Music, when soft voices die

Glen Mullaly's 45 adapter collection.

Last night while I was cruising around facebook, a message popped up from Dr. Peggy Balensuela, voice professor extraordinaire. I’ve written about her in this space before, but it bears repeating – the time I spent in her studio while I was in university made an enormous difference in my life, and I’ve no doubt that she helped me become the writer I am today.

One of the many things Dr. Peggy taught me was to understand the power of storytelling through song. And so, when she let me know that she’d just finished reading The Virgin Cure by giving me an enthusiastic, “Brava!” my heart soared. She also spotted the little love note I left for my family in the acknowledgements as a quote from Schumann’s Widmung. “Once a singer, always a singer,” she rightly observed.

“It’s true,” I replied. “My deepest memories and emotions will always be tied to song.”

I listen to music when I write. I shut the door to my studio and sing, full voice, no regrets. I make playlists for whatever I’m working on – songs that help me connect with characters, music that sees me through difficult topics and rough scenes. With the Canada Day weekend coming up here at home, and friends and family Stateside prepping for July 4th, I thought I’d share some of the songs that saw me through the writing of The Virgin Cure. I hope you enjoy them.

Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind
I adore this piano driven version of Alicia’s love song to New York. Although it hums with a modern edge, the melody is timeless and I can’t help but think of Moth every time I hear the lyrics.

Slumber My Darling – Alison Krauss with Yo-Yo Ma
To get the “feel” of post Civil War America, I sat down at my piano and played and sang my way through every Stephen Foster tune I could get my hands on. Some of the lyrics to this song, along with lyrics from Foster’s “Hard Times Cone Again No More” even made their way into the novel.

Hard Times Come Again No More – Mavis Staples
What can I say? Mavis Staples is flawless in this rendition of Foster’s classic tune. (On a side note, I was floored when Cassandra Sadek chose to use it for Random House Canada’s book trailer for the novel. Great minds!)

Come on Up to the House – Sarah Jarosz
Sarah and her talented friends seriously rock this Tom Waits tune. Her amazing, wise beyond her years energy helped me commune with the  girls of 1870’s New York.

Sarah Slean’s Lucky Me
Oh yeah, another fabulous songstress behind a piano. Cheeky, strange and brilliant, this song rolled around in my brain a lot while I was writing The Virgin Cure. As I throw myself into novel number three, The Witches of New York, I finally understand why.

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