Friday, 15 January 2010

Singing the Savageness Out of The Bear

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Berthold Auerbach

I’d just been reading an account  of  how students study more efficiently books Etc 027 when  they’re exposed to Mozart and classical music,  another account of  how grunge rock evoked hostility and greatly reduced mental clarity and motivation in a group of students and yet another about how music actually rewires the brain to create new patterns of activity in different areas - when I came across a post by the writer I call  Boots. On her blog she talks about concentrating on her writing and editing, and turning from voice radio  to  a music station on her radio.  She then segues very neatly to a time and a place and a story which will evoke many memories in many of her readers.

While never claiming to be  a musician or a music expert I have long used great music as a kind of cosmic baffle around me while I write. Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, Scarlatti, Bach, Stravinsky, Mahler, Strauss, Rachmaninoff. Classical guitar performed by John Williams and Julian Bream…. No songs, no opera, no human voice as that would draw and distract me into a life other than the invented lives unfolding before me on the page in my notebook or the screen.

I have to come clean here and say I make rather mundane use of these sublime sounds recruiting them as a baffle against the world outside the door, using them as  a tranquilliser of the soul. My listening  is much less about musical appreciation than about the nurturing of the still small space in the soul freed in these moments from ‘the dust of everyday life’. It is from this still small space that new ideas, metaphors, phrases, paragraphs, monologues and dialogues are likely to emerge.

I speculate that the exquisite metronome, the shapes and the loops  at the core of all great music must make my heart beat slowly and regularly, send pulsing blood to my brain to clear it of all the current emotional junk so that new notions, words, and structures become available to my mind, to my pen.

Paradoxically, for me,  this flow of the music has to be an involuntary part of the process. Otherwise the still, small space, the pure creative focus is blighted by an intellectual apprehension of the technical brilliance of  these musicians so that  the story, the poem is lost, not written.

I know that conjuring this still, small space in order to meditate, to write, or to create is no easy thing in the modern world.  All creative people  have their own tale on how  to achieve this state.  It could be a long walk on the beach or in wild country. It could be an isolated cottage in the high mountains. It could be the judicious or injudicious use of drugs or alcohol.

But ‘Boots’ and I know that this small space can be generated by the flick of a switch on a music player or a radio. As long as it’s not a song loaded with life-enhancing layers of memory…


As I was thinking about the potency of music I sifted up, and came across a few goodies that you might enjoy,

  • You can get some free, intelligence-enhancing Mozart on this site:  Free Download Mozart
  • Ferdinand, enticed by Ariel’s sweet song onto Prospero’s Island refers to . ‘This music crept by me upon the waters, allaying both their fury, and my passion, with its sweet air. - William Shakespeare The Tempest.
  • From the King James Bible : They ministered with music before the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, until Solomon built the temple. 
  • As long as you're in the music, the bad things stay away’ - Jonathan Carroll: The Marriage of Sticks                                                                                                                                       

       & The Best:

  • "An admirable musician! O, she will sing the savageness out of a bear."   - William Shakespeare, Othello



  1. A wonderful title for your post, Wendy, and so many perceptive observations. I never cease to be fascinated by the roles that music plays in our lives and how, from one day to another, our musical needs and responses can differ.

    In the 1990s, I spent five years training to become a homeopath, which involved learning the properties of many hundreds of remedies by heart and studying medical sciences. (Yes, the same medical sciences that doctors and nurses study, for those who thinks it's all witchcraft . . .) Vast chunks of information to be understood, learned and retained. Shortly before taking our second year exams, one of my fellow students and I spent a day learning how to learn more effectively. Music, we were told, is one of the keys and Mozart, and Baroque music generally, the best to have playing in the background when trying to memorise information - because Baroque's musical pulse (60 beats to the minute) open up the left and right brain. All this is well documented but, at the time, I was unaware of the connection and was utterly fascinated.

    There's a useful background article here:

    Music looms very high in my current preoccupations at the moment - and there'll be another post, explaining why, coming up soon . . .

  2. I do like a bit of witchcraft, also known as high intuitive skills and insight. Your tale of the baroque appleals to me at the moment because I wrote almost the whole of The Woman Who Drew Buildings to CDs of baroque music - some quite obscure. One reason for this uncharacteristic focus was that Piotr, a character in the book, plays in a baroque ensemble...I'll check out the article...

  3. Dear Wendy,
    Thank you for your comment on my blog. To be called a "good communicator" by a writer as accomplished as you is no mean praise. Thank you.

    As to finding that magic space. I can't have any music. I find even with Mozart, I focus on the music and the writing slips away.

  4. Thanks for your special selections.Shakespeare,Othello,Mozart ...
    It makes me fresh.



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