The Undercover Soundtrack – Tawnysha Greene

for logo‘Close your eyes and listen with your hands’

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 fiction editor and creative writing teacher Tawnysha Greene @TawnyshaGreene

Soundtrack by Harold Arlen, EY Harburg, Yann Tiersen, Ludovico Einaudi, Michael Nyman, Alexandre Desplat, Hans Zimmer

My narrator is hard of hearing like myself, so many of the scenes including music in A House Made of Stars are ones in which the music is felt rather than heard. For example, the narrator’s cousin earns a part in The Wizard of Oz, and as she practises her songs in her room, the narrator and her deaf sister watch, hands placed on the stereo to feel the rise and fall of the music.

Tawnysha Greene Author PhotoSimilarly, as I wrote these scenes, I played Over the Rainbow by Harold Arlen and EY Harburg on my laptop and turned the music up loud, so that I could close my eyes and listen with my hands to feel the same notes the characters in my novel did. This way, I could be closer to my narrator, a girl who struggles through poverty and abuse and who wishes for a better life for her and her family.

While writing the majority of A House Made of Stars, the music I listened to was usually instrumental. One of my favorite musical collections was The Most Beautiful Soundtracks (No. 2), and guided by these songs, my novel began to take shape. The following individual songs from this compilation were especially helpful — Comptine d’un autre été by Yann Tiersen, I Giorni by Ludovico Einaudi, and The Promise by Michael Nyman. The quickness of these pieces, especially The Promise and the way the notes would domino into one another helped me with the pacing of my novel, because I wanted each scene to tumble into the next so that the story’s momentum would be constantly moving forward as the narrator and her family’s situation become more and more dire.

However, in some cases, it was necessary for me to slow down the scene and concentrate on smaller details. My narrator is very observant and what she lacks in hearing, she compensates in what she sees and understands. The song Childhood by Alexandre Desplat played on repeat while I wrote these scenes, and the way the song is composed is appropriate for the realisations the narrator makes during these instances — Childhood is slow with distinct piano keys forcefully played one at a time in a way that causes each note to be almost jarring. Similarly, during the moments in which I chose to listen to this song, the narrator makes discoveries about her family — read in a diary hidden underneath the stairs and glimpsed through the wooden slats of a bedroom closet — moments that are jarring for her as well.

Regardless of the scene, music served as a catalyst for the general mood of A House Made of Stars, and towards the end when I wrote the last act in which the narrator and her family are homeless and starving, I listened to Hans Zimmer’s To Zucchabar. The duduk’s haunting melody is accompanied by isolated drum beats in the background, an interesting progression from the pronounced notes of Childhood, because these notes are more subdued and allow the duduk’s voice-like melody to take center stage. The music is appropriate for this final leg of my narrator’s journey, because she, too, is finally finding her voice and speaking for herself and her family against all odds.

AHOUSEMADEOFSTARS_front_coverWhen I wrote the last scene, I did not play just a single song. I played all of them. The compilation of The Most Beautiful Soundtracks (No. 2) sounded in the background as I wrapped up the story with my narrator looking up into the night sky. By then, she was all those songs. She was the drum beats, the piano notes, and the duduk’s melody as she reached for the stars and made them her own.

Tawnysha Greene received her PhD from the University of Tennessee where she currently teaches fiction and poetry writing. She also serves as an assistant fiction editor for Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts and is a regular reader for the Wigleaf Top 50 series. Her work has appeared in PANK Magazine, Bellingham Review, and Necessary Fiction among others. A House Made of Stars is her first novel. Find her on Twitter @TawnyshaGreene, on her website and on Facebook.

GIVEAWAY Tawnysha is excited to sponsor a giveaway of A House Full of Stars. To enter, simply share this post – and then comment here to let us know. The more platforms you share on, the more entries.

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  1. #1 by Suzan R on July 22, 2015 - 4:45 pm

    — Comptine d’un autre été by Yann Tiersen, I Giorni by Ludovico Einaudi, and The Promise by Michael Nyman are three of my favorite songs, and in my “instrumental for writing” playlist. I look forward to reading your book.

  2. #3 by A.K.Andrew @artyyah on July 24, 2015 - 3:31 pm

    I love the idea of using music and a protagonist being hard of hearing together. (I’m hard of hearing too). Music is so emotive, and I like to listen to music too while I’m writing particular scenes. Good post.

    • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on July 25, 2015 - 6:43 am

      Writing for the senses – what a good way to describe that particular alchemy of writing and emotion.

  3. #5 by Marni Scofidio on July 24, 2015 - 4:51 pm

    I enjoyed reading about how Tawnysha cranked up ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, to listen by feeling the music in her hands. Reminded me of coming out of a depression, recovery partly sparked by seeing how Aloe Blacc’s singing was so powerful it actually lifted and moved his body. Or so it seemed. Fantastic post. Thank you.

  4. #7 by Andrew Blackman on July 25, 2015 - 8:37 am

    Some really beautiful music here, and most of it new to me! No need to enter me for the giveaway, because I’m travelling around Europe and it’s hard to receive mail, but just wanted to say I enjoyed the post, and look forward to reading the book later on!

  5. #9 by mrb on July 25, 2015 - 5:16 pm

    Another insightful blog, Roz. Feeling music – another vote for synesthesia. Note to Tawnysha: There is a fine track evoking children in David Darling’s ‘Cello Blue,’ which can be found on YouTube. ‘Circles’ is the other great Desplat track from the Tree of Life film score. And I can’t believe you cite “To Zucchabar” – truly a writer’s song of passion. A note to fans of Gladiator, there is a 3 CD set out if you want to explore the sonic depths of Hans Zimmer’s score.

  6. #11 by Jo Malby on July 28, 2015 - 7:44 am

    “By then, she was all those songs. She was the drum beats, the piano notes, and the duduk’s melody as she reached for the stars and made them her own.” Loved this post. Especially how the protagonist’s journey was echoed through the music so intimately. Music has become integral to my writing process. There’s nothing so instantly transcending for the mood/theme/emotions of a piece or scene but most of all music always connects me with the characters in a far deeper ways. I also loved, “close your eyes and listen with your hands.” Beautiful. Thank you!

  1. ‘Close your eyes and listen with your hands’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Tawnysha Greene | Nail Your Novel

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