Cue Music

Book Meme 2012

Question 2: Books I’d give a theme song to

Now this is a weird one for me. Perhaps, as much as I love and live through music, I have not a musical mind, for I never think of such when it comes to books. As a result, I have had to put a great deal of thought into this, and I have only come to scattered conclusions.

Thought #1:

Some texts are like dead leaves without music. Allow me to state the obvious and then expound. Songs are almost always more powerful when sung than when spoken. Why this is, I do not know, but several years back I had a revelation. I grew up with the poem “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes, and I never liked it. Then I had the honor of hearing Loreena McKennit’s rendition. Suddenly I loved the piece. For me, it took music to give the story vitality.

J.R.R. Tolkien (will I get through any book question without mentioning this man?), Bryan Jacques, and George MacDonald often have songs written out within their texts, and I have amused myself by trying to sing them. My only vaguely successful attempt was my childhood habit of singing the Misty Mountains song from The Hobbit to the tune of Greensleeves.

Does this sort of thing count as a soundtrack? I do not think it does, but it is worth noting.

Thought #2:

Soundtracks seem to serve two purposes in films. My friends who know more about film and film critique may know of more, but I am rather ignorant in this. Anyhow, one purpose is to influence the mood of a film, to sway the audience with the music. How I wish I could do this with my stories! If I could inflict music on the reader… aw, who am I kidding? I would probably irritate the poor folks and drive them away.

The second purpose of a soundtrack is to give aural cues. Hear that creepy theme? Be prepared for something jumping out at the protagonists! Hear the quickening pace of the music? Here comes the chase-scene. Even characters have their own themes, and so the viewer knows, often unconsciously, what to expect.

How to apply this to books… I cannot think of any book that tells a story where this could not conceivably be useful. Perhaps, though, the more conventional books, the books with patterns that we recognize, would benefit the most. I have a harder time thinking of George MacDonald’s Lilith with a theme song than I do Brian Jacques Mossflower.

Thought #3:

Music can be a hindrance. I have watched films where the music distracted from the story. I have also seen films where I, personally, did not like the music, and therefore it irritates me. I had a recent discussion with a fellow blogger on the soundtrack of “Ladyhawke,” because that is one that grates on me, but that she enjoys. If I liked the story of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but it was accompanied by music I disliked, my appreciation for the book might be damaged.

I mention this simply to suggest that adding a soundtrack to something is not always positive. At this point it should be clear that I have thought far too seriously and too long on this topic. Onwards!

Thought #4:

By now you are wondering if I am ever going to answer the actual question.

If I could get a skilled, thoughtful and versatile composer (preferably Bear McCreary), I would give a soundtrack to Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:

1. Motley Crew

2. Cue Music/Shout Out

3. Villainy Most Vile

4. Very Ominous Endings

5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names

6. Chridonalchett

7. Verbage

8. The Scent Test

9. Personal Question

10. Packing Lightly

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About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

17 responses to “Cue Music

  • mjschneider

    I like that you used this prompt as an opportunity to reflect on the the place of music in relation to literature. I often have music on in the background while reading, but I more often have music on in the background while *writing*. (Currently the theme song to Lupin III.) As an aesthetic question, I’m torn about how relevant music is to the act of reading a story. Books are intrinsically not an aural form; in the hands of the most skilled authors, the shape, texture, and use of words on the page are meant to function as if there is no other augmentation beyond whatever the reader’s imagination brings to bear.

    I suppose there are authors who dictate soundtracks, settings, and the like, but by and large, a book is meant to function as a book. This leads me to conjecture that music is an intrusion upon the aesthetic experience of reading. But I can’t conclude that. Each reader is different, and perhaps the experience of reading *only* works for some books with particular readers if there is a certain selection. And if someone were to compose something specifically to be played as a soundtrack to a work of literature, perhaps their genius would be equal to the task of successfully augmenting the words on the page. But in that case, is it really “reading a book” any longer? Isn’t it an entirely different aesthetic experience? I honestly don’t know. It intrigues me to consider these possibilities.

    I suppose any time you sit down to read a book, the experience is augmented in manifold ways that cannot be replicated anywhere or anytime by someone else. Reading any passage is therefore always a singular and special experience. Does that conflict with the notion of a normalizing soundtrack, or does it yield a more interesting frisson? These are possibilities worth pondering.

    • jubilare

      These are intriguing questions… they lead me to the opinion that, in many cases, if a book is to have a soundtrack, the soundtrack ought to be chosen by the reader. But if that is the case, surely the work changes? It ceases to be wholly the work of the author and becomes a collaborate effort. Then again… to stretch the point, is a book not always a collaborative effort between reader and author? This train of thought does not seem to stop, and brings up far more questions than answers.

      When I write, I often write a first draft to music, and I return to music when I need to recapture the feel of the scene, but I revise in silence. I think this is because I am aware that my reader will not have my music, and therefore the text must work without any music. I cannot wholly tell if it works sans-music unless I read it by itself. It would be up to a reader to choose what music to listen to, if any, while reading. Personally, I almost never listen to music while I read. Hmmm…

    • jubilare

      Hey, I tried to post on your latest post, but I think I must have had my comment sent to the spam folder. This has happened to me at the Egotist’s blog too. >_<

  • Urania

    I like that you took this question in a slightly different direction, and thus have addressed some interesting points about just what kind of art experience books are.

    I used to make up tunes for the songs in Winnie the Pooh. I’m not sure I could do it any more though; my adult imagination has atrophied in some ways!

    • jubilare

      Thank you! I find your post, and those of your sister muses so far, to be more interesting than my own, but I am glad that I can add a rabbit trail to the discussion. I like rabbit trails, expecially when they lead to other worlds.

      Anyway, I am impressed by the ability to match songs to others’ stories.

      Adult brains do that, sadly. Mine resembles swiss cheese, which I think is highly unfair considering that I’ve tried to take care of it.

  • David

    I also like how you’ve reflected upon the relation of music to stories. Reading is a collaborative effort, true, for the reader must engage with the text if he is to get anything out of it. And the environment in which he reads the author has no control over. Myself, I usually need relative quiet in order to read, in part because I savor the sounds of the words, even if I’m only saying them in my head. However, reading in an insulated room is different from reading in my backyard on a summer afternoon, because in the latter there will still be “white noise” — that is, the breeze, distant cars and peoples’ occasional voices, animal sounds, etc. These don’t usually distact me — often, they relax me even more. On the other hand, I can’t read if there’s a ticking clock nearby, and music often interrupts me, too.

    For writing, I usually use music for brainstorming and getting into the mood, but I prefer quiet for the act of writing itself. There have been exceptions — One Day was written with Bat for Lashes’ Wilderness and Horse and I on constant loop.

    Not sure how I’ll answer this topic, although since I’m a week behind I’ve still got a little bit of time. Been thinking about it a lot, but despite my extensive music collection and tendency to connect music with stories, I’ve never really connected a specific song to a specific book or character before.

    Now, Bear McCreary to score Grimm’s tales…that’s an interesting thought. I like his music, and I’ve been reading some Grimm fairy tales before bed recently, but would never have thought to relate them. Hm.

    • jubilare

      It’s a tough question, in my opinion. Even as I was finishing the post I wasn’t sure if I was even coherant, so I am glad you guys got something out of it. I have no doubt that you will surprise yourself when you go to tackle this question.

      How people relate to music is very interesting, isn’t it? It seems to have almost supernatural power over us sometimes.

      *Grins* I chose McCreary for 3 reasons. 1. He seems to compose with the story at heart, crafting his music to feel like a unified part of the whole. 2. he is versatile, which is needed for the variety contained in Tales of the Brothers Grimm. 3. I absolutely love his work. :)

  • Book-Meme 2012 | jubilare

    […] Week 2: Books I’d give a theme song to […]

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