Hath Music Charms…


Harpe celtique de couleur claire, by Mac’hvala

…to sooth the savage reader?

Blogger Christine Frazier at The Better Novel Project, thinks so. She intends to “use research instead of luck to write a better novel.” Her post, “The Top 10 Ways to Write about Music,” explores the function of music in best-seller fiction.

I whipped out the ol’ search engine again, to find out how well I did in respect to hearing music – especially because, as a “pantser” who knew nothing about Ireland when I started writing the novel, I relied on luck and research. It turns out that Irish Firebrands mentions music more than 90 times: hymns, Irish Trad, choir, dance, vocal, instrumental, and even whistling.

Here are 5 of Christine’s 10 categories, illustrated by examples of the role of music in Irish Firebrands.


  1. The music began again, but departing from the energetic tempo of the last number, the fiddler began a slow, undulating melody that soon found an echo in Colm Sweeney’s accordion. The two instruments plaited the notes into a gently oscillating tune that the mandolin occasionally pierced with bright, clear tones. Lana felt as if she’d been carried away by a gently rocking boat on the face of a lake that mirrored a midnight sky punctuated with glittering stars. The mood in the pub became poignantly pensive, and afterwards the applause was sincere but subdued.
  2. The harpers captured her interest. Composers always seemed to use the harp to convey impressions of the sea and the sky, while they used violins for romance, but to Lana, the harp was the voice of passion. No wonder the country had adopted the harp as its national symbol … and no wonder Dillon was still devoted to his long-lost harper, Mo.

(Here, music reminds the character about what her appropriate behavior should be.)

Lana resumed her reverie … closing her eyes and replaying Dillon Carroll’s velvet voice in her head, she could almost imagine hearing whispered endearments – then the first notes of the opening hymn jarred her out of her fantasy, eclipsing the echo of those beguiling tenor tones. Get a grip! You’ve got no business daydreaming like that!


  1. She’d nearly finished eating when a crowd came through the door. Some persons carried musical instruments; she recognised Colm Sweeney with his button accordion, and his companions bore a mandolin, a guitar and a fiddle. You never knew what you’d hear at a trad session, and once the music started, Lana had found it nearly impossible to go before closing time.
  2. At that moment, the man with the mandolin launched into runs of crisp triplet notes that wove themselves into a tune that sparkled against a background of chords by the guitarist. The mandolin and guitar passed the melody back and forth between them, until the button accordion entered with a complementary theme that the strummed instruments then briskly supported. Lana couldn’t help tapping her foot to the rollicking rhythm, and at the end of the performance, she joined the rest of the audience in clamorous appreciation.

(Or, in this case, something that’s…not…quite…right….)

Then a woman left her seat beside the musicians and went to lay her hand upon Lana’s outstretched palm. This was not unusual behaviour – during a moving sean-nós performance it was common for listeners to be-come so engaged with the music, that one or more would join a singer like that, silently showing support.
But what did seem odd, was that he hadn’t noticed the woman sitting with the musicians until she moved to Lana’s side. Her tall, slim figure was strikingly familiar … he stared hard at her, but her face was turned away, and across the dimly lighted room he couldn’t quite tell the colour of her curly, shoulder length hair – and yet, he was sure he’d seen those abundant tresses before.
Then Lana finished singing, but instead of joining the applause, the mysterious woman looked over her shoulder directly at Dillon.
All the air went out of him, in one astonished gasp– Mo!
She smiled and tilted her head, as he recalled her doing whenever they’d make eye contact across a room. Then a man walked in front of the musicians, briefly blocking his view. When he’d passed by, Dillon looked for the woman again.
Lana stood alone.
He looked for the chair beside the musicians.
There was no chair.

(or the lack thereof)

  1. He recognised the members of the trad-band, with their fiddle, bodhrán, and guitar, but he’d not be staying to hear them play. It had been a long time since he’d paid any attention to music in pubs – or anywhere else, for that matter. Music had left his life so many years ago, that since then whatever passed for it had become merely background noise.
  2. There’d been a lengthy pause after the sean-nós singer finished, and Dillon had begun to doze in the warmth when the fiddler briefly pitched a note and a woman began to sing. She had a husky voice that sounded curiously familiar. Dillon rose from his seat and looked beyond the bar. Is that Lana?
    It was she. Standing in front of the musicians with her hands clasped before her, she sang a lament of scattered leaves and solitary footsteps, of voices unanswered and reaching hands empty, and loneliness in a world full of people. As she sang, she shut her eyes and reached out appealingly – an enchanting gesture that made Dillon yearn to take her into his arms.

Next time: 5 more categories of musical influence in fiction, which show up in Irish Firebrands.

©2012 by Christine Plouvier


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2 responses to “Hath Music Charms…

  1. I love that you are referencing all the senses and especially that music is involved. Music is such an intricate part of people’s lives, yet it is often missing from books. 🙂


  2. Thank you, Rachel! I believe that much modern fiction suffers from under-thinking or over-thinking. Either approach will effectively eviscerate a story faster than my father, an avid angler, could fillet a fish – but with much less potential to provide a feast for the senses.


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