur, of course, with no idea of method or theory, but I've come up with a melody that I rather like, and I've scribbled some lyrics. Of course only the lyrics will make it into the book, but I felt I had to know what it would sound like with music, if only for my own benefit.

So, does anybody else draw inspiration from classical/instrumental music for their writing? Are you familiar with any of these pieces I've mentioned?


Sarah Holman said...

I listen to a lot of classical. O love Tchaikovsky! I also really enjoy listening to Jim Brickman, an amazing piano player.

Neil Waring said...

I listen to instrumental, harmonica or Indian flute tracks at times. I cant listen to any type of music with words, I listen to the words and forget what I am doing. Classical is more my music to relax with.


Kelsey Bryant said...

Classical, Celtic, and movie themes inspire me the most for my own writing. I'm one of those people who can't listen to music and write at the same time, too! I was thrilled to discover "The Mississippi Suite"! Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake music is my favorite ever.
I love the idea of a soundtrack for a story but I've never made one for any of mine. Yours is wonderful! I feel like I know a great deal about The Summer Country now, or at least, more than I did! Keep up the good work!

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Sarah - Tchaikovsky has always been one of my favorite composers too!

Neil - Thanks for stopping by! I agree, listening to songs with words would make concentrating on writing even more difficult.

Kelsey - If you liked the "Mississippi Suite" you should look up his "Grand Canyon Suite" too—it's wonderful. I've never actually made a list like this before, but I saw the idea on some other writers' blogs once and I think that got me started putting together selections of music that seemed to fit my stories.