I hear music and there’s no one there

Do you have a playlist for your current writing project? I usually write in silence, occasionally distracted by the hum of the refrigerator or the shriek of the little girl down the hall or the meow of my very needy cat. But I remember when I was really cooking, working my way through fourteen drafts (!) of an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol short stories, I was listening to a lot of music. I auditioned a lot of genres, trying to find exactly the right composer and style to suit what I was working on. Luckily, a CD from Ego Plum, the marvelously talented composer hired by the Rogues to compose music for our “Gogol Project” arrived. It set the perfect mood.

It was reassuring somehow to discover that I wasn’t the only writer in need of musical inspiration. At the end of his Roman Empire/Camelot adventure novel “The Last Legion, Italian novelist Valerio Massimo Manfredi gave a nod to composer Paolo Buonvino, citing his lush soundtracks as his constant companion. After reading that, I immediately sought out Buonvino and was carried away to that romantic Italy that lives in our dreams.

My Omaha writing buddy Ellen is married to a musician and always finds interesting music to inspire her writing. She’s tackling a historic subject in anything but a traditional way and is listening to the recent Pulitzer winner for composition Caroline Shaw and a Native American group called A Tribe Called Red. The music is edgy and interesting and challenges her to get out of her comfort zone.

Me? I was stumped for a soundtrack for the romantic comedy I’m fighting with. I tried piano solos, Erik Satie, Tony Bennett (whatever did we do before Pandora?) Not perfect.

And then I remembered – duh – one of my characters sings show tunes. He explains in a monologue that he’d grown up listening to every Broadway album his mother owned. And there were a lot. His guilty pleasure as an adult was to once a month to leave the political realities of Capitol Hill behind and join the Washington theatre community, standing around a piano in an elegant hotel bar, belting out show tunes. Karaoke for nerds.

I knew his taste exactly: “If Ever I Would Leave You” from “Camelot” and “Into the Fire” from “The Scarlett Pimpernel.” Big, robust, hopelessly romantic from another era. Just describing his taste in music helps me define him more clearly.

And so I’ve been listening to Broadway musicals as I write. But only ones I know so well that I don’t have to listen carefully to hear the lyrics. Songs that are firmly implanted in the back of my brain – just as they are for my main character. They provide the drama and the fortitude and the color in his life. And they’re playing the same role for me as I write “Statuary Hall.” But what’s on your playlist? What soundtrack do you use to write your plays?

1 Comment

  • By Allie, May 27, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

    As a writer, I have certain albums/artists playing in the background when I’m writing different projects. As an actress, I’ve sometimes created playlists for certain projects/characters that I listen to before filming/performing. My most recent playlist has really helped me make the transition from real life (especially if I’ve had a hectic day) to character – I listen to it right before rehearsal and it calms me down!

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