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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 post is by Denise Kahn @DKpolyglot
My very first memory of life was the sound of my mother’s glorious voice singing to me, most likely a Brahms lullaby. I’m convinced that is why music always has a delicious way of creeping into my writing, and becomes one of the most important elements. I find that music is almost synonymous with being in a state of trance, and that is how I become when I write. I get very focused, and live the scenes with my characters. As each mise en scène blooms music envelopes my mind with a melisma, or a melody that already exists.
I wrote my book Peace of Music for my son, so that he could have the story of his ancestral family. It became a novel (much more fun that way) as I could take a few liberties, such as the scenes in China’s 13th century Song (what else?) Dynasty. One of the scenes is of a blind potter who is commissioned by Quan Yin, his Goddess, to make a special vase, but he doesn’t know how. Chinese Gugin music was the key to the scene.
…From the back of See-Fu’s house a soft melody rang out. It came from Lotus Blossom’s room. Her long delicate fingers plucked her qin. Her performance was ethereal See-Fu thought, a combination of earth’s gentleness and mysteries of the night. Every once in a while Lotus Blossom accompanied the harmonics with a song, an ancient love poem. See-Fu felt his entire body mellow as his daughter’s voice reminded him of birds, and the melody painted the portrait of nature’s beauty where they had collected his ingredients. He smiled triumphantly and delicately touched the statue of his Goddess. He now knew. He remembered Quan Yin’s guidance: “When the music is played, your heart will be your eyes.”
While about 10 percent is fiction (like China), the rest is fact, and since the characters/family members were opera singers and concert pianists I thought their stories would make a good novel. My tag line is ‘Spreading the Power of Music through Words’, and in this book music proves how it can unite and keep people together and strong, especially in difficult circumstances. Throughout the book, music is the glue that keeps this family saga together. One of my favorite scenes takes place on Christmas Eve during WWI, the true ‘silent night’ of that horrific war. The only sounds were that of soldiers, from both sides, singing Christmas carols together, all started by two brilliant tenors, one German, the other French.
The second book that I published was Split-Second Lifetime. I was visiting some friends in New Mexico. We went to see some Native American dancers and I was mesmerized by their throat singing—a very unique form of song. I did some research, and found that the only other people that sing that way are the indigenous people of Tuva, in eastern Siberia. I also saw this attractive woman, in jeans and jacket, standing very regal. As I watched her she suddenly morphed into an elegant mountain lioness. And then I saw the entire story, frame by frame, as if playing on an old moviola, all of it surrounded by the music in the background. This is what came out of that moment in time:
The main protagonist (Jebby) is an ethnomusicologist, who roams the world recording indigenous music. On a plane to her next destination she meets her seat mate (Dodi), who seems to trigger past life memories from the old American Southwest. As they travel through Uzbekistan, Jebby realizes that in a past lifetime they were man and wife as members of the Hopi tribe. As she encounters some magnificent musicians each one seems to give her a new ‘clue’, or vision, into that past life.
The book is filled with scenes of music and musicians: Nana Mouskouri at the Royal Albert Hall in London; an Uzbek, with a horrible English accent, trying to imitate Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, while traveling in the middle of a desert; traditional and modern Uzbek music; and even elements of Rumi in a Dervish ceremony.
I journey with the protagonists on their voyage, as they discover the beauty of other cultures and their musical traditions. It is food for my passion and my senses, as it travels down to my fingers on the keyboard.
Denise Kahn spent 20 years in Europe because of her father, who was with the US Diplomatic Corps, and her mother who was an opera singer. She worked mainly as a simultaneous interpreter and translator as she is a linguist and speaks several languages, five of which are fluent. Because of her exposure to people of different nations her writing includes many foreign settings and cultures. She is a proud mother of a gallant Marine who served in Iraq, and among the members of her household is Louie the cat, so named because of his clawing love of Louis XV and XVI furniture, and surely thinks he must have been a fearless Marine in one of his former lives. Her books are here, her website is here and you can find her on Twitter as @DKpolyglot
authors, Brahms, Bruce Springsteen, China, Chinese Guqin music, Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve WWI, contemporary fiction, Denise Kahn, Desert Island Discs, entertainment, ethnomusicology, London, Lotus Blossom, music, music for writers, music for writing, musicians, musicology, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Nana Mouskouri, opera, opera singer, Peace of Music, playlist for writers, Quan Yin, reincarnation, romance, Royal Albert Hall, Roz Morris, Sacred Spirit - Yeha Noha, Split-Second Lifetime, The Undercover Soundtrack, throat singers, undercover soundtrack, Wagner, Walter Kirchoff, Women Writers, World War I, writers, writing, writing to music, WWI
I first discovered this week’s guest when a Google fairy revealed she’d written a novel about reincarnation and music. I had to try to recruit her. She turned out to be even more suitable for the series than I could have guessed. Her mother was an opera singer. She wrote her first novel to help her son understand the stories of his ancestors in China through connections to music. Her second novel deals with ideas of past lives and ethnomusicology. Her name is Denise Kahn and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
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Before she was a writer, my guest this week was a musician. Proficient on piano, guitar and French horn, her most cherished instrument was her own; she yearned to be an opera singer. That didn’t work out, but she says she still feels ruled by the visceral power of music. Her stories come from musical phrases and metaphors that don’t explain themselves. Sometimes she writes by candlelight. She is award-winning urban fantasy author Leah Bobet, and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
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- The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where writers - and occasionally other arty folk - reveal how music shapes their work.
- It began as a companion to my first novel, My Memories of a Future Life, and now thrives as a creative salon in its own right. Pull on your headphones and join us.
- If you're curious about the novel that started it all, click the image below.
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Fiction, Awesome Indies 2013
Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
Email merozmorriswriter at gmail dot com
- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2022. Nothing may be reproduced without my express permission in writing beforehand. Photography: Bonnie Schupp Photography, gcg2009 and Roz Morris
What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
- What's on their soundtracks? Zip down to the footer and you can search by artiste or composer. See who shares your taste in inspirational music
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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'