Music & Writing

I came to write something about the link between music and writing through two separate avenues.

First, I was given a CD by Ed Sheeran for Christmas. Not having my finger on the popular music pulse, I hadn’t heard of him. (Feel better about that now I know he’s just won the Best Breakthrough Act at the Brits –  he is new.) I started listening to the music and found I loved it. I like the combination of guitar melodies set against rap-style lyrics. Also when I listened more carefully, I grew interested in the words. In Grade 8, he sings about ‘Your body is my ballpoint pen and your mind is my new best friend.’  Those images work for me as a way of describing the intense experience of being in love where you feel able to express yourself and be understood. So, poetry? Yes, I’d say so.

As an aside – I also love his story. Apparently, he watched the concert for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and listening to Eric Clapton playing guitar, he knew that was what he wanted to do.  He posted songs on YouTube and Facebook, and sometimes used to sell only five CDs at gigs in pubs.  Now, he’s playing at the Diamond Jubilee. What a great success story for anyone trying to make it creatively.

Back to the music/writing link – recently I went to a poetry workshop (no, I’m not a poet, but think the close attention to language and imagery which poets must employ is useful in prose writing as well) where the theme was poetry and music. The idea was to ‘tune your ear to the sound of your words and focus on language’s rich rhythms and sounds’.

One of the tasks was to listen to a piece of music and write for five minutes without stopping, responding to the music, its pace, mood, and moments of change. Then, to take the ideas you’d jotted down and shape them into something. I’m not pretending that what follows is great poetry – or even poetry – so apologies to any real poets who might read this, but I’m amazed at what the mind can – unexpectedly – produce.

The music that I wrote this in response to was by British Sea Power – and no, I hadn’t heard of them either(!) but apparently they’re an indie rock band:

As the nuns chant: ‘Our Father. Our Father’,
Their breath blooms on the night’s branches.
As the nuns chant: ‘Trespass. Tresspass’,
Their rosaries tremble in the candles’ glow.

As the nuns chant: ‘Sin. Sin’,
The pulpit frowns and shakes its head.
As the nuns chant: ‘Mercy. Mercy’,
The altar draws its curtains shut.

The wages of sin are death.
Death that doesn’t slip across the rimed hedgerow,
Slither secretly through the heavy oak door,
But crashes it back on its hinges:
‘I’m here!’ it announces.
‘You sinned.

The old nun shivers as she slips to the floor,
The night’s branches blacker without her bloom,
And winter’s frost shrouds the church.

Five minutes listening to a piece of music, fifteen minutes writing! A great exercise. Let me know what you think.

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  1. It’s great when a workshop exercise truly inspires, and this one clearly did it’s job! I love this poem, Lindsay, the personification of the various church innards, the repetition, the thought of death ‘that doesn’t slip across the rimed hedgerow’ – great line – wonderfully thought-provoking and the more I read it the more I can see in it, this works on so many levels.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Polly. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The most amazing thing to me is how it came about in such a short space of time, when I hadn’t even been thinking those things. The mind is a truly wonderful thing!

  3. Andrea J Taylor says:

    Lindsay what a lovely poem, I never liked poetry because it did not speak to me, how I wish I could have had a teacher to inspire and interest me like your writing does.As I said in my e mail i shall look forward to reading, The Piano Players Son.

  4. Lindsay says:

    Thank you so much, Andrea, for your nice comments. I’m glad you like the poem – I think it’s amazing the way it came about!

  5. Elly says:

    Thanks for the prompt. It came along the same day that I was introduced to The Cure by my UK friends (I’m in Canada) so I ended up playing their wonderful “The Caterpillar” piece (on You Tube) several times and doing some free-writing afterwards. Which put a 🙂 on my face.

  6. Lindsay says:

    Glad the prompt was helpful. Was the writing productive?

  7. I really believe music,prose and poetry are interelated. What is a song,if not poetry?
    What is prose,if not poetical.

    I think you’ve uncovered another part of your talent. Practice it! Stretch your comfort zone and believe in yourself x

  8. Lindsay says:

    Thanks for that, Chrissie.
    I went on the poetry workshops because I wanted to focus on use of language in my prose, but I really enjoyed writing the idea that came from the music prompt. Stretching your comfort zone is definitely good advice.

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