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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Music and Inspiration

As the speaker began her narrative of politics and intrigue, a piano at the front of the café began a driving, tense melody. She couldn't help but pause her story and say, "What perfect timing!" I'm pretty sure the player had not been listening to the conversation.

The musical coincidences didn't stop there. When we began coming up with sentences for a group story about the end of the world, the pianist contributed a somber dirge. The player moved on to other amusements after that, and we worked in silence for the rest of the workshop' gathering, but the incident reminded me of the role music can play in any creative effort.

The piano playing certainly influenced me to make a downbeat ending out of what the group had started. I'm permeable like that. I love music, and I find that if I'm listening to something as I write, it has an impact on the writing. On the other hand, if I write something entirely without music, the writing can come out a little bit deaf.

When I was writing my dissertation, I had the advantage of being able to listen to recordings of the medieval songs, the Cantigas de Santa Maria, as I analyzed them. My dissertation was probably the most narrative-driven thesis in the history of the university, outside of the Creative Writing concentrators.

During the formative stages of Tree/House, I read an interview with an author (I don't remember whom) who said that she needed to have vocal music in a language she couldn't understand in order to get the creative juices flowing. It couldn't be a language she understood because the lyrics would distract her with their narrative content. I took the suggestion, halfway, and began to play Cançons de la Catalunya mil.lenaria by Jordi Savall whenever I was seriously creating scenes, sentences, or characters for Tree/House. I say "halfway" because the lyrics on this disc are in historical Catalan, a language I can get the gist of in passing and understand fully when I pay attention. Did "El mestre," about a student in love with her tutor, have something to do with the creation of Franklin, the Shakespeare professor? Possibly. I can say with some certainty that the ghostly aspects of the story and the monster Franklin, post-wedding, had their origin in the chilling tale of "El comte Arnau," in which a phantasm count visits his widow and carries on ghoulish conversations with her.

Emma's naive visions of love have some connection to "El fill del rei," in which a young woman can die of romantic passion. "El testament d'Amelia" provided references to last wills and set the tone for the way Emma languishes spiritually, as if terminally ill, until she gets help. On the other end of the spectrum, the reminiscences of a common thief in "Cançó del lladre" helped me make Geraldine's previous life a pleasure to share.

Enjoy the listening samples of this enchanting disc to which Tree/House owes such a profound debt (see link at top). And take advantage of a limited-time lower price for the digital edition of Tree/House! Now only 99 cents! It can't go any lower! Seriously.