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Enticing Stories Through Music and Writing

By Joey Lee

Music and writing has a close relationship. The words we use to describe music and stories are often the same.

We write music. We read music.

Words often accompany music too, lyrics being the perfect partner to instrumental melodies.

‘The word lyric comes from the Middle French word ‘lyrique’ meaning ‘a short poem expressing emotion’. It is derived from the Latin ‘lyricus’ and the Greek ‘lyrikos’, both meaning ‘of or singing to the lyre’. A lyre being a small stringed instrument traditionally used in ancient Greece, and typically played while singing or reciting poetry.’ Macmillan

So, the link between music and words is clear. But can music be used as a stimulus for writing? This blog focuses on how music can be used as a prompt to write creatively, with exercises to help you approach music as a tool for writing.

In our last blog, student Dr. Mark Price shared his experience of Tenebrae: Lessons Learnt in Darkness a spoken word, light and sound installation to be featured in Brighton Festival 2021. The Tenebrae project uses Francois Couperin’s Tenebres music composition as a main point of focus, a composition originally commissioned over 300 years ago for a church service in France, in 1714.

Within the Tenebrae project, music shaped not just individual verse but a complete project. Listening to the music below it’s hard to not be moved by such powerful sounds, especially accompanied with the compelling operatic voices in this clip!

Steps to help you access music as a writing tool

Step 1 – Open the door…

Choose a piece of music. Maybe you’ve heard something outside a coffee shop and shazam-med it, or maybe there’s a genre that is completely alien to you. Putting personal taste aside, you may feel that certain types of music “aren’t for you”. Thinking open-mindedly about different types of music will enable you to explore feelings, themes and reactions that that you wouldn’t usually access. For example, you might classical music might be a “closed door” for you, or maybe you struggle to connect with grime? Well, what happens if you open that door? Listening to new, strange and beautiful piece’s of music and responding to it with written word can be a rewarding source of inspiration, place of provocation and a source of strength.

Step 2 – Your own space…

Hopefully now you have opened the door, why not have a look around the new space? If the music is your own private space, you now have a place to focus your attentions on what ever it is that particular place means to you. Get comfortable in this new space and be alone with it. Try listening at different times of the day, in the dark in the light. In different positions, lying, sitting, ‘chilling’. You would be surprised at just how many ways you can connect to a piece of music when you listen to it in a variety of states.

Remember, always have a notebook and pen to hand, or tablet, or phone to jot down images and themes that come to mind !!

Step 3 – What do you really hear?

In a sentence or two, describe what you hear. Make it real. “ I was chilling in my living room and I heard …” What comes to mind within your first reaction of the music? Be literal, be abstract, but don’t worry if your ideas aren’t fully formed yet. That is not the important part. Or, how would a character you are developing react to this new area for exploration? The exact same piece of music can present different ideas when listened to in different states.

Step 4 – What if it was a picture?

Say what you see. what is the music was a picture, what would it look like? Or what particular scene comes to mind when you listen? Does a plane suddenly take off? Does a gaggle of geese try to land on a frozen lake? Does a child cry because its parents won’t buy them sweets? Do you see an egg cooking on a hotplate in a greasy spoon cafe?


Listen to an album – can you write a story using its themes?

Concept albums work best with this approach, albums whose tracks have a wider meaning collectively than they do individually. But maybe you want to try this trick out with a favourite album if music as a writing prompt is a completely new approach for you.

Is one of the most famous concept albums of all time, Pink Floyd’s, The Wall, going to help you bring to life themes of loneliness and Isolation? Or, could you look to A Grand Don’t Come For Free album, The Streets, to prompt a story of loss, despair and then jubilation at finding something you thought was lost.


Enjoy enticing stories through music and writing!

Tickets for Tenebrae have now completely sold out, but you can find out more about the installation here on the Brighton Festival official website.

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