History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

28 September 2010

Music to Make the Book Sing

I always try to involve music in my books: my heroes and heroines have theme songs, I listen to music while I write, and I try to weave music into each book’s scenes whenever possible.

Okay, that’s easier in some books than others. Rodrigo, my medieval Spanish knight in BOND OF BLOOD, is an accomplished musician. But Morgan and Rosalind, THE SOUTHERN DEVIL's hero and heroine, traveled through the high Rockies of 1870's Colorado, a beautiful place but hardly overflowing with orchestras, opera houses, and street musicians.

This does give an extra zing! to the research. Tracking down sources of music or what historical music sounded like is both challenging and fun. I bounced for joy when Milladoiro, a band I already liked, recorded some 13th Spanish songs – which Rodrigo would have considered contemporary pop tunes. Nineteenth century Mississippi riverboats hired topnotch singers to perform Negro spirituals and work songs, especially as advertisements when they entered ports. Their owners actually competed for the finest singers, since antebellum passengers flocked to these ships.

KISSES LIKE A DEVIL is set in 1900 Europe, a time of rapidly changing music and dance tastes. Some royal courts displayed their liberal tendencies by allowing modern dances like the turkey trot, while others emphasized their conservatism by enforcing more traditional dances, like Strauss waltzes. Ragtime’s syncopated rhythms mixed African-American rhythms with classical melodies and became wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Jazz, its child, is still powerful today. I had so much fun researching the music for this book that I was glad I patterned its setting after Prague, a centuries-old mecca for artists and musicians – and especially the home of Dvorak. How could I forget his New World Symphony or Slavonic Dances?

Then there’s music used for characterization. William Donovan, THE IRISH DEVIL’s hero, is Irish and quite romantic so, yes he does serenade his beloved. Figuring out which Stephen Foster song to turn to was intriguing! The heroine definitely does not speak Gaelic so I needed 1870’s American popular songs to express his sentiments. (Oh it’s lovely dealing with lyrics from the pre-copyright era!)

Of course, there’s a place for cacophony, too. Viola, the heroine of THE IRISH DEVIL, was born and raised a Southern belle but suffered a life of privations in Arizona Territory during the Apache Wars. Her goal at the book’s beginning is to become a piano teacher in San Francisco and spend the rest of her life listening to small girls massacre Beethoven and Chopin on the piano.

Do you like to include music in your books? What do you find the hardest part to research? What’s your favorite scene in a book or movie that involves music?

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Anonymous Lynna Banning said...

I think it's difficult to include specific references to music in a novel, but it sure adds authenticity. But it can seem "odd" to a reader who might be unfamiliar with the era...
as in my yen to use Songs of the Sephardim in a work set in medieval Spain.
Quoting the words (in Ladino?)(no) only works if the words themselves are beautiful or emotionally charged. Just referring to the particular song by title doesn't do a thing for the reader who is not a musician familiar with the era. I think.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

So true, Lynna! I can refer to Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" by title, if that's the image I want to convey. But there are some lovely Cantigas written by my medieval Spanish knight's knight's king about warriors forced to leave their beloveds because of duty. The titles and lyrics mean nothing now, unless translated. But snippets could be so useful and emotionally charged.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Now you've got me thinking, Diane! Although I always listen to period-appropriate music when I write historical fiction, I'd have to rack my brain to remember if I included any specific music in the novels. I do have several musical references in my contemporary novels, though -- show tunes, or specific songs that reference the events of a given scene, like "Danny Boy," or "Take Me Out To The Ball Game."

I love adding music. It's another character to me, and the choice of music that your characters listen to says a lot about them.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I love when people have music in their books. I'm a complete dolt when it comes to music, so I don't tend to lean towards incorporating it naturally. For me, the natural go-to's are clothes, horses, and dogs, LOL!

5:02 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Leslie - Isn't it fun adding music? I swear researching period music can sidetrack me as much as anything else. I always know what my characters listen to, even the fellows who will accompany the heroine to any concert she names. LOL!

Oh, Isobel, I love incorporating dogs - but researching them is agony! Music is easier for me, maybe from the years of piano and choir.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I loved putting music into The Slightest Provocation, when Mary and Kit sing to keep their spirits up on a dark and rainy night -- "merry songs, sad songs, the heartbreaking one about the weaver who tried to shield his lover from the foggy dew, and the passionate shepherd’s song..."

The passionate shepherd's song is Marlowe's lyric; I figure every great Elizabethan lyric has been set to music at some time or other, and I have Kit rewrite it to fit his and Mary's situation:

"Come live with me and be my love/And we will all the pleasures prove/On stinking sheet in chilly air . . ."

That was fun, I gotta say.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Diane! I also listen to music when I write, and I love including musical references in my books. I blogged this week on my own website partly about "The Marriage of Figaro", which I saw recently at SF Opera, and at which a key sequence in "Vienna Waltz" takes place. As I mentioned in the blog, when I wrote "Daughter of the Game", I struggled to find a piece of music with a particular chord that Charles thinks always brings tears to Mélanie's eyes. After the book was published, I realized the piece of music should be the Countess's aria "Dove Sono" (about where the happy days of her marriage have done) from "The Marriage of Figaro." When the book was reissued as "Secrets of a Lady", I was able to change to reference to "Dove Sono."

"Vienna Waltz" also has Schubert as a characters, and the finale takes place at a Beethoven Concert during the 6th Symphony (I had fun listening to the symphony over and over and deciding what happened when). And the in one scene where two of the characters are talking about the ephemeral nature of love, one uses an aria from "Così fan tutte" as an illustration of her point.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Oh, Isobel, I love incorporating dogs - but researching them is agony!

Really? Maybe I’ve just been around dogs so much that it seems easy to me? If you ever have any questions about breeds/types, feel free to ask me. I’m happy to do a post and give you documentation. In fact, I think my next post is going to be on Newfoundlands (we were discussing them over on WordWenches last week in the comment section of Jo Bourne’s wonderful post about goldfish).

8:23 AM  

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