Monday, October 17, 2011

Using music and words to stir the soul

There are few things that stir my soul the way music does. I love how the arrangement of melodies and harmonies can capture the essence of the human spirit; how a few simple cords can inspire one to climb to new heights or descend to the lowest of depths, all in the space of a moment. If you looked at my iTunes library, you’d find I’m particularly drawn to instrumental music, and I don’t mean strictly “Classical.” Although there are no words, each piece paints a vivid picture that speaks specifically to me. 

As with reading and writing, my parents introduced me to music at a very early age. It was rare something wasn’t playing at home or in the car. My siblings and I grew up taking pieces by Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Gershwin, and numerous others and creating plays to go with what we heard. We climbed endless staircases made of couch cushions battling to “Mars” from Holst’s “The Planets.” (Luke Skywalker’s famous battle with Darth Vader was the inspiration for that one.) When it was time to clean up, we often danced about the living room like little cleaning fairies to “The Nutcracker Suite.” And there were more than a few cafĂ© scenes done to “An American in Paris.” 

It wasn’t just classical music that played in the house, though. My dad loved artists like Vangelis, Ray Lynch, and Jean-Michel Jarre, whose works were the soundtracks to many space-themed adventures. My mom grew up with Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. So I suppose it doesn’t come as such of a surprise that when I’m writing I have appropriately themed music playing in the background. For example, when I’m writing a reflective scene I tend to have my soft reflection playlist going which has music from movies and video games mixed in. There are also Techno and Electronic albums I turn to when editing. And when I need a pick me up, I love listening to music that really should be played on an old turntable rather than my laptop.

I think one of the things that has always fascinated me so much about music is that though there are relatively few notes available, men and women are still able to create art that is so incredibly varied. Each piece is like a snowflake; you can spot similarity to others, but it is also a uniquely individual thing. Somehow the composer is able to capture and express a specific emotion that I can completely relate with, and yet at the same time when I’m listening to the music it feels so incredibly personal — as if I’m the only one who can ever truly understand its meaning.

That feeling is something I want to happen with my writing. When a reader sits down with me I want them to see the similarities and the differences of past experiences. I want them to feel as if the story was written specifically for them — as if it’s a secret only the reader and I can share in. Like music, there are only so many stories to be told (really, everything has been done before), but like the snowflake it can also be unique. And like the music playing in the background as I write this, it can be used to stir the soul.


  1. The Yahoo radio Film Scores station is my writing jam. :-)

  2. I'm going to have to check that one out. I have a couple different film score stations on Pandora I listen to. Love 'em!

  3. Music floods the soul and, for those really listening, never quite crawls back out again. It can make or break my day and, like you, I have playlists stuffed full of 'mood music.' To be able to touch a reader's heart in the same way - what a beautiful image. You've given me something to strive for today in my writing. :)

  4. I'm glad my post helped inspire you today, Jessica! Happy writing!