Music to Live To

“If music be the food of love, play on!”  –Duke Orsino, from Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare

Soundtrack of my childhood.
Soundtrack of my childhood.

I grew up with music. My mom and my dad are both musical people; my mom is a singer and both a pianist and a piano teacher, and my dad also sings as well as plays the guitar and the Irish bodhrán. Music was a constant in my house: classical music on NPR with breakfast, The Who on the way to school, piano lessons in the afternoon, lullabies before bed. I think I knew all the words to every Beatles song in existence before I even knew how to read. My mom teaches the Suzuki method, so the Suzuki tapes were on constant repeat at home and in the car (to this day, I hear can hear certain classical music pieces and know what song comes next in the Suzuki method). Music was like air, all around and impossible to not consume.

I’m grown up now, and although music may not be as integral to my life as it was when I was younger, I still enjoy music on so many levels. A gorgeous song or a certain vocalist or an impressive guitar riff can take my breath away. When I find an album that I adore I will literally listen to it on repeat because I can feel the songs in my bones and in my blood. Music still inspires and uplifts me.

But as a writer, music can be difficult to work to. I work with words, so any music with lyrics is distracting and confusing; it is nearly impossible for me to mentally multi-task listening to words while simultaneously writing them. The possible exception to this is lyrics in a foreign language, but even that is distracting. Also, mood is extremely important to me when I’m listening to music while writing; if I’m writing an action sequence I can’t listen to a legato Nocturne by Chopin, and if a story is set in Ireland I can’t listen to Czech folk music. In short, it’s such a complicated and difficult process to find appropriate music to write to that I usually forgo it entirely and write in silence.

Music almost as wonderful as the film it was written for.
Music almost as wonderful as the film it was written for.

But finding the perfect music to write to can be inspiration in and of itself. Recently, thanks to a conversation on Twitter with some fellow writers, I discovered the magic of movie scores. I’ve listened to Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet (The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream sountracks) before while writing, but it never occurred to me to search for other scores to listen to while working. Now, it’s like I’ve discovered a whole new world! Howard Shore, Carter Burwell, Atli Orvarsson, Hans Zimmer. Scores from war movies, love stories, epic adventures. Scrolling through these great scores, I can pick and choose what mood and genre best fits whatever I’m writing without having to worry about lyrics or any other distracting elements.

It’s great to be able to include music in my daily routine again. Because music isn’t just the food of love, but of life, and my days are richer and more full because of it.

What kind of music do you listen to while working? Is there anything in particular you can or can’t listen to? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

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