Saturday, April 30, 2011

Music and Writing - Do or Don't

I grew up in home that was always filled with music. My father, an artist, would work on illustrations in the basement while listening to classical music on WQXR. My brothers would be listening to Jethro Tull in their room, and my mother would have Cole Porter playing in the dining room. As a result, I listen to music all day long, and pride myself on my ability to multi-task without finding the sound of music (my apologies to the Von Trapps) a distraction. I’ve actually sat in my living room, watching a basketball game while the Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcast plays in the background. The Tar Heels hit another 3-pointer, and Angela Gheorghiu just finished the Vissi d’Arte from Tosca.

My day job, or the one my husband refers to as “the grown-up job” often requires me to write. While the writing is primarily geared toward fundraising and doesn’t necessarily require excitement and intrigue, the fact remains that the letters don’t write themselves. If there is such a thing as a fundraising muse, it has not been frightened away by Beethoven. The notes pour out of the radio, and I tap merrily away on my keyboard composing lovely fundraising prose.

Creative writing however, is another story entirely. I cannot listen to music and produce fiction simultaneously. Recently, I needed to do some editing on a project and was unable to summon even the slightest bit of enthusiasm for the task at hand. I needed to write some background material for a character, and in desperation, decided to see if the chore could be dealt with while listening to something other than the sound of the keys on the keyboard. I made the mistake of diving right into the contemporary stuff and popped in a Rolling Stones CD. It was difficult to concentrate with Mick Jagger for company, but I was determined to give it a good try, so I struggled on.

After about 20 minutes of stray thoughts, I managed to type the following “Having grown up in New York, his family connections enabled him to see the girls go by dressed in their summer clothes . . .” Well, it almost worked, but not quite. Ok I thought to myself, contemporary music isn’t going to work. In fact, anything with lyrics would be out of the question. I turned instead to something classical, hoping that it might do the trick. I browsed through my collection of CD’s and settled on Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” This is a massive piece of music that contains a lot of color and strength as well as vulnerability. I’ve always found it to be a great motivator – at least when faced with a room in need of vacuuming or a sink full of dishes. Excitedly, I sat in front of the computer and listened to every note, waiting for the words to flow. Imagine my disappointment when they not only failed to flow, they didn’t even manage a trickle. This proved to be just as well, as I needed to put the writing (or lack of) on hold while I left to pick up one of my kids.

I got into the car, slid a Police CD into the disc drive, and bingo, there it was. I arrived home happy, peppy and ready to write. I sat down, turned off the speakers on the computer, and within 28 minutes managed to flesh out a well respected, beautifully imbalanced psychopath. Music is an inspiration, but like everything else in life, it needs a proper time and place.

Do you write with music? Or is it a distraction?

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