Some writers want quiet while they work, but many others find inspiration in music. The genres of music that work for writing are probably as varied as there are writers, but writers who listen seem to be divided into two camps: those who can write to vocalists, and those who can only write to instrumental pieces.
Writers whose objection to any music is that it’s too distracting, may actually belong to the second group. If the only music they’ve tried (and failed) to write to is that of their favorite vocalists, perhaps they should get rid of the words. After all, words are what we work with, so it’s no wonder if some of us can’t hear The Little Voice Inside Our Heads if somebody else is yodeling in our ear buds.
I’m firmly in the instrumental camp. When I wrote Irish Firebrands, I listened to a variety of recordings, and I ended up with a great many playlists to accompany my writing moods, including selections from movie soundtracks, movie trailer pieces, and classical music.
I listen while I write, and I also play music when I go to bed at night. I play it very quietly, and I don’t set it to repeat (although if pain wakes me in the night, sometimes I play it again). My brain apparently uses the interludes of silence to consolidate the artificial “memories” that will later become creative writing, because I usually have more ideas, the next day. If I play continuous music all night, I don’t get those ideas.
As part of my cultural immersion research for Irish Firebrands, I began looking for Irish or “Celtic” Traditional music. I wasn’t too enthused about the popular brand of Irish “set dancing” that had been touring the world for several years, but fortunately, fairly early on, I discovered this performance – and I was hooked on “seán-nós” dancing. (click on image to watch)
Later, I purchased a few albums of compatible listening (discography appears in blog footnotes).
Eventually, my Trad favorites from these albums evolved into a “soundtrack” that was keyed to particular characters or episodes in the book (bold items have URL links, or they can be heard below; some different album covers are shown).
- Chapter 1: Overture (Planxty Burke, Planxty Drew) [Celtic Treasure]
- Chapter 1: That Bolshie Donkey (John O’Connor) [Celtic Treasure]
- Chapter 1: Saturday Night at Geary’s Pub (The £5 Flute, Donald McLennan’s Exercise, What Pain I Have Endured Since Last Year) [Dance of the Celts]
- Chapter 2: Irish Spring (Colonel John Irwin) [Celtic Treasure]
- Chapter 4: Monday Trad Session (Shetland Jumper; Message From Home; Wise Up, Grumpy) [Dance of the Celts]
- Chapter 5: Moving Day at Drumcarroll (Robert Jordan) [Celtic Harpestry]
- Chapter 5: Remembering Mo (A Walk on Belfast) [Celtic Harpestry]
- Chapter 6: Frank Halligan (Christy Barry’s Set) [Dance of the Celts]
- Various chapters: Dillon Carroll (The Humours of Ballyloughlin) [Celtic Harpestry]
- Chapter 9: On the Bog (Fanny Power) [Celtic Treasure]
- Chapter 9: Temple Bar (Leis Lacha, An Ghaoth Aniar Aneas, Cailin an Ti Mhoir-Declan Masterson) [Dance of the Celts]
- Chapter 13: No End to Love (Star of the County Down) [Celtic Harpestry]
- Chapter 18: In the Graveyard (Eleanor Plunkett) [Celtic Treasure]
- Chapter 21: Young Dillon Dances Sean-nos (Lord Inchiquin) [Celtic Treasure]
- Chapter 25: Medb’s Ceilidhe: Talent Show (Carolan’s Concerto) [Celtic Treasure]
- Chapter 25: Medb’s Ceilidhe: Sweeney’s Bones (Never Was Piping So Gay, Davey’s, Tomeen O’Dea’s Reel) [Dance of the Celts]
- Chapter 25: Medb’s Ceilidhe: Dancing for Lana (Andy DeJarlis, Ingonish, Mrs McGhee) [Dance of the Celts]
- Chapter 26: Mo anmchara (Bridget Cruise) [Celtic Treasure]
- Chapter 31: So Close and Yet So Far (Captain O’Kane) [Celtic Treasure]
- Chapter 34: Now I am Forgiven (Bridget Cruise, reprise: from a different recording)
Planxty Burke/Planxty Drew – Shelly Phillips
Bridget Cruise/John O’Connor/George Brabazon - Domining Bouchaud and Cyrille Colas
The £5 Flute/Donald McLennan’s Exercise/What Pain I Have Endured Since Last Year – Old Blind Dogs
Colonel John Irwin – Mairle Ni Chathasaigh and Chris Newman
Shetland Jumper/Message From Home/Wise Up, Grumpy – John McGann
Robert Jordan – Máire Ní Chathasaigh
A Walk On Belfast – The Belfast Harp Orchestra
Christy Barry’s Set – Kevin Crawford
The Humours Of Ballyloughlin – Máire Ní Chathasaigh
Fanny Power – El McMeen
Star Of The County Down – Deborah Henson-Conant
Eleanor Plunkett – Deanta
Lord Inchiquin – Deiseal
Carolan’s Concerto – John Whelan
Andy De Jarlis/Ingonish/Mrs. McGhee – Altan
Captain O’Kane – Seamus McGuire
Do you listen to music when you write? What kind?
If you enjoyed these selections, why not add the albums to your writer’s collection? You may get some interesting story ideas!
Celtic treasure: The legacy of Turlough O’Carolan. (1996). [Music recording]. Milwaukee, WI: Narada Media.
Celtic harpestry: A contemporary Celtic collection. (1998). [Music recording]. New York: Imaginary Road Records.
Dance of the Celts. (1997). [Music recording]. Milwaukee, WI: Narada Media.