Tag Archives: music

Status Update – The Philadelphia Orchestra

Feb 03, 2017

My view last night

I was raised on classical music. As far back as I can remember, it was in the air around me. We had a nifty album when I was a very little kid called “Hooked On Classics,” which took the major, recognizable themes from the great composers and set them to a disco beat (it was the very early 80s, after all). I used to dance around to that album for hours!

I also think that the first concert I ever went to was an orchestral concert. I know that when my mom was still alive, we used to go to the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts in the summer at the Mann Music Center, bring a picnic, and sit out on the grass. It was great!

So of course my big treat to myself these days is going into the city to see the Philadelphia Orchestra, which I did last night. The concert was lovely! The famous pianist Andre Watts was supposed to be the featured soloist, but Mr. Watts couldn’t make it, due to insufficient recovery from surgery. So, with three days’ notice, three days, brilliant young pianist Lise de la Salle stepped in. And wow! She’s only 27 years old, but she was magnificent. And at that level, the soloist memorizes the entire piece and plays without music. Mlle. de la Salle (she’s French) played Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto, and wow! She also had a really awesome red dress on, but seeing as you’re not allowed to take pics during the concert, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Photo of Philadelphia by Dave Z, courtesy of Flickr

I love these concerts, but I also have to admit that I get really sleepy sitting there listening to them. And my thoughts drift a lot. I revisited a lot of old memories while listening to the orchestra, some good, some bad. I puzzled over the mysteries of consciousness and how impossible it seems to me that consciousness could just disappear with the death of the body. Yes, these are some of the things I think about. I know.

Anyhow, whenever I go to an orchestra concert—and I have season tickets—I stay at a hotel in the city. The Marriott is my hotel of choice. I’m a big fan of room service, although I forgot to put the tray out in the hall to be picked up before I went to bed, and seeing as I had the striped bass, my room smelled fishy all night long. But I slept fairly well for a hotel room, so it was a win after all.

And now I’m home, and it’s back to work! It’s really nice to take a miniature vacation now and then, though. I feel a lot more refreshed than you’d imagine for such a short trip.

Top Five Songs of 2013

Dec 20, 2013

Yes! The best thing about the end of the year, in my humble opinion, is that it’s when everyone does their “Year in Review” or top ten or so lists! 2013 was a pretty good year for me, when all was said and done (much better than 2012), so I’m going to celebrate it with a few posts about my “tops” of the year.

Today I’d like to share with you my top five favorite new songs of 2013. These are songs that were released in the year 2013. I listened to a lot of music this year and much of it was older stuff, but these are my favorite five brand new songs (with one bonus…you’ll see). In no particular order….

Haim – “The Wire”: I don’t know what I like more about this song, the lyrics, the catchy tune, the hilarious video, or the fact that the group Haim is made up of three sisters who look like they could kick my butt and look good doing it. This was one of my bigger earworms for the year.

Wild Cub – “Thunder Clatter”: I fell in love with this song the very first time I heard it on the radio. It’s got a really catch beat that reminds me a lot of Punjabi bhangra music. I’m still not entirely sure what the words are, but hey, do you really need to know the words of a song to like it? (This song is so new they don’t even have an official video yet, but they do have this

Daughn Gibson – “Kissin’ on the Blacktop”: Now, by this point I’m sure a lot of you are scratching your head and saying “I’ve never heard of these bands/singers. What radio station do you listen to???” Answer: the local Philadelphia indie pop/rock radio station. And Daughn Gibson is a local boy (well, from central PA) who is making good. I love this song of his. It’s kind of got a little bit of everything to it in terms of style, and he’s pretty hot in that traditional hunk male sort of way. (although this video is just strange, imho. I’d rather just listen to the song)

The Lone Bellow – “Bleeding Out”: I just love this song! It’s kind of my theme song for the year. Very cool stuff. However, I can’t help but giggle at the earnestness of the band members in the video. Lighten up a little, guys!

Diego Garcia – “Start With The End”: This song makes me warm. Diego Garcia is from New York, but he has Argentinean roots, which he explores in this, his latest album. I love the southern rhythms and feel of this song. It’s the kind of thing you listen to on the beach. (another one without an official video yet, but this is a performance he did of the song at the studios of my favorite local radio station, WXPN)

And my bonus song for the year….

Robin Thicke – “Blurred Lines”: Because, I mean, come on! You have to! I choose to think that this entire song is tongue-in-cheek and that he’s just being a big old goof ball. Well, it’s that or he’s a total misogynistic pig. And the Miley Cyrus incident aside, he is kind of cute. This song is a total earworm!

*gglsnort* I’m sorry, I just can’t watch that video without giggling hysterically. There’s no way they’re serious about it!

So anyhow, there are my song choices for 2013. What were your favorite songs?

Creativity: The Currency of the 21st Century

Aug 09, 2013

wil wheatonDid anyone else see that awesome Wil Weaton video that’s been making the rounds on Facbeook? It’s really cool. For those who missed it, in response to a new mother who asked if he had any words of advice for her infant daughter, Mr. Weaton proceeded to deliver an impassioned speech about what it means to be a nerd, how nerds are simply people who love things that they’re not “supposed” to love and love them passionately. It was inspiring, especially for those of us who have been nerds their whole lives.

That’s not the only nerd video that’s been making the rounds lately though. There’s that awesome speech by Patrick Stewart—nerd royalty—about the importance of combating domestic abuse and PTSD. On a less serious note, there’s the astounding “Cups” song and video made by Kurt Hugo Schneider and his friends that features them singing a beautiful a capella song while playing that cups game that I learned at summer camp. In the meantime, George Takei is a hit on Facebook and I know I enjoy reading Simon Pegg’s (who’s recent autobiography is entitled Nerd Do Well) tweets. Continue reading

Great Big Sea

Feb 01, 2013

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about marketing your own creative endeavor from my efforts as an author, it’s that word of mouth means everything. So since it’s Fun Friday and I’m more or less obsessed with these guys, I’ve just got to introduce you to the group Great Big Sea.


I’ve been pestering my coworkers for more than a week with “Oh my gosh, these guys are awesome! You’ve got to listen to them!” And of course I get asked “Well what kind of music do they play?” I think I would have to classify it as modern Celtic rock with a few traditional Irish songs and some songs that sound a teensy bit like the love child of The Chieftans and Mumford and Sons. On their website the band describes themselves as a “dysfunctional-family-bar-room-brawl-student-art-project-musical-pirate-crew” Here’s one of my favorite songs (um, EVER):

Okay, a little technical background. Great Big See is a Canadian band, from Newfoundland. They’ve been together for 20+ years. The band consists of Alan Doyle, Sèan McCann, and Bob Hallett (with past or occasional members including Darrell Power, Kris MacFarlane, and Murray Foster of another great Canadian band I love, Moxy Fruvous). Most of the guys come from a whole different world than I do, steeped in Canadian fishing village traditions with strong Irish-Catholic traditions.

But really, it’s their music that is so awesome. It’s snappy and fun, but also incredibly emotional and uplifting. How can you listen to something like this and not be happy?

Also, singer Alan Doyle (who happens to be a friend of Russell Crowe and sang on/produced his album, which is how I discovered Great Big Sea) has put out a solo album with the single greatest break-up song I’ve ever heard:

Can I also add that Alan Doyle has one of those deep sexy voices that I can’t help but respond to and that I sort of have plans for a romance novel hero using him as the template?  I’m sure he’d love to hear that.

So yeah, I can tell you about Great Big Sea all day, but really you just need to listen. Their latest album, XX, is a massive compilation of their very best work and is available to listen in its entirety on Spotify.

Also, for those who live near me in Philly, they’re playing at the Keswick on April 18th!!!! Who wants to go with me?

Mood Music

Mar 01, 2012

When I was in college the first time I once got into an argument with one of my professors about the impact of music.  I made the argument that music is intended to make us feel.  He thought that was nonsense.  I remember part of his argument: “When you hear a march you march, when you hear a waltz you waltz.  Feelings have nothing to do with it.”

I thought he was wrong back then and I still think he’s wrong.

Music, by its very nature, is emotion.  It conveys things that are too deep for us to express in words.  It creates a sense of empathy among those who listen to it.  A sad song makes you sad, a happy song makes you happy.  In fact, the complexity of emotion contained in music can sometimes provoke us to a response that is happy-sad or conflicted or longing in ways that there just aren’t words for.

This is why I find it incredibly useful to write while listening to music.  I’ve heard a lot of debate on this topic as well.  Some people swear by their soundtracks, some people can’t stand the distraction while they’re working.  I’ve noticed way too many times that the music I am listening to helps to shape the scene I’m writing or inform the character.

It doesn’t always happen, mind you.  Sometimes I just have music on because it’s more pleasant than silence.  But sometimes, just sometimes, a song forms the seed of an idea that takes shape and grows into something well beyond its original strains.

Take, for example, the second book in my as-yet-unpublished sci-fi series, Fallen From Grace.  I wrote the first book and then got a little lost.  Granted, I knew what I wanted to have happen, but my creative juices were not flowing.  I knew that I wanted the second book to be from the point of view of the character Danny.  But how?  That’s when Pandora saved me.

I was fiddling around with the story one day when suddenly the perfect song came on.  This was a song that spoke to what was going on in Danny’s mind, the emotion that would turn him from a scientist content to manipulate genetics through a computer interface to a butt-kicking, gun-toting vigilante determined to save the woman he loved, even if he had to march through six feet of snow to do it.

The song was “Let it Rock” by Kevin Rudolf with Lil Wayne.  In and of itself the song has nothing to do with my speculative sci-fi novel about colonists stranded on an uncharted moon, but the emotion behind it is exactly what keeps Danny going when any other man would have given up.

I’ve had other experiences where the music I was listening to gelled so well with the scene I was writing that it could have been a bona fide soundtrack.  While writing the first draft of The Faithful Heart, during a particularly poignant scene between Jack and Madeline, the Josh Groban song “February Song” suddenly came up in my iTunes shuffle.  The music and the lyrics in that case fit so perfectly with what was happening to my characters that I had to stop for a second and just breathe in the perfection of the moment.  Granted, that scene was later cut and the plot was altered a bit, but I still think of that as Jack’s song.

So what am I trying to get at here?

Music is a writing tool.  It can get you out of a rough spot and keep you going when all hope seems lost.  That sounds like a cute cliché or maybe even wishful thinking, but I swear by it.  It all goes back to the argument I had with my professor in college.  Music is about emotion.  A good story, be it character or plot driven, is about emotion.  We wouldn’t care about the characters and what they’re doing at all if we didn’t feel emotionally invested in their story.  The best stories draw you in as a reader and make you feel something, just like the best pieces of music captivate you.

Think about that word.  Captivate.  Isn’t that what we’re trying to do?  To hold someone in a state where they can’t stop thinking about what we’ve created?  Even if that person is us as the writer.  The key to an unforgettable story is that emotional captivation.  Music heightens those emotions.

Granted, I’m not talking about handing out a playlist with every book.  Music is a very personal thing and the songs that work for you as a writer might not connect with your audience.  But even if the songs themselves don’t, what you’ve felt as a writer when that music was playing will come across.

In fact, as I’ve been struggling through revisions on my latest novel, especially when it comes to pinning down the hero and heroine, I’m finding it helpful to refer back to the mood inspired by a certain song I recently discovered, “Irresistable” by Temposhark.  It’s not an exact interpretation of my characters and their wild relationship, but it gets the mood across.  And that’s what this is all about.

So does anyone else use music as a writing tool?  What songs have helped you out of a tough spot or inspired you to create?

And if you haven’t tried it before, I suggest you give it a whirl.  And then report back and tell me what you felt.