Tuesday, January 31, 2006


"All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music."
Walter Pater 1839-1894 "The School of Gerogione"

A specific piece of music can conjur many memories and set you in the mood for the Muse to speak. I often call on Euterpe the Muse of lyric poetry, or Polyhymnia, the Muse of songs for the gods to inspire me while I am writing.

Sometimes, when I'm beginning a new piece of writing I prefer to work in silence. But often, if I play the right music, something that sets me in the 'mood' and 'place' of the piece I am working on, the words flow more easily.

The music that's played in the Iatlian coffee shop where I often go to relax and jot down notes is always Italian music, sometimes popular songs or folk music and often opera. When I was writing my play The Street which is set in the '50's in Vancouver's East End, I would write lines of dialogue while at the Calabria, because the family in the play were Italian immigrants and being there seemed to give me the right 'flavour'. I used music to evoke memories of that time and as the play is partly autobiographical, I had clear images of events and personal experiences associated with the music we used to listen to.

Some of these songs, a lot of them jazz tunes by Chet Baker, Billy Holiday and Rosemary Clooney, were actually played during the performance or at the intermissions. One song in particular brought me back immediately to my youth and still does. To this day I recall clearly how my boyfriend Jimmy (about whom the play was written) loved to sing "Sweet Lorraine" The memory used to be so strong that often it made me cry as I remembered my first love and those tender years when I was so strongly affected by the tragic events that occured when he became a heroin addict. That song, and other, such as Angel Eyes evoke strong memories of that time in my life.

I am very particular what I listen to while I'm writing my historical fiction novel. In the beginning, when the setting was in Babylon I used to play Persian music. Now I prefer some music from movies, or classical pieces such as those by Yo Yo Ma. If I'm not careful what I'm listening to it can be distracting rather than inspiring.

I found an excellent CD in Greece which I play when I am working on my w.i.p. drama,
House of the Muses, which is about the life of the lyric poet Sappho who Plato described as
"The Tenth Muse." The music is by a Greek composer, Angelique Ionatos, who write it to accompany Sappho's lyric poetry (because Sappho sang her poems accompanied by the lyre.)
"Sappho de Mytilene" is one of my favorite CD's. The songs are sung by the composer
and another well-known Greek singer, Nena Venetsanou accompanied by instruments such as the guitar, our, tabor and oboe.

In the writing classes I teach, I often use music as a prompt and we write whatever imagry that particular music conjurs. And music is also a good way to relax and allow your creativity to take you into other worlds in particular if you are suffering from the dreaded 'writer's block'.

What kind of music do you like to listen to when you are writing? Or do you prefer silence?
A peculiar thing is, if I happen to be on a 'roll' with my writing, I can go to my favorite bistro where there's either jazz or Latino music playing, and will be able to jot down notes that may come into my head completely oblivious to what is going on around me. I guess if the Muse is there, she's going to prompt you no matter what.

"And Music's power obey
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
From harmony to hamony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran..."
John Dryden 1631-1700 A Song for Saint Cecilia's Day 1687 st. 1

"De la musique avant toute chose,
Et pour cela prefere l"Impair.
Music above all, and for this
Choose the irregular."
Paul Verlaine 1844-1896 "Jardins Et Naguere 1884 L'Art Poetique"


Gabriele Campbell said...

For me, it's mostly opera, sometimes lieds and Russian folksongs. Some operas go best with certain scenes (like battle scenes*) some with certain projects, but a lot of my 100plus complete operas go with any writing project.

*fe. Verdi's Battaglia di Legnano, Rossini's Ivanhoé and Donna di Lago, Donizetti's Don Sebastiano and Duca d'Alba

Donizetti's L'Esule di Roma and Polliuto are a fine background for Roman scenes, Bellini's Norma for 'Celtic' ones, Weber's Euryanthe and Wagner's Tannhäuser are what I pick for the court scenes in Kings and Rebels, and if I need something for a storm, Berlioz' Damnation du Faust has some nice passages. Etc. :-)

Wynn Bexton said...

Yes, even when I'm not writing, or just making notes, I keep CBC radio on as there is no end of beautiful classical music played all day long, instrumental and opera, and in the evenings some real cool jazz. I find that kind of musical background soothing and inspirational!

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

The music I listen to depends on what I’m writing. I connect with music easily and find my emotions cresting right along with the swell of the piece. I’m one of those people who cries at live concerts, regardless of the type of music (yes, even rock), because it moves me so much. LOL

Sometimes I just need to have quiet so I can listen to the voices and music in my head while I’m writing. Other times I’m inspired by and work well while listening to a variety of different music styles, from classics to jazz (probably what I listen to most), R&B, classic rock, show tunes, etc. Vocals can often interrupt my thinking, so I often choose an instrumental.