The Undercover Soundtrack – Teresa Frohock

‘Music is a trigger that lets me see a living person in my mind’

The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by dark fantasy author Teresa Frohock  @TeresaFrohock

Soundtrack by Loreena McKennitt

My first step in writing has always been the compilation of a soundtrack. I look for music that conveys a mood and brings to mind a character’s essence, a trigger if you will, that makes me see a living person in my mind. I’ve loved Loreena McKennitt’s music from the first time I heard All Souls Night from her CD The Visit. Her music was a perfect fit for the ethereal mood I wanted to create for my novel Miserere, and its soundtrack was comprised entirely of her work.

Breaking free

There were three songs in particular that I used for my main characters. Lucian’s song was The Mystic’s Dream. At the beginning of the piece, men’s voices create the atmosphere and bring to mind Eastern Orthodox churches. The chant builds to become more intense as McKennitt’s voice rises to take control of the arrangement. She carries the song away from the men and pushes the notes forward without looking back.

Whenever I played The Mystic’s Dream I could see Lucian, determined to break free of his situation in spite of his fear. The lyrics, “Clutched by the still of the night / And now I feel you move / Every breath is full / So it’s there my homage’s due / Clutched by the still of the night / Even the distance feels so near / All for the love of you,” encapsulate everything about Lucian’s love for Rachael. By the end of the song, I can see Lucian standing on a precipice, looking over the Wasteland, triumphant that he has made a beginning, however slight, to take his fate into his own hands and find his way home.

Sorrow, longing and defiance

For Rachael and Catarina, I used two songs from the Elemental CD. Rachael’s song was Kellswater. The lyrics aren’t as meaningful to me as the way the song is arranged and how the music makes me feel. I’ve always been able to tune out the words and hear McKennitt’s voice as if it is another instrument. Kellswater is a lonely song, full of sorrow and longing for a love that was, and for a love lost. Yet McKennitt sings the song with a quiet determination and a hint of defiance that makes it perfect for Rachael.

Catarina has none of Rachael’s regrets. Catarina’s scenes and a few of Lucian’s were written to Lullaby in which Douglas Campbell recites Blake’s poem Prologue, Intended for a Dramatic Piece of King Edward the Fourth. The piece opens with the sound of thunder in the background, then McKennitt’s voice floats in beneath the storm with a haunting lullaby that gains prominence only to recede and give way to Campbell’s throaty recitation of Blake’s poem. I could see Catarina, humming the tune with a voice bright as summer sky, her beauty transfixed before the frightful storm of her madness.

Campbell begins the monologue softly, but his voice gains fury with every word until, like the storm, the violent imagery grows to tumultuous proportions. All the while, McKennitt’s rhythmic lullaby is in the background, distant as a memory, simultaneously soothing and disconnected to the carnage evoked by Blake’s poem.

Contrasts and hopes

As the last syllables fade, there is once more the sound of the storm and McKennitt’s voice rises over the thunder before the music fades. You can’t listen to the piece without feeling Campbell’s voice roll through your bones. With the final note, I knew I had Lucian, Catarina, and Rachael—their contrasts and their hopes all enveloped in one song. I saw Woerld and the battles fought and won and lost in their never-ending war against the Fallen.

Music will distract me when I’m writing, so I create a soundtrack and listen to it as I work out or surf the net for images. The music becomes background noise that somehow frees my imagination and inspires me to creativity. McKennitt’s music was the perfect accompaniment to Miserere and never failed to take me to that perfect Zen state where I could see my characters and hear their stories.

Raised in a small town, Teresa Frohock learned to escape to other worlds through the fiction in her local library. She now lives in North Carolina with her husband and daughter.

Teresa has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying. Miserere: An Autumn Tale is her debut novel. Every now and then, she heads over to Tumblr and sends out Dark Thoughts, links to movies and reviews that catch her eye. You can also follow Teresa on Twitter @TeresaFrohock and join her author page on Facebook.

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  1. #1 by Daniel R. Marvello on November 30, 2011 - 3:27 pm

    Wow. The Internet may be global, but it’s a small world. I just won Miserere in a blog giveaway, and I’m reading it now. I love knowing this bit of background about how music inspired the “character’s essence.” Lovely way to put it, Teresa. It might be interesting to listen to McKennitt while reading the book, and experience the soundtrack for myself!

    Hey, now that’s an idea: adding a “recommended reading music” page to our books!

    • #2 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 30, 2011 - 3:50 pm

      What a coincidence, Daniel! I don’t think I could read with music on, though… perhaps others could!

    • #3 by Teresa Frohock on November 30, 2011 - 4:48 pm

      Hey, Daniel,

      That’s a cool idea to use recommended reading music, but I’m like Roz, it would distract me from the text. I used to play background music, though, and used it like white noise. I remember reading THE STAND while listening to Pink Floyd’s THE WALL.

      Thanks for the tweet and I hope you enjoy Miserere.

    • #4 by Daniel R. Marvello on November 30, 2011 - 5:22 pm

      Okay, well, it was an idea, but perhaps not a good one. I do listen to music while reading sometimes, but as you say, it is just background noise for the most part. Although I must say that playing the right music while reading can enhance the experience. I could imagine listening to Enya, or better yet Sarah Brightman, while reading “Miserere” for example. I’d want Beethoven and possibly some Wagner while reading “My Memories of a Future Life.”

      Fiction writing is all about giving the reader an emotional experience, and I’d argue that music does the same. The two working together could be magical.

      • #5 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 30, 2011 - 11:27 pm

        … Beethoven, Wagner… all set for a thundering good time!

      • #6 by Daniel R. Marvello on December 1, 2011 - 12:15 am

        I know, sorry about that. I’m sure you’d rather I picked something from the romantic period, given the leanings of your protagonist, but I’m afraid I’m a baroque/classical man.

  2. #7 by annerallen on November 30, 2011 - 11:06 pm

    I love to listen to music when I read, and Loreena McKennitt is one of my favorite musicians. I think I have at least 5 of her CDs. There’s nothing I’d rather do on a rainy evening than play her music and get lost in a good book. A book written to have a McKennitt soundtrack is definitely going on my list!

    • #8 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 30, 2011 - 11:29 pm

      Hello, Anne! When I saw Teresa’s soundtrack was Loreena McKennitt I wanted to cheer. It’s somehow told me more about Miserere than anything else I’ve seen!

    • #9 by Teresa Frohock on December 1, 2011 - 12:23 am

      Thanks, Anne. I just love her voice and music. Her works always set the mood for me. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. #10 by Vaughn Roycroft on November 30, 2011 - 11:14 pm

    I guess I’m the oddball. I always read and write with music on. Can’t imagine doing it any other way. For Miserere I was all about Lisa Gerrard’s album The Black Opal. Also classic Cocteau Twins, Like the Treasure album. I love McKennitt too, and have her on my writing playlists. Prelude is perhaps my favorite of hers.

    My last read was The Fallen Queen (reviewed on ReaderUnboxed today *shameless plug*), and I listened to the new Kate Bush album, 50 Names for Snow, as I read, both because it was set in winter and it’s a new fave. In author Jane Kindred’s acknowlegements she thanks Kate Bush for the album Aerial, which was her muse music for writing the book. Coincidence? :)

    What fun, Roz. Porter Anderson sent me over here, and I’m glad he did. Kudos to both you and Teresa!

    • #11 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 30, 2011 - 11:37 pm

      Hello Vaughn – how nice to see you here. I’m another Lisa Gerrard fan – and This Mortal Coil too.
      And as for Kate Bush… she is one of my most hallowed muses. One line from Top of the City, on The Red Shoes, gave me a freeze-frame moment in My Memories of a Future Life. I have the new album, waiting for the moment when I can start drafting my current WIP. Although I may well crack before then.

    • #12 by Teresa Frohock on December 1, 2011 - 12:25 am

      Ooo, thanks, Vaughn, now I’m off to check out Gerrard and Bush. Thanks!

      And this is a fun series of posts. I’m enjoying reading how other authors use soundtracks to enhance their stories.

      • #13 by Vaughn on December 1, 2011 - 3:09 pm

        Roz & Teresa, This Mortal Coil (especially Song of the Siren) and Top of the City are among my all-time favorites. Also love Moments of Pleasure from The Red Shoes album. Another evocative album from that era is The Serpent’s Egg, by Dead Can Dance – especially The Host of Seraphim.

        Love this series. I’ll be back.Good luck resisting 50 Names for Snow!

      • #14 by Daniel R. Marvello on December 1, 2011 - 9:14 pm

        That’s so funny, Vaughn. I thought of Dead Can Dance too, after my last comment. I have “In the Realm of a Dying Sun.” Man, talk about atmospheric music!

        • #15 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on December 1, 2011 - 10:30 pm

          Yep, I’ve got Dead Can Dance somewhere around the house. To be squirreled into my study when I find it…

  4. #16 by Sally on December 1, 2011 - 11:24 am

    Thanks for sharing your music story Teresa – and I too belong in the ‘can’t listen to music while reading or writing’ brigade.

    Love your book cover, by the way!

    • #17 by Teresa Frohock on December 1, 2011 - 11:55 am

      Thanks, Sally. Michael C. Hayes did the cover for Miserere and he did the most wonderful job. I tell everyone that he really captured the story in their faces. He does beautiful art.

    • #18 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on December 1, 2011 - 10:31 pm

      Hello, Sally – nice to see you at our concert!

      • #19 by Sally on December 2, 2011 - 10:14 am

        Hi Roz! Loving the concert! :)

  1. ‘Music is a trigger that lets me see a living person in my mind’ – Teresa Frohock on The Undercover Soundtrack « Nail Your Novel

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