Sunday, November 27, 2011

Music and Me

Hello everyone! I’m new around these parts, so ‘cuse me if I seem a bit nervous, because, well, I am. But, fortunately, this week’s blog theme is about music and writing, and while I can’t blog about playlists because I cannot, for the life of me, write and listen to music at the same time, I can write about how music taught me to be a writer.

You see, I didn’t start out life as a writer. Writing was never part of “the plan”. The plan was to be a classical musician, and while I did the time and got the pieces of paper and actually worked as a singer and a singing teacher for a while (a good long while in the case of teaching singing), it wasn’t meant to be. So then, I had to find something I could do, and since the only other piece of paper I had said “Bachelor of Art in Art History”, well, it was write, or Starbucks. So, write it was.

The thing I didn’t realize was that I actually had been writing for a while. I just didn’t know it. Almost everything I’ve ever written has music in it. SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, for example, has French-Canadian folksongs in it, and they were playing through my mind while I was writing (that is once of the reasons I can’t write to music, because I’ve almost always got my own built-in soundtrack playing). I’ve got a middle grade novel that was inspired by a Ralph Vaughn Williams song, and a YA fantasy novel that is about the spiritual side of music.

Music is something that is so much a part of me that it is everywhere. My writing is directly influenced by my favorite composers and musical artists (‘cuz classical isn’t all I listen to), and that I can attribute, with great gratitude, to my teachers, who always delighted in how the great song composers used music to illuminate text. Text existed first, my teachers always said, and therefore, song serves text, not the other way around. My teachers made me translate every single song I learned, not only from the language the text was written in to English (which, I think, is a really valuable task for writers because it immerses you inside a language, and you really get to see how words function, and then, the possibilities! Even just writing this gets me really fired up! Language is so DELICIOUS!), but into IPA (international phonetic alphabet), so I could see how words were built. That, I think, has really filtered into my writing, because I tend to blur the lines between prose and poetry, and I can be rather, um, particular (or obsessive, if you prefer) about the words I choose and how they function. Music taught me that. Music taught me a single word can ignite passion, make a person swoon, move an audience to tears, or even cause a riot!

And it taught me other things too, like how to rely on your technical foundation when things aren’t going according to plan. Or, how to gleam lessons from other art disciplines. And, to always be on the lookout for inspiration--inspiration, such an important word for artists! We breathe in, and are inspired! See? Words are magic! Music is magic too--little lines and dots on a page that form a language that can only be sung, or played, once--each time is unique, and then, it’s gone (which is why live music is so much more magical than recorded music, I think). And that’s why it’s so exciting to know someone’s going to read my work one day, because then it becomes like music--someone will read it with his or her eyes, in his or her own way, with his or her own experience, and then what were once only my words become something else, something more...something unique. Like music. Like magic!

Anyhow, thanks to this post, I’ve spent a fair amount of time revisiting some of my favorite works of music tonight. I wanted to choose something to post here, something that maybe people aren’t familiar with, but it’s so tough, especially since not everyone is a fan of classical music and rightly so - some of it is pretty stodgy!

So, in the end, I choose something that was on mind when I was writing earlier today. I hope you enjoy it.

Catherine Knutsson lives on Vancouver Island and divides her time between writing, riding horses, and singing. Her debut novel, THE SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, will be published by Atheneum (Simon & Schuster) in June 2012. To learn more about Catherine and her writing, please visit her website!


  1. Wonderful post! Words ARE magic, and music is magic. And now I want to study music.... :)

    "...rely on your technical foundation when things aren’t going according to plan." -- good lesson!

    Loved the piece in the video. Thank you.

  2. Words are magic AND delicious! Also, calorie-free! What could be better?

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Shari :)

  3. So beautiful, Catherine, the selection you chose. And thank you for sharing your experience with music and how it has led you to where you are today. A wonderful post on how music inspires you in your writing.

  4. I really hope I can listen to an Orchestra live one day, playing something like this or more intense like Requiem for a Dream.