Music is an important part of my creative process. I generally only create with something playing in the background. Good music gives the less attentive parts of my mind something to focus on while the rest of me focuses on writing. Really good music can actually inspire and affect the quality and content of my writing. I would be a worse creator without my tunes!
As such, I thought it might be fun to start a weekly feature wherein I talked about the albums that inspire me to write (and maybe, eventually, talk about new music as I discover it). These aren’t reviews, per say; more like personal reflections as a writer. Expect one every Friday.
Quinlan Road, 1991
For this inaugural Writing Music, there was no doubt in my mind which album I would profile. Loreena McKennitt’s The Visit is to my mind the best album by one of the best musical artists out there. McKennitt isn’t just a performer. She’s a musical historian, a lyric storyteller, and consummate artist, and each one of her albums is a joy to listen to. The Visit was not my first McKennitt album (that was The Book of Secrets), but it has quickly become my favorite and I generally rank her other albums based on how they compare to this one.
The album contains nine tracks drawn from a variety of historical, literary, and musical sources. In addition to original tracks, the album has lyrics drawn from Tennyson, Shakespeare, and traditional folk songs. Every song on the album is worthy of repeated listening, but there are a few I especially like and that have definitely made an impact on my writing.
First is “All Soul’s Night,” the album’s opening track. It essentially a song about Halloween, Samhain, and similar practices, though it doesn’t mention any one specifically. As the first track, it does a fantastic job of setting the tone for the whole album.
Then there’s “The Lady of Shallot” is a musical set piece for Tennyson’s famous poem that makes it exactly as beautiful and tragic as it should be. I love this track. In fact, it was this song that pushed me to reread and reconsider Tennyson’s poem several years after I had encountered it but not appreciated it in a college lit course; without this album I would have missed a metaphor that was so important to me during rough times last year.
Finally, “Greensleeves” is a beautiful and ethereal rendition of one of my favorite historical/traditional songs. Most of you will recognize the tune from the Christmas song “What Child is This?”, though these lyrics reflect its non-holiday side. These lyrics are allegedly (but almost certainly not) written by Henry VIII. McKennitt’s vocals on this one are unlike her vocals on most tracks, underlying the somber mood of the song.
The Visit was recorded in 1991, and as such is over 20 years old at this point. But age doesn’t matter here. This album is timeless. I will always have it in my music collection, no matter what.