Music Of The Spheres (cerebrally speaking)

Students often ask me how I manage to get to the page.  They want to know if I light candles, do yoga, drink coffee, read poetry . . . I answer yes to pretty much everything, although I do none of those things consistently.  (And besides, I’m not sure any such advice is helpful to the emerging writer, who must ultimately find his/her own way to the page.)

Music to create to . . .

Still, there is one thing I do all the time: I listen to music.

Now, that doesn’t mean I listen to the same music all the time.  Each book seems to require its own soundtrack.  In fact, I actually included a soundtrack to my novel, THE RADIANT CITY, which you can find in the back of the paperback edition.  THE STUBBORN SEASON was written to a background of Noel Coward, Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Fat Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Hoagy Carmichael, Cab Calloway, Art Tatum,

Music seems to open up certain creative pathways for me in the way I once thought scotch did.  (Scotch DIDN’T, by the way.)  I have a large collection of music of many genres and delight in creating play lists for different projects.  One rather mystical list contains nothing but music from the extraordinary Djivan Gasparyan, Anouar Brahem and Armand Amar & Levon Minassian.  There’s something about this ethereal, magical music that helps me drop down into the writing zone.

For concentration it’s Mozart, Satie, Vivaldi, Ludovico Einaudi (whose music I first discovered through the film “This is England) and several compilations of the “Best Study Music,” “Music for Thinking,” variety.  They’re surprisingly good as it turns out.  And opera, if I’m really in need of a kick in the pants.  Nothing like a little Maria Callas to amp me up.

I recently finished a first draft of a new novel about alcoholism, and listened to a LOT of early Tom Waits (sound track of my own drunken 20s and 30s), Leonard Cohen, Jimmy Lefavre, Patty Griffin, Ricki Lee Jones, Bessie Smith, Janis Joplin, Mary Gauthier, and so forth.

At the end of those writing days, I resurfaced to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Why Walk When You Can Fly.”   In fact, if I have a personal theme song, I suspect this is it. I’m also a sucker for The Staple Singers, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Annie Lennox, Bettye LeVette, The Neville Brothers. . . ack!  I could go on and on.

Apparently I have 17.5 days worth of music on the old iTunes.  I’m thinking it’s not enough. Music as consolation, motivation, recreation and certainly inspiration.

Right now, these are the first five songs on today’s playlist:

Listening to Levon – – Marc Cohen
Driving with the Brakes on – – Del Amitri
Timshel — Mumford & Sons
The Real Thing — Sahara Smith
Blue Chalk — Maura O’Connell

So tell me — what are you listening to?


  1. Wendy on May 3, 2012 at 2:06 am

    I often wonder what it is that music actually does to our brain cells. We all know the power of how music can change our mood. Does it change the chemistry depending on the tones, volume and quality? As your essay supports music can be invaluably influential as you have explained in this essay.

    You may have come across David Lynch’s very unique music in years past. I first heard a selection from a cassette release called, ‘Deep Breakfast’ on a radio show from Bellingham. As I was truly so interested in the source of the music (As it wasn’t announced), I actually phoned the radio station from where I was at work on night shift to find out.

    It didn’t take me long to find the cassette and it was like nothing I’d ever heard previously. I feel in love with the structure of something so new musically.

    If you are interested, I will add a link to a selection from his music, but I don’t know if it will connect on this blog.

    If you are able to listen, I do hope you enjoy.

    My current favourite music is a wonderful American musician/singer/songwriter, Amos Lee. He appeared on a few late night shows last year. He was so obviously talented during his appearances, I decided to purchase a few of his CD’s. They have not disappointed and I find them playing both in my car, my home and even when I’m out for a run.

    As he was a former elementary school teacher, I would think that he has an educational background that adds to his creativity when writing songs. I wonder who he listens to while creating himself?

    So much of our lives have a backdrop of music. Nice if it is in the background of our creativity too.

    Thanks again for a great topic, Lauren.

    • Lauren B. Davis on May 3, 2012 at 8:24 am

      Hi Wendy — thanks for the Ray Lynch link. Interesting stuff. And I know Amos Lee’s work very well — he’s a Philly local, so we hear his work on the radio often. Cheers!

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