I used to think I was pretty eclectic in my musical tastes, but after reading Sharon’s post yesterday, now I’m thinking not so much. Still, depending on my mood you might catch me listening to Chant, with the Monks of Santo Domingo, or Ray Charles or Floggy Molly or Renaissance music or Mozart or the Beatles or Caruso or Los Lonely Boys. At the moment, the Cranberries are singing “Ode to My Family.” Love the vocals. I’m not by nature a meditator — just can’t turn those thoughts off — but certain music, like Chant or Live The Legend by the New World Renaissance Band, gives me a temporary vacation that some days helps save my sanity. Like a sedative for the soul, this is my form of Xanax. So soooooothing.
For writing, I especially like music with a strong emotional message, and that’s why I also tend to find inspiration in movie soundtracks, as Jessa talked about on Monday. There’s a really good reason for that. Soundtracks, whether compiled or written specifically for the movie, are designed to highlight the rising tension of the story, arcing from the inciting moment to the resolution. It’s an emotional journey in sound following the emotional journey of the characters, and whether you realize it or not you are swept along. My favorite movie composers are James Horner – Braveheart, Zorro, Titanic, to name a few (I love the Celtic touches) and Patrick Doyle, who did all the Kenneth Brannagh Shakespeare movies among other things.
One of my favorite compiled soundtracks is Garden State, a movie about learning to accept and find joy in the dysfunctional nature of life. It’s quirky and sweet and poignant, and the music reflects that. When my daughter downloaded the songs onto my Ipod (because I am categorically incapable of doing so for myself), they somehow loaded in reverse order. I said, “Can’t you fix it?” and she said, “What difference does it make? You have all the songs.” Whereupon I demanded, “How do you expect me to embark upon an emotional journey backwards? Huh? I’ll end up all neurotic.” She just looked at me and shook her head. But I had a valid point.
Oddly though, I don’t hear every bit of the music playing in my head while I write. My own thoughts take precedence and I find myself in a kind of cocoon – just me and my characters with all their angsty adventures. The rest of the world could blow up for all I’d care. Yet at the same time, and mostly on a subconscious level I guess, the emotional content of the songs does find its way into my psyche and translate onto the page, occasionally veering a scene into territory I hadn’t originally intended — in a good way. I like those kinds of surprises, when characters are suddenly inspired to take matters into their own hands. Maybe it’s because they can hear the music too.
So if not music, what do you do to stay focused at work…or to keep your sanity intact?