Before I knew much about the characters in or the plot of my novel The Crying Tree, I knew how the book would end. I don’t mean the end as a specific scene, but rather the end as a feeling. In other words, I knew what emotions I wanted my readers to have as they closed the final pages of my novel, and those emotions were precisely the ones I would experience each and every time I’d listen to Aaron Copland’s masterpiece, Appalachian Spring.
In Appalachian Spring, Copland creates a beautiful and simple theme that shifts and changes, sometimes joyful, sometimes sad, all of it moving toward an end which reiterates that first uncomplicated theme. Listening to the piece has always given me a feeling of melancholy juxtaposed with peace, hope, and a sense of coming home – exactly what I hoped to do with The Crying Tree, a story of a mother coming to forgive the man who murdered her son. That’s why, as I sat down to write the last pages of my novel, Appalachian Spring played in the background, floating me into the emotional core of my final scene.
Ever since I was a child, music has had a magical effect on me, lifting and transporting my mind to other worlds. I remember the first time this happened. My fourth grade music teacher asked everyone in class to write about a piece of music we loved. I went home and began to listen several of my parent’s albums. When I got to the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, I was suddenly filled with a range of emotions and insights I had never experienced before, and my hand moved swiftly over he paper as I tried to describe how the music made me feel.
Since that day, I have found no better way to visualize and articulate scene then through the arms of music. It was Mindy Smith’s Tennessee which helped me describe the settings in The Crying Tree and how those landscapes affected my characters. It was Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 10,000 Miles which helped me write about the miles the Stanley family had to go before they could come to grips with their loss. It was Puccini’s Turandot which helped me understand and express the tragic nature of secrets. And of course, it was Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring which helped me close The Crying Tree with its central message – that though there is pain in this world there is also beauty, hope, and grace.
I very much doubt if I could have written the novel I did without the help of these artists. Their gifts were nothing less than transformative.
Many people ask how I can possibly write while listening to music. For them I have two suggestions. Don’t do it. Or, try it without expectation. Close your eyes, and let your unconscious pick up the pen and begin to write. Let your mind float wherever it will. Do not judge, do not examine. Do not think. You may be surprised what you find.
To hear a selection of the music I listened to while writing just click the music link on my web site: http://www.naseemrakha.com