The Sound of Muzak.

Blogger Christine at The Better Novel Project, 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.

It turns out that Irish Firebrands mentions music more than 90 times: hymns, church choir, Irish Trad, dance, vocal, instrumental, and even whistling. Oddly enough, I wrote this “bestseller” aspect into my novel entirely by instinct, without planning it – by luck.

Here are Christine’s next five categories, illustrated by more examples of the role of music in Irish Firebrands.



After Lana was seated, several musicians entered from another door and took seats on a bench at the side of the room. One bore a guitar, another a flute, the third a fiddle and the last carried a collection of tubes and straps, a stomach-shaped bag and an apparatus that suggested a fireplace bellows.
“What on Earth is that?”
Uilleann pipes,” Frank said. “They’re bagpipes, but instead of blowing, the piper pumps that bellows with his elbow. ‘Uilleann’ means ‘elbow’.”
“Bagpipes! Uh-oh, I don’t know about this.”
“Why, what’s wrong with bagpipes?”
“They have the same effect on me as harpsichord music.”
“That being?” He raised his eyebrows.
Lana leant towards Frank and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “They arouse in me an overwhelming desire….”
He leant towards her in turn, fascination written on his face. “A desire?”
“To commit axe murders!”


  1. When he entered the pub he heard a man singing sean-nós, and again he recognised a tune – Amhrán Mhaínis, a haunting melody that carried him back to his childhood.
    How long had it been since he’d heard Daideo singing at a funeral? Or Mamó playing her tin whistle at a ceilidhe?
  2. Dillon’s earliest memories were of music – of Daideo’s singing sean-nós, and of his learning to dance to the tunes Mamó played on her tin whistle. When they died, he lost the only thing that could pad the jagged edges of his loneliness. Then he fell in love with Mo, and when he’d learned that she was a harper, he was even more determined to marry her – because she would give him music again….

(And also abandonment.)

  1. There was music in his dream – crystalline notes that rained like gems from the sky as he lay upon the greensward. But when they touched his skin, they melted and soaked into his body, warm and relaxing…. Then he awoke, and the music was real, filling the bedroom where he lay, naked but snug under the duvet in the four-poster bed. He stretched his back and limbs, and then he basked in languid comfort, sated from a night of lovemaking. When at last he opened his eyes his gaze fell upon Mo in her dressing gown, seated in a chair beside the hearth, her hands upon the harp strings. Her hair shimmered like firelight that had escaped from the flames, and the lilting melody she played was accompanied by the gentle percussion of rain upon the window.
  2. She heard neither music nor lesson … but when the meeting was over and she lingered in the empty room – blinded and deafened by despair – she felt a touch upon her shoulder.


  1.  “Since then, I’ve been groping towards the truth, with many a painful stumble. During this time, I’ve found comfort in the songs of Zion–” he held up the green book “–especially one that the book says was translated from a hymn by Katharina von Schlegel, and set to the music of Jean Sibelius.”
  2. “And now, with the help of the choir, I’d like to finish bearing my testimony in song, using my own feeble translation of ‘Stille, mein Wille’.”
    Dillon returned to his place in the choir, and then the director raised the singers. When perfect silence had descended upon the choir and congregation, she cued the singers – but instead of words, a soft chord, pure and vibrant as a violin tremolo, issued from their throats. Then the director cued the men’s section, and a single voice arose – Dillon’s clear tenor:

Metaphor and simile
(This was a tough one. Similes and metaphors are not my strong suit.)

  1. His voice was like vibrant music.
  2. The fiddler had been playing soft glissandos and arpeggios reminiscent of wind soughing in pine trees.
  3. Dillon – who had no reason to be well disposed towards her – was the nicest of them all. Putting that with a face and physique that were easy on the eye and a voice that was music to the ear, made him a very attractive man–

Next time, we’ll look at three extra jobs I found music doing in Irish Firebrands….

©2012 by Christine Plouvier



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2 responses to “The Sound of Muzak.

  1. Axe murders and elbow bagpipes? Very interesting! 😀


    • Irish uilleann pipes actually have a nice sound to them, which is why Mel Gibson dubbed them in place of the highland pipes you see in his movie Braveheart. He said he thought that highland pipes sound like a scalded cat.


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