On Twitter, I recently and blasphemously admitted that I have hit my limit on how much I can listen to Howard Shore. That’s not to say anything about his incredible compositions for Lord of the Rings. It’s just to say that I have been playing that music in the background of my writing for six years – and, because I really am this nerdy, have spent many hours just listening to the score recreationally as well.
I mentioned in my last post that my creative process is pretty immersive. This counts for music as well, and I always have music on when I’m working. My playlist is all about the epic medieval/fantastical movie scores, the mistrel songstresses, and evocative instrumentals. I haven’t heard anything lately that I just had to have for my writing playlist and I would hate for my list to get stagnant.
What follows is a sampling of some of the music on my writing playlist, in case you’re curious, or in the market for some music recommendations yourself. If you have any suggestions for music I might be interested in, please comment below!
“The Lady of Shalott” by Loreena McKennitt, The Book of Secrets
“On either side of the river lie/long fields of barley and of rye/that clothe the wold and meet the sky/and through the field the road runs by/to many-towered Camelot.” Now if that’s not the most beautiful thing to be listening to when you’re constructing a medieval realm, I don’t know what is. I probably have Loreena McKennitt’s entire discography on this playlist; I’ve been a fan of hers since junior high, before the writing became a thing. I’m also a big fan of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who wrote “The Lady of Shalott,” a poem I’ve loved since Anne of Green Gables recited it to herself while floating up a river in a rowboat.
“My Lagan Love” by Celtic Woman, Songs from the Heart
There are many versions of this traditional song, but this is one of my favourite arrangements. It’s sung very softly and though it’s romantic, like any good Irish love song, it also has a thread of despair running through it.
“Hold the Ice” by Hans Zimmer, King Arthur
For a composition that accompanies an action sequence, this song is quite contemplative. This is true of the entire King Arthur soundtrack. Even with all the sword swinging and Saxon-killing, most of the music is slow and heavy. And I’ll say it: I know what the general opinion is of this version of King Arthur, but I like this movie.
“Burning the Past” by Harry Gregson-Willam, Kingdom of Heaven
Another film that is as much about personal introspection as it is about the huge battle sequences. The music from Kingdom of Heaven also has some ancient Middle Eastern influence that sets is apart from a lot of my other music.
“The Return of the King” by Howard Shore, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
And here Mr. Shore is. This is the sweeping composition at the end of Return of the King, starting at Aragorn’s coronation and ending when the hobbits return to the Shire. It has a lot of the main musical themes that followed through the trilogy, like the Fellowship theme and the Shire theme. The whole thing swells with hope but is also tempered a bit now that the long journey is finally over. I actually learned to play all 10 pages of this song on piano.
“Fire” by Hans Zimmer, Angels and Demons
Unlike the last Hans Zimmer composition on this list, this song is driving and exciting, which true of a lot of the music in Angels and Demons. If I have my music just on shuffle, this song often startles me.
“Boadicea” by Enya, The Celts
I have a lot of Enya on my list, this just happens to be the one that’s been played the most.
In my wildest fantasies where my books get adapted into an HBO series, Kate Rusby’s music will be to it what “The Rains of Castamere” is to Game of Thrones. The words and the tunes of Kate Rusby’s songs are exactly the tales of some of my characters.
“Immensities” by Craig Armstrong & AR Rahman, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
This song is quiet, but regal. It is hopeful, but sad. It’s totally my jam.
These ones will accompany the other Kate Rusby tunes listed above. “Sweet Bride” is lot more upbeat, though someone still dies at the end. And the tone of “I Am Stretched on Your Grave” probably speaks for itself.
“The Streets of Whiterun” by Jeremy Soule, Skyrim
That’s right. Skyrim. Probably one of the most popular incarnations of the fantasy genre, and certainly deserving of all the praise. Chris, my gaming fiance, and I went in on this soundtrack together.
“Main Titles” by Trevor Morris, Pillars of the Earth
Let this song represent the entire Pillars of the Earth score. The miniseries covered a lot of ground, from romance to battle to the glory of God. The score keeps up.
“Heir to Winterfell” by Ramin Djawadi, Game of Thrones
As above, this is just one of the many favourites I have from the Game of Thrones soundtracks. I still can’t listen to “The Lannisters Send Their Regards.” Post Red Wedding Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Alysoun” by John Fleagle, World’s Bliss: Medieval Songs of Love and Death
Chris introduced me to John Fleagle. The songs are all from medieval times and played on reconstructed medieval instruments. You don’t get much more authentic than that. This is one of the few male voices I have in my playlist and sadly John Fleagle has a small discography as he passed away some time ago.
“She Moved Through the Fair” by Cara Dillon, Hill of Thieves
Another traditional song of which there are many versions, including one by my beloved Loreena McKennitt. But these days, this one is my favourite. Cara Dillon’s voice is pure and evocative and captures the bittersweetness of the lyrics.
“The Execution Ballet” by Trevor Morris, The Tudors
This is also a song that is as beloved to me for its sound as it is for the scene it scored. It is the execution of Thomas Culpepper after his affair with Queen Catherine Howard. But the execution is intercut with scenes of Catherine (played by Tamzin Merchant) dancing during her confinement in the tower. It captures that naivete and youth that were ultimately her undoing, and even though she’s about to face her death, she hasn’t stopped seeing the beauty of what it is to be alive, and to have been in love.
“O Euchari In Leta Via” by Emma Kirkby, Hildegard of Bingen: A Feather on the Breath of God
One of my more recent additions to this playlist. The first time I heard it was in Hannibal, the TV series that premiered this summer. It’s a beautiful hymn sung in a soprano voice.
“Theoden King” by Howard Shore feat. Miranda Otto, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
Though it’s from the extended edition, the scene this song accompanies is one of my favourites of the trilogy. The song also includes the haunting Rohan theme, another favourite. This is Theodred’s burial and Miranda Otto (who played Eowyn) sings a mourning song so beautiful that it always strikes straight to my heart. I can’t separate the music from Miranda Otto’s performance, her chanting into the wind as she tries to get her voice past her grief.
By no means does that list contain all of the artists or types of music that play in the background of my scribbling away in my notebook. It is a pretty good sample of the mood, though. By extension, it’s quite reflective of the mood of my book. Some scenes that I write have particular song lists that go along with them, but most of the time I just throw the whole list on shuffle and see where it takes me.
Don’t worry. I have more than enough 80s glam rock elsewhere on my iTunes to lift my spirits back up.