Monday, November 8, 2010

Music! or Why I Write in Silence

I love music. If I hadn't had an epiphany after Grade 10 that I didn't want to go pro, I'd probably be playing jazz trumpet somewhere right now. Some day I'd love to have time to join an amateur symphony or big band, because creating music is such a joy, especially when you play brass. You get all these great lines and solos…

I've read a number of things recently, on blogs and on Twitter, that got me thinking, "I should write a music post". Last night was kind of the clincher—I copied my baroque trumpet, renaissance, and medieval music CDs onto my laptop because for some reason I've had this computer for a year and haven't done that yet. Don't worry, it was only seven discs.

I love music for several reasons. Anything that falls under the colloquial meaning of "classical music" (Baroque through 20th Century) has all these harmonies and interwoven melodies, and there is absolutely nothing better for portraying emotions. The final movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is the purest joy I've ever heard. The second movement of Vivaldi's Winter has no rivals for sadness. There are unconstrained parties, passionate romance, character sketches, and fantastic dance music. In addition, Handel's Fireworks Music, Mozart's piano sonatas, and Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier make excellent background music for editing and studying. (I love pre-Baroque music because I can hear how it evolved into the later stuff, and there are some pretty catchy tunes.)

Jazz is dance music and singing music. I love everything from dixieland through bebop, and a smattering of later pieces though most house jazz, cool jazz, and acid jazz leaves me cold. I go for the classic stuff. They knew how to write melodies you could dance to back then, and melodies that would follow you home. They knew how to write lyrics, too, and how to sing. My favourite vocalists are Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby. The most romantic songs I know are all jazz standards, like "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and "You're the Top". I can't listen to jazz without dancing or humming along.

Early rock (1950s and 1960s) is just fun. A lot of the songs are covers of jazz standards or blues songs, and even when they're not, the lyrics are enjoyable and the music has a beat. Early rock is all about dancing. My favourite bands are the Beatles and Rolling Stones, though they're by no means the only artists from the era in my collection. I'm also a fan of Chuck Berry and Joni Mitchell.

Classic rock and heavy metal are for lip syncing and playing air guitar. Sorry, but it's true. There's so much enthusiasm and so much LOUD that again, I can't help it. I sing along. I act it out. Classic rock is housecleaning music. Again, the Beatles and Stones are at the top of my list, but I've got soft spots for Creedance Clearwater Revival, Deep Purple, and Queen. "Hotel California" is genius.

The 1980s are by and large a guilty pleasure, as is ABBA. There's so much cheese, so much glam, so much synthesizer and drum machine… What's not to love? I like early Madonna. I love Springsteen. I mostly have the greatest hits of everyone else, and seriously need to own some Bowie. But again, it's fun, it's danceable, and yes, I sing along. (It's not blackmail material if I openly admit it.) Then there's Leonard Cohen and Neil Diamond, who I guess are really 70s through 90s…

I don't have much knowledge about the 1990s, apart from the odd Top 40/Greatest Hit that made it through my social obliviousness and imprinted. So yeah, that includes Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls. But not much, I swear! My favourite 1990s group (who're still producing, by the way) is the Barenaked Ladies. There's such whimsy and Canadianness and … difference to their music. I love their sound. (There's also Great Big Sea.)

I'm not going to go into folk music too much, except to say that if it's Celtic or British or comes from those traditions, I am so there, and if my mom listened to it while I was growing up, those artists are in my collection too.

You'll have noticed a trend by now. I go for the music I can sing and dance to, and I go for sounds, melodies, and harmonies. This is why I only put music on when I'm not writing, because if I have both going at the same time, the music's going to win.  Power to everyone who can listen and write at the same time, but they're not me. It doesn't matter if it's Mozart or Philip Glass or Buddy Holly. My brain is going to fix itself on the music to the detriment of everything else. (I had to stop writing this blog to listen to those jazz videos I linked to.)

Sadly, I don't know very many people who share the same level of music geekery. I love recommending pieces and I love talking music theory and music history. I think sometimes I scare people, actually. Anyone out there who's the same? Anyone have favourite bands or composers to share? Anyone who also can't write with music on? Anyone want to explain how they can write with music? Let's get some discussion going!


NerdyGirl said...

I can listen to anything instrumental when writing. Lyrics distract me, though I don't mind songs where the lyrics are in a foreign language.

I think it's because I don't know much about how music is made. I can't analyze it, so it doesn't have much ability to intrude on my concentration.

And I heart BNL. Gordon is my favorite album, but I love everything they do.

Hannah said...

I posted about this too, now!

But a few comments I wanted to make here:

1. We should talk jazz. I have issues with jazz, but I think it might be because I don't understand it.

2. (This is in my post, but...) I listen to music while I write and it just fades into the background. I can even listen to speech. But I'm generally not a super-focused writer: I have to go online about every other sentence. That's how I wrote papers all through college. I think I can mostly listen to music because I always prioritize visual information over auditory, so if I'm reading, I just ignore whatever I'm hearing. But I do have to be careful, because my choice of music can seriously mess with my mood and the tone of my writing!

3. You need to come to New York to hang out with me and my husband so we can all be music geeks together! :-) He's a mathematician, but also majored in music in college, and loves talking about music history and music theory and such. He has even had music-listening parties to get people together and listen to bizarre twentieth-century classical music. I'm not quite as geeky as he is, but I still like it...

Anassa said...

NerdyGirl: Fair enough. I can see how not knowing how music's put together would make it less distracting. And I know I think differently about music than a lot of people.

Gordon is definitely my favourite album too. That Canadian whimsy I was talking about? Yeah. Totally Gordon.

Hannah: Go ahead and talk! I'll do my best to answer (and maybe provide samples). You don't have to like jazz, though. Many people don't.

Lucky you that you can do that. I'm not a particularly focussed writer either, but music's just too much for me. I cannot tune it out, whereas I can tune out the internet if I really try. Oddly, I wrote papers to classical music in uni, but I can't write anything now. Perhaps because it's fiction?

Ha! Maybe someday. Maybe someday. I'm not so much into the bizarre modern classical stuff (that's Dad), but he sounds cool otherwise! ;-)