The Importance Of Music When Writing
I’ve touched on this subject once before. At the risk of rehashing old material, I thought I’d go over this again. Why? Because you should never underestimate the value of music when you’re writing. I know, some people can’t concentrate without total silence. In my house, total silence is a myth. You must find your own Zen because this house never stops. Hell, even Harley the Wonder Dog only takes short naps. That’s exactly why I learned to enjoy the comfort of a good set of noise-canceling headphones.
Music has always been comfort food for the soul. At least to me, it has. Different types inspire different things in me. For example, I find it easy to relax to Classical Music. Some of my favorite pieces are as complex as they are beautiful. It’s hard to be angry when listening to Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata in G Minor. I can’t listen to the Goldberg Variations from Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and not feel relaxed.
I discovered the Goldberg Variations many years ago when I was in High School. I was an odd kid. I spent a lot of time in my own head. I had few friends, and I can’t say I’m still close with anyone I attended High School with. Sure, there are a few I stay in contact with, but not many. I read a lot, played Dungeons and Dragons, kept mostly to myself, and when I did hang out with friends, we were an odd lot. In a small town, that’s not a good thing. To say we stood out is an understatement.
Honestly, I was an angry kid. More so than I ever told anyone. Few people saw it, but one who did was Lou Pippin, my High School Librarian. Lou was an incredible guy. One day I was in the library during a study hall, and I was listening to my Walkman. Yes, the old-school cassette tape playing Walkman. I was listening to Iron Maiden, I believe. Lou came up to me with a scowl. I thought I was in trouble for listening to music in the library. No, he was disappointed in my choice.
“Come with me,” he said in a stern tone.
I followed him to the audio room where he sat me down and gave me a much better set of headphones, then placed a record on the player.
“Don’t move from here until you’ve listened to both sides,” he said, dropping the needle on the first song.
At first, I listened because he was expecting me to. Then I gave the music a chance. It was the June 1955 recording of Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations. I was swept away by the music. I played both sides, listening to the beautiful, yet intensely complex music. I was enthralled. I listened to it twice, completely missing my next class.
Lou wrote me a pass and told the teacher I’d been doing a special assignment for him. They let it pass. Turns out that Lou was a concert pianist before he was a High School Librarian in a little town in Missouri. His health had failed. He never spoke about his illness, but he walked with a cane and his hands couldn’t play the piano any longer. Thus, the hillbilly town in Missouri. Lou gave me the gift of music. I began listening to music far outside the Heavy Metal Genre that I listened to exclusively before that.
Lou once told me that I was very much like him as a young man. He used a term that I didn’t fully understand. Then, years later, I would hear that same term mentioned on a television show, of all things. It came flooding back to me at that moment and I think I finally comprehended. Lou told me I was angry all the time because I had an “Unquiet Mind.” It’s why I became a writer. It’s why Lou played the piano. I can’t ever shut my mind down. Even when I sleep, it’s whirring. I wake up with the most vivid images in my head. Images that I put into words in books.
I once read that most people don’t dream in color. I do. Vibrant, radiant color. I also read that the reason you can’t always see faces in a dream is that your mind can’t create new ones, only memories. That’s not true, at least in my experience. I’ve dreamed of people I’ve never met and saw their faces clearly. That’s where the stories come from. It’s almost as if I just write down what I see in my mind. Well, that’s exactly what it is.
I’ll never stop writing. It’s my muse, my release, and my salvation. I tell the stories that I see in my mind’s eye. They’re always there. Stories I may never be able to tell because I can only write so fast. I’ll never tire of writing. If I woke up with Jeff Bezos money tomorrow, I’d still write. Granted, I’d be writing from a much nicer place. Maybe on the deck of a cabin overlooking a beautiful lake. It would also likely be somewhere in my beloved Ozarks.
Music soothes the aches and pains of a weary soul. Music sets the pace and tone for everything we do and are. What you put into your head will be the fruit that you harvest. If your music is dark and angry, that’s what you’re going to feel. Now, I’m not saying that music can fix all your issues, but it can help guide you to a better place in your mind. That’s what it does for me.
I listen to a wide variety of music, especially when I write. Heavy Metal for fight scenes, mostly. It also depends on the type of story I’m writing. Horror requires a different touch than say, Sci-fi. I love instrumentals when I write, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, I want those powerful lyrics. They can enhance your mind and, by extension, your writing.
I read a book by Thomas Harris called “Hannibal.” It’s part of the Silence of the Lambs series. Yes, it was about Hannibal Lecter. I was shocked when Thomas Harris mentioned Hannibal’s favorite piece of music was, you guessed it, the Goldberg Variations from Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. That struck me as being funny, at the time. It might explain a few things. I’m kidding. I don’t like fava beans.
In the book, the actual line was “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone.” The subtle joke from Harris was lost on Hollywood, since an Amarone goes better with liver than a Chianti, thus showing the brilliance of Lecter pairing the correct wine and showing his taste as a gourmand. It’s only appropriate since Harris also wrote that Lecter’s IQ was “not measurable by any means known to man.” They shouldn’t have changed the line. It suited the character of Lecter better as written.
Music is a vehicle to transport you to places in your mind. Places fantastic and beautiful, but also horrifying and dark. Choose wisely. If you’re a writer, you can use music to organize your thoughts, clear your mental vision, and focus your creativity. Honestly, anyone can do that. You don’t have to be a writer. It is, however, critical for a writer to write from a place of vision. A place of creativity. Music lends beauty to prose. Elegance to your eloquence. Energy to your imagery.
Find your path. What works for me may not work for anyone else. Each of us is unique and what works for one person may not work for another. I am happy to share what works for me. I sincerely hope it helps you on your writing journey. Even on your reading journey. As the Navajo say, “Walk in beauty.” Embrace your own Hozho.
I’ve said it many times and will continue to do so. Writing is a journey that we take together, reader and writer. Without one, there is no need for the other. A perfect symbiotic relationship. What good is a storyteller with no one to tell stories to? Writing will always be a journey that we take together. Thank you for taking it with me.
Walk in beauty.
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