One of my earliest memories of writing to music was when I was about ten years old. I can still picture the classroom and the pens poised over exercise books as we were instructed to listen to the music and to write what it brought to mind. The music was the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky, and I wrote a poem about war and battle – hard not to as the canons boomed and the music built to a crescendo. The rattle of the drums and the call to arms was impossible to resist.
On a recent writing retreat, music was used as a prompt. There were three short pieces played, all exquisite and evoking surprisingly similar responses amongst the writers gathered around the table. The first piece was a Norwegian folk song called Heiemo Og Nykkjen performed by Kirsten Braten-Berg. For me, the music was a melancholic song of farewell.
The music swirls around me, holding me close in its grasp. I want to weep, to turn back, to return to where I belong. But it is my song of farewell. My people are letting me go. I walk slowly, one heavy foot in front of the next. I know the tune so well; it is carved into my heart from so many other farewells. I have sung it myself when my brother left the valley, leaving our village behind. We were sure that he’d return, that it would only be a brief separation. But he has not returned. And now I, too, must go.
My sister’s voice lifts and as the notes tremble around me I stumble. But I cannot turn back now, as much as my heart breaks. I must continue on.
One of my fellow writing group members has written of the impact of the musical prompt session here.
Have you used music as a muse for writing?
[Photo: mural spotted in Hornsby next to second-hand bookshop The Bookplate]