I never used to write with music on in the background as I found it was influencing what I wrote! Trust me, it is difficult to write a death scene with some lovey-dovey ballad coming out of the radio. Talk about killing the mood… (Likewise, you try writing a love scene to, say, Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell. Just doesn’t seem right somehow).
Of course, with radio, you can’t know what’s coming up on the play list though the advent of the internet has changed that. Most of the stations have an online presence these days and there is usually a list of what has just been played and the next couple of items coming up.
I find this a little annoying. I tend to tune in just in time to discover I’ve missed one of my all time favourite pieces! I always find I tune in exactly the right time to listen in full to those works I’m not so keen on. Murphy’s Law does indeed get everywhere. And yes I’m a convert to DAB radio too. I don’t miss having the airwaves interrupted by taxi broadcasts etc that were such a feature of my radio listening during the 1970s onwards.
So for quite a while, I wrote in silence and then used music as a wind-down, separate activity. These days, I listen to classical as I write and continue to listen as a wind-down activity. This is very much a case of my having my cake and eating it here (though the great news is there are no calories involved whatsoever!).
I don’t know quite what it is about classical music but I find it does not affect my mood as much as rock/pop has done in the past. I’m still very fond of the latter but with classical I find it just encourages a calm frame of mind – and that does help as I write.
It kind of sets the background and off I go and write. It helps me block out anything which isn’t important as I write. My late mother could never understand how I could work with music on at all but I’ve always found it’s a question of the right music helping you to get into the right frame of mind to buckle down and get on with it.
Classical music has long been used to reflect moods though. I used Saint Caen’s wonderful Danse Macabre as the theme music for the book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again because it is a quirky piece of music and so fits my quirky fiction well. It is probably best known for being used as the theme to the quirky detective series, Jonathan Creek. (So no prizes for guessing why they used it!).
My most recent classical discoveries have been the stunning works of Ralph Vaughn Williams and especially his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Thomas Tallis was a Court musician who did very well indeed to survive through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
The Fantasia beautifully conjures up the sense of going back into the time zone when Tallis lived. The technical expertise of this piece is amazing. It conjures up a world many of us will have read about (though frankly I’m glad to live in the second Queen Elizabeth’s time for all manner of reasons!).
Oh and I don’t blame Beethoven either for becoming increasingly grumpy as his deafness took hold. Well you would want to hear such wonderful music. The frustration of not being able to hear your own work must have been awful. (Personal favourites of mine here: The Fifth Symphony and the Moonlight Sonata and there’s a nice contrast in mood for you!).
Classical music has been used as the basis for advertising for many years (as generally there are no issues with copyright, the composers having been gone for centuries in some cases). Again the music is used to set the right mood for the product.
My first introduction to classical music (though I wasn’t aware of it at the time) was the old Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut advert narrated by the late, great Frank Muir and the music is the Danse de mirlitons from The Nutcracker. For years I thought of it as the Fruit and Nut music (which says more about me and the success of the Cadbury’s advertising campaign than it does about the wonderful talents of Tchaikovsky).
And the other “big” one from that era? The old Hovis advert with the little boy wheeling his bike up a very steep hill. The music is the New World Symphony by Dvorak and I can’t hear a note of it without recalling that image of the kid and the bike. I believe the hill itself is in Shaftesbury. I think walking up without a bike would be enough of a challenge but there you go. (Mind, I dread to think what speed you could get up to on a bike on the way down!).
Movies have used classical music pretty much from their infancy when sound came in as music can convey so much without words. It can set scenes, give hints as to approaching menace (which is the official title of the BBC Mastermind theme incidentally) and, as well as using traditional composers, movie music has become a recognised classical music genre in its own right. I’ve only got to mention Jaws and I suspect the majority of you will instantly hear the theme playing in your mind! Likewise Star Wars.
Now I must be off. I’ve got characters to deal with and perhaps, after all, I should choose the right music to help set the mood so I can get cracking…
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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