Can Music Guide a Story?

Since 2011, when I created my first stories2music story, I have watched my production process evolve.  When I first started out, I was teaching myself how to use the sound editing software, Audacity, so there was a lot of trial and error and experimentation.  The one constant, however, was the uncanny “coincidence” of how the film music clips consistently matched the stories perfectly as if they were written for the stories.  The music reflected the emotions or the actions of the words exactly (see Can You Hear It? blog post).

As I produced more stories, I became more aware of the music grammar–what the music was actually saying.  My ear became more educated, and I began to hear areas where the music didn’t quite match the words so perfectly.  For example, in “The Boy Who Was Loved by the Wind,”  I noticed that one part of the story did not match the music.  It was the section where the boy was on the ship at night.  This was the original text:

“As each day passed, the Wind grew lonely, and she longed for the boy’s company again.  And ­sometimes, in the still, dark hours of night, the boy would hear the Wind rustle the sails, or feel her gently rock the boat.  In ­those honest hours, he would weep because his heart heard her­ gentle, constant wooing, but he could not, would not, believe ­that he needed her anymore.”

The italicized text above painted a different picture of the boy than the later version.  It made him seem remorseful and sad, but the music in that section told a different story.  It was not gentle and touching; it was still angry and vengeful.  The music said that it was not yet time for the boy to repent.  The boy was still prideful and self-sufficient.  He didn’t want the Wind’s love; his heart was stubborn and defensive.  There was a disconnect between the words and the music.  The music required the story to change.

So . . . I listened to the music carefully many times until I saw in my imagination what the boy should be doing at that part in the story.  This is how the story changed:

“By day, she blew hard against his sails to slow his progress. At night, the boy would hear the Wind moaning through the sails and feel her anger as she pounded the waves against the boat.   In those dreadful hours, he would steel his heart against her pain.  He was a man and had no need for childish memories.  But still these night terrors robbed him of his sleep.

Now the words matched the intensity, dread and angst of the music.   At the point in the story where it said, “no need for childish memories,” the music actually sounded like childish memories–lighthearted, playful and childlike.

Listen to the excerpt of this section.  The music builds in this section and sounds very dreadful by the time the story says “dreadful hours.”  You can also hear the childlike music occur at time stamp 0:17 to 0:18.

This is just one example of how the film music can actually guide a story.  The music was expressing a certain emotion, but the words were not.  I had to make a choice about cutting that music section, replacing the whole clip, or listening to what the music was saying and rewriting the story to match it.  Changing the words made the story more powerful because it set the boy and the Wind against each other.  This led more logically to the boy’s rejection of the Wind in a later section. The boy’s remorse and sadness now occurred at the end of the story, where it belonged.  The music knew better than I did how the story should be written.  I just had to listen.

Listen to the full story here.

 © 2018 by Kathy Matthes. All Rights Reserved.

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