Posts Tagged Vivaldi

The Undercover Soundtrack – Christine Tsen

for logo‘Freedom and life force’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s guest is cellist and poet Christine Tsen

Soundtrack by Josh Groban, Evanescence, Ennio Morricone, Brahms, Vivaldi, Chopin, Joshua Bell, Snatam Kaur

I’m a feeler. While many people tend to live and run their lives through facts and figures, I am guided by my feelings. I intuit my way through rather than intellectualise. Today’s close of the Dow Jones Industrial Average? Not a clue. Boring. How I felt after my performance this afternoon? Happy, relieved, tired, looking forward to a lovely walk. The same goes for my art. I am a performing cellist and poet. Playing the cello and writing poetry are two spiritual activities in their own right, and yet they merge as music inspires poetry through words, cadence and feeling. And I am not afraid of experimenting and falling on my face.

Glissando on the way down

Glissando is one of the poems in my book Cellography. It refers to the fall from trying to attain some disgusting perfection of one’s life, entrapments, and surroundings. It refers to complete humiliation and humility. A period of pruning back and eating it. I believe I was listening to Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up during this period of writing and howling. And O how I howled. During this time of admitting the truth and being indelicately thrust into an orbit of change, both of my dear parents died. I couldn’t have gone much lower. But there’s always some sort of renewal, growth. There’s the getting back up again.
Just around the corner.

Glissando rising up

Symphonymphony is about becoming utterly one with the music, and opening to the depths of something profoundly mystical. It’s the same whether I play in a symphonic or chamber music setting. Music turns me on. Poetry turns me on. Art, what have you turns me on. There is such freedom and life force behind it all.

And soul.

Along with feeling, faith and spirituality inspire my poetry and music. I am not a musical snob. If it makes me feel something and has heart, I’m in. When I wrote Playing Love, I was listening to Playing Love, the Ennio Morricone tune. And I wrote the poem with the intrinsic declaration that art is in fact an offering of the heart, whether chalk on a sidewalk or a musician playing in a garden. I was inspired to write Playing Love after hearing about the experiment with solo violinist Joshua Bell when he posed as a street musician and passers-by continued on past him with nary a glance. A free concert by the virtuoso who would be charging over $200 per seat later that day (yes, it was sold out).

In the quiet periods of contemplation when I’m not writing poetry, I listen to Vivaldi and Bach, any and all Bach. YouTube Vivaldi. All of it. It lifts and clears out unnecessary residue. They are like a spritzing drink that cleanses the palate between two courses and a meal.

And after a Grand Pause, a dearth of poetic productivity, life handed me another rollercoaster. Truths shifted, internal realities trumped external formalities, and I stumbled and bumped through a Gothic-laced night of the soul. Let’s just say I have encountered my share of narcissists, their games and manipulations. And out of this ride, a veritable feast of creativity came gushing forth. Evanescence accompanied me through creating Renaissance Waltz, Harmony, Sodden Kisses, Depression, and September. She walked me through the dark humor, the cloudy sad weather. But through this in a place of pain, I experienced catharsis. I lifted this Goth from my teenage daughter and there is no finer stuff, however passé.

My poem, Songmaker, is about Chopin, Brahms, these glorious men of my dreams. I began listening to their creations in utero, and they’re like food.

I’ve been mentioning the music I listened to and yet I should also include the music I was playing. For example, there is Chopin’s Polonaise Brilliante. I found this piece in an attic and fell in love with it. So did my dog, or at least he humored me by joining in. I recorded it on my album From the Land of Song and wrote the poem Divo at the same time. A lovely pup-and-cello duet that also made its way into Bark Magazine, a periodical on all things canine.

Cellography coverSometimes ideas, images, feelings come to me and yet I find myself struggling to express them. Then after a while, all of a sudden, the words come forth. Quickly, furiously, unfettered. And after the typing I look up to see them arranging themselves into a poem. Ambition: Untamed is one of them. And my accompaniment? A soft cacophony of birds, the padded paw-steps of my dog, and Snatam Kaur’s album Grace, so soft that I don’t even notice. Beautiful.

The message always means more to me than the words in poetry. I don’t so much want to make people ponder. I want them to feel, as I do, and from different perspectives. Compassion. Empathy. Passion. Humour. Joy. Sorrow. These emotions make me feel alive and uniquely human. So often we try to soften them with distractions. Is it that we’re afraid if we start we won’t be able to stop? It’s all too risky? Well let it be, I say. There is a natural motion to the ways of love and joy, sorrow and pain, as well as the fervent still points such as Beethoven’s space between the notes. If nothing were ever moving us, where would the meaning be?

Christine Tsen is a cellist and chamber musician performing throughout New England. She graduated from the Eastman School of Music (BM) and the New England Conservatory of Music (MM). A lyrical musician and poet, she believes in grace and the power of a smile. Her CDs, From the Land of Song and Cello Ornithology are available at CD Baby or by request. Her poetry collection, Cellography, is published by Vine Leaves Press. Her poetic journey began in her toddlership but was encouraged by her inspiring and kind brother, Jeff Thomas.  Her website is here.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Naomi Elana Zener

for logo‘Battle songs

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s guest is Huffington Post blogger and satirical thriller author Naomi Elana Zener @satiricalmama

Soundtrack by Vivaldi, Rolling Stones, Eagles, Chumbawumba, AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Bob Marley, Starship, Rick Astley, Grieg, Sarah Bareilles

Her career is circling the drain. Her almost marital apartment is empty. The fiancé is Decamped Dude, off on a lovers’ jaunt with his best man. And, Joely is alone tracking the remnants of her life as though the shark from Jaws is following her every move ready to engulf what’s left of her in one fell swoop.

NEZ HEADSHOT (2014)Music is to my writing as oxygen is to my breathing. One cannot exist without the other. Certainly, there are moments of silence, but generally when I write anything, including Deathbed Dimes, often the staccato sounds emanating from the dancing keyboard punctuates Vivaldi’s Four Seasons playing on a loop, as I build the world and characters with whom I live inside my head until they find their way onto the page.

Having grown up in a classical music and opera loving household, and being a lawyer by day, writing with the melodic sounds of the piano, violin, wind and other string instruments wafting through the air was symbiotic to my process of creating the law firm world — quite a WASPy one in fact—in which Joely toiled day and night during her grueling 80-hour work weeks. It was when her world fell apart cataclysmically that the soundtrack of her life and mine changed. Gone were the soothing tones.

Joely is a character trying to find a way to happiness, which for her is defined by career success, a romantic marriage, and wonderful friendships. Having been jilted at the altar, looked over for partnership at her law firm, and displaced geographically from her two best friends, Ethan Berg and Coco Hirohito — her surrogate family to replace the one she knows she has to return to in Los Angeles—who are both on the West Coast, Joely is staring eye-to-eye with the nadir of her life. To accompany her downward emotional spiral, my writing was dispatched to the tune of You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Rolling Stones) and carried through on the wings of thematically similar music, most notably The Eagles’ Hotel California. When I write, I tend to listen to certain songs on repeat. I’m an extremely focused person—the antithesis of having ADD—such that when I’m concentrating on or writing something, my laser-like tunnel vision works best listening to the music that evokes the creative spirit from within.

To return my heroine to that from whence she came: Beverly Hills, to live with her Oscar-winning aging screen siren mother, Sylvia, and her D-list philandering director father, Armand, I had to fill my head with fight music. To don her war paint and gear up for battle—more like war since her parents’ selfish desires for their daughter have little to do with what Joely wants for herself—I listened to a cacophony of sounds, including the theme song from Rocky Balboa, Chumbawamba’s I Get Knocked Down (Tubthumping), AC/DC’s Back in Black, and Guns N Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle. Down, but not out, Joely was able to hop drunkedly on her return flight to Los Angeles for the fight of her life.

Joely’s reunion with her respective chosen and birth families, her return to the practice of law on her own terms, and her quest for personal fulfillment was written to a musical mish mash. The emotional roller coaster ride of having her heart pulled in three directions—the fiancé who left her, the married mentor, and her best friend for whose love she’s willfully blind—was written to a myriad of tonalities, ranging from Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, to Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us, and to Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up — yes, I’m a child of the 80s—but to name a few. The legal warpath was written to the echoed sounds of the battle songs I listened to in order to prepare Joely for her return to Los Angeles. Brief moments of serenity were hallmarked by my return to listening to classical music, with Edvard Grieg’s Morning marking a quintessential awakening for Joely.

Deathbed Dime$ Final CoverIn the end, the moment in which Joely and I jointly discovered that we would find a way for her to ‘have it all’—career, love, marriage, success—the song playing on the radio by happenstance was Sarah Bareilles’s Love Song. Both mine and Joely’s heads were proverbially ‘under water’ prior to that moment — I was unsure whether it would be realistic for a woman to have it all, as I was struggling with a similar shared female experience in my own life. When Bareilles’ song blared through my radio, and eventually through that of Joely’s car stereo as she drove along the PCH highway in Los Angeles, it underscored the revelatory moment for when I realised how Joely’s story would end. Or, rather begin again.

Naomi Elana Zener is the author of both Deathbed Dimes and satire fiction, which is posted on her blog Satirical Mama. Her vociferous blogging has been read and appreciated by industry bigwigs such as Giller Prize winner Dr Vincent Lam and New York Times best-selling author and journalist Paula Froelich. Naomi blogs for Huffington Post and her articles have been published by Kveller, Absrd Comedy, and Erica Ehm’s Yummy Mummy Club. She’s currently working on her sophomore novel. You can connect with her on her website or on Twitter @satiricalmama.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Brendan Gisby

‘My stories replay the soundtrack of my life’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is McStorytellers founder, biographer and novelist Brendan Gisby @twistedfoot

Soundtrack by John McCormack, Robert White, Bridie Gallagher, Julie Driscoll, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald, Irving Berlin, Vivaldi, Frank Sinatra

It came as a revelation to me.  ‘Do you use music in your writing process?’ asked Roz Morris.  I didn’t know.  I would have to check.  I had written a handful of novels and biographies, together with some short stories – well, a mountain of stories, actually.  It was amongst the latter that I began my investigations.

It didn’t take me long to partly answer Roz’s question.  Yes, I do use music in my writing.  Every other story I examined included some sort of musical reference.  But what were the references doing there?  Crucially, did they actually help in the process of writing the stories?  I needed to look more closely at a few examples.

A young couple’s love

In one of my earliest stories called The Legend, the octogenarian Kate (my great-grandmother) recalls the times when she and her now long-dead husband, Dan, would sing songs to each other, he singing I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen and she Danny Boy.  Now, I admit I had no idea whether Kate and Dan, who were both of Irish extraction, ever sang those particular songs, but I do know I had chosen them – two of the finest, most moving Irish ballads ever written – as a way to reinforce the tenderness of the young couple’s love.

Then there’s Up The Indians!, a story about my Irish-born mother’s lifelong love for the underdog.  At one point in the story, I compare her actions with those of young Peter O’Loughlin, a character from The Mountains of Mourne, another beautiful Irish ballad, this time, appropriately enough, about émigrés.  You see, both Peter and Mum were able to stop the whole street with a wave of their hands, as Mum did one memorable day in the centre of Edinburgh.


Next stop is The Boxer.  It’s the summer of 1969, and ruthless bully Johnny Morris (he’s definitely no relation, Roz) is driving in his brand new Daimler Saloon.  He’s due to marry the boss’s daughter in two days time, but right now he’s lusting after a waitress called Julie and he’s humming the tune of the latest hit by another Julie – This Wheel’s on Fire, sung by Julie Driscoll.  The chorus from that song is then quoted, I’m sure, to emphasise both the thrust of the car’s V8 engine and the burning ambition of its driver.

Fast-forward to the winter of 1970 and The Ballad of Billy G.  On the night 19-year-old Billy dies from an overdose of heroin, the narrator imagines what music is blasting from Billy’s stereo: ‘Some satanic licks from Hendrix, maybe.  Or Joplin rasping out Summertime.’  Musical references to define a culture, then.


There are other references that help define a mood.  Such as when cheery Bill, the silver-haired Lothario in The Race, whistles along to Ella Fitzgerald as she sings Cheek to Cheek.  Or when the lovelorn Eugenio in The Exile wanders through a deserted Venice on New Year’s morning, hearing the strains of Vivaldi’s Winter swooping over him.

And there’s one final reference that perhaps defines an era, rather than a mood.  It’s found in The Bookie’s Runner, my tribute to my late father: ‘He’s dressed like Frank Sinatra, like a member of the Rat Pack.  He’s the bookie’s runner with the lopsided grin, but he’s destined to lose.’

So I was able to answer Roz in full.  Yes, I do use music in my writing process – either to reinforce the thoughts or deeds of a character, or to help define a mood, a time, even an era.

As I said at the beginning, the answer was a revelation to me.  But it shouldn’t have been.  By placing those musical references throughout my work, I’ve been replaying the soundtrack of my life.  I grew up in the 1950s to the sound of those beautiful Irish ballads sung by wonderful Irish tenors like Count John McCormack. I was a schoolboy when Frank Sinatra and others in the Rat Pack dominated popular music in the 1960s. Later that decade, I was another teenager enthralled by a young Bob Dylan. Later still, I was immersed in the drug-fuelled blues of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and many others.  Then gradually, grudgingly, I embraced the world of classical music.  And Ella Fitzgerald?  Man, who could ever forget the voice of an angel?

 Brendan Gisby was born in Edinburgh halfway through the 20th century and brought up just along the road in South Queensferry (the Ferry) in the shadow of the world-famous Forth Bridge.  Retiring from a business career in 2007, Brendan has devoted himself to writing.  To date, he has published three novels, three biographies and several short story collections. Brendan is also the founder of McStorytellers, a website that showcases the work of Scottish-connected short story writers.  His own website is  Blazes Boylan’s Book Bazaar.  You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter @twistedfoot

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Vivienne Tuffnell

‘Obsessive love underlies the whole novel’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is Vivienne Tuffnell @guineapig66

Soundtrack by Vivaldi, Tanita Tikaram, Tori Amos

Music is such a powerful influencer that I’d rather have silence than the wrong music. I’m not someone who’s constantly plugged into an ipod. I can’t have music as background. When a piece of music grabs me, evokes emotions or images or a roaring rush of words, I listen till I cannot bear it any more. Then I write it. This is probably why I don’t like live music (that, and a year of roadie work).

The dream

The opening scenes of The Bet came from a vivid, disturbing dream, but that first chapter was written to Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The main character has taken his newborn son away from hospital without permission and is making his way home through the snowy countryside. His mental and emotional state veers wildly from severe anxiety, back to numbness, frozen to slowness, and his movement reflects this. Breaking into a frantic run, then standing staring blankly at the falling snow, heart and mind racing. He’s done something terrible, shocking even, but the reader does not yet know how shocking. The music steered this jolting narrative from one change of tempo to another. Writing it, knowing what had really happened, the music kept my focus on building and exploring the internal turmoil without revealing the truth until almost the end of the chapter.

Preyed upon

The next music that influenced me in writing this novel is from Tanita Tikaram. The song Preyed Upon is like hearing overheard snippets of dialogue between myself as author/creator and the main character Antony Ashurst, and between him and other characters. It was that phrase ‘preyed upon’ that haunted me. People who get preyed upon. Why? What makes them so vulnerable? Ashurst ‘s father says to him on one occasion, ‘Boys like you get preyed upon’, and the phrase haunts him too, and makes him question what is going on in his relationship with Jenny.

There’s a second song by Tanita Tikaram that powerfully influenced the novel: I Love You. The Bet is not a love story or a romance. But obsessive love (which is not the same as love at all) is a theme that underlies the whole novel both in terms of the main plot and the subplots too. It twists everything; it twists the two main characters into a tangle neither can extricate themselves from. Valentine Heart is another song that felt like I was overhearing the words Jenny and Antony didn’t say to each other.  In the penultimate chapter, Antony does say to Jenny, ‘I was too young, too damaged and far too innocent to have seen you coming’, but it’s far too late by then for it to make any difference.


The final song I’d like to share is Tori Amos’s Little Earthquakes. It’s such an evocative piece of music that influenced the writing of the final few chapters, especially the lyrics about disintegration of self, the loss of connection to self-hood that Ashurst experiences during the novel, and his need to find himself again after all the pain. At the end of the penultimate chapter he says to Jenny ‘Anyway, I need to let you go, now, so I have a chance to find myself again, out of all that pain. I won’t miss you any more; but I do miss myself.’ The chanting at the end of Little Earthquakes is very much the emotions I was running with as I wrote the final words of the novel. It ends with a cliffhanger; literally, as it ends in a high place, but also metaphorically with a symbolic act that leaves the reader in no doubt as to Ashurst’s intent but perturbed about whether he could ultimately carry through that intention.

Vivienne Tuffnell is a writer who seeks to explore the hidden side of human existence, delving into both mysticism, the paranormal and deep psychology in her stories. She writes character-driven fiction, soul-filled poetry and blogs about soul growth at Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. Her two previous novels Strangers & Pilgrims and Away With The Fairies have been regularly in the top 100 for their categories in the Amazon Kindle UK charts. Find her on Twitter @guineapig66

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