Music can set the tone. Can you imagine watching a movie without the soundtrack? For example – imagine Gone with the Wind without its sweeping music that brings you from current day back to days gone by where a civilization once thrived and now has passed. Imagine Lord of the Rings without the spine-tingling music to make you sit on the edge of your seat when Frodo and the others are hiding with Striker and the Wraiths are coming to kill them. Imagine Ratatouille without its French music to sweep you thousands of miles across the ocean to the French bistros of Paris. The music composers for movies have to look at the movie after it’s finished and input the music to create the mood.
I listen to so different types of music, it usually depends on the scene I’m writing. Most of the time, I just want background music that allows me to focus on my writing. I don’t usually listen to music with words, unless the words aren’t important because I like the mood of the music so much more. Sometimes, the music is chosen because of my own mood. Many times I purchase the music because when I heard it during a movie it inspired me to write.
Let’s tackle the different types of music out there.
First, there’s classical music. Once again, it depends on my mood. Sometimes I start off with Handel or Bach, but other times I like listening to Chopin or Tchaikovsky. I have a CD called My Fayre Ladye – Tudor Songs and Chants that get me into the mood of that time period. I think it helps to listen to the appropriate music when writing a historical novel. Think about it – when you watch period piece movies, the music needs to make sense. It needs to follow the movie. If I was watching Pride and Prejudice, I certainly would not want to listen to current music. Ah, but what about movies that took classic stories and gave them a new twist with updated music? A few examples which make sense are Marie Antoinette and the modern version of Romeo and Juliette. Here’s another – 10 Things I Hate about You, the modern version of Taming of the Shrew. It just would not be the same without the modern music. One movie I love to watch that goes in a different direction is A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger. It retains its medieval theme but uses rock music to tell the story and does it really well. That’s music I like to hear but I don’t always listen to when I’m writing.
Second, I love listening to music from around the world. Many times I purchase a CD that focuses on either a certain area of the world or a theme such as salsa. Here are some of my favorites: Borderlands, Women of the World, Salsa around the World, Latin Lounge and Afternoon in Paris. They help to transport me to that place by immersing me in the culture more thoroughly. When I wrote Whispering Moor, an 17th century Irish novel, I surrounded myself with Enya, Celtic Woman, Scottish Moors/Emerald Isles, and Clannad. Enya is a fabulous singer who used to be a part of Clannad. I first discovered her when watching the movie Patriot Games. I was hooked and have several of her albums as well as her Christmas album which is haunting and beautiful at the same time.
Third, as you noticed from the beginning of this piece, I love soundtracks. The list of my soundtracks include: all Lord of the Rings, all Star Wars and Star Trek soundtracks. Soundtracks from musicals – Chicago, Wicked, Nine, Phantom of the Opera, Dirty Dancing, or Grease. Some of them are from the movies and some are from the Broadway musicals themselves. As you can see, some are purely instrumental and others have songs with words. Usually the ones with words are not for deep serious writing. I might be writing a light scene with a bit of flirtation or humor. In that case, I need my mood to be light. For more intense scenes, I could pick The English Patient, Titanic, or Immortal Beloved. Of course, there’s always Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 when I’m not sure what I want. Sometimes I use those for editing when I just want a bit of fun. If you’ve never listened to The Mask of Zorro or The Three Musketeers, you have to try them out. Don Juan DeMarco sets just the right tone with “If You’ve Ever Loved a Woman”. Trust me – try it out and you will be hooked as well.
Finally, there are miscellaneous artists who just seem to fit for me. A few of those include Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Adele, Norah Jones, or Justin Timberlake. See, I told you I like different types of music. My list goes on and on. So here’s my question for you – what music do you prefer when you write?