From Classical to Country- My Life’s Soundtrack

January 2, 2011 § 6 Comments

I grew up Mary Lois Summers in Fort Worth, Texas, the highly-well-adjusted-middle-child of a Baptist preacher-cum-theology-professor – Dr. Ray Summers – and a Baptist preacher’s daughter-cum-Bible Scholar and writer – Jester Buena Hilger Summers – yes, that’s her name! I have an older brother David Ray, and a younger sister, Sarah Nell.

At this point I must tell you we are Texans and that means double names. While David no longer cares whether anyone calls him David Ray, and Sarah Nell is often called S’Nell by friends and family alike, I insist on using both front names – I’m Mary Lois. The ‘why’ is a blog post for another time!

I would say that three things mattered to my parents – faith, education, and music. Although all three were imprinted on me in the womb, to get to know me you have to listen to the music first. From classical to country, music informs my life.

I love to sing and delighted in soloing for the first time at 13. I’ve sung in countless choirs and chorales (still do). In my senior year in high school I made my TV debut. We lived in Louisville, Kentucky at the time and the program appeared each Saturday afternoon on WHAS-TV – not exactly American Idol, but a great venue for teen talent. I even signed my first autograph after an appearance on that show! Glory! A Diva in the making?!

I majored in music in college, perhaps because singing was my most obvious talent at the time, but it wasn’t my only choice. I loved to write. Now retired from the music profession, I finally have time to devote to writing and what have I discovered? Without music the words don’t come! What? Let’s analyze this!

In the fall of my 5th year on the planet, my mother took me and David (7.5) to the Fort Worth Opera production of Bizet’s “Carmen”. She and Daddy had intended to take only David, who had formed an attachment to Mom’s 78-RPM opera recordings, but the babysitter got sick and Dad stayed home with S’Nell (2.5).

Mother tells me that while David slept through most, I sat on the edge of my seat and took in every note. From that moment on I dreamed of one day singing Carmen at the Met. Unfortunately, I turned out to be a coloratura soprano!

The following summer, I was 6 by then, Mom and Dad took us on our first family road trip – across country from Fort Worth, TX to Ridgecrest, NC and beyond in a 1948 black two-door Chevy with no air conditioning and a chamber pot. The highlights of our stopover in Gatlinburg, TN included peppermint sticks from Aunt Mahalia’s Candy Kitchen and country music.

In the years since I have grown attached to music of any kind – mostly! To be honest, hard rock, heavy metal, and some way-out jazz-that-needs-radar-to-find-the-melody, don’t appeal. But while in college, studying classical music and loving Broadway musicals, I avoided most other forms of music – including country. I had become a music snob.

I can still hear Mother’s pronouncement that “if one can’t appreciate all styles of music and the genius it takes to compose and perform them, then one can’t possibly call oneself a musician.” One learned!

Now, as I write, I use music for inspiration and background. I’ve worn out two CDs of the “Dances with Wolves” soundtrack while writing and rewriting The Vision Seeker (I didn’t know a CD could wear out!). The “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance” CDs shared duty while I wrote The Spirit Journey of Timothy Michael O’Hara, (a Middle-Grade historical novel about a mountain boy who is a fiddler) so they are still operational. However, I’m now into the sequel so we shall see.

If you decide to try this writing method, I will tell you that most times the kind of music isn’t important as long as it inspires you. However, avoid music with lyrics when you are actually in the writing mode. I think you can guess why … but I’ll explain anyway! Lyrics in the music supplant the words you are trying to form into cohesive essays, novels, short stories. So, NO LYRICS.

I’ve added a new page to My Other Zone which from time to time will contain articles from Creative Writer’s Notebook. Check it out. The first reprint is “Lessons Learned from Country Music”, CWN Vol. 6, Number 9. Mother would be proud!

Now, put on a long-loved CD and defy that writer’s block!

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§ 6 Responses to From Classical to Country- My Life’s Soundtrack

  • Ellie Totten says:

    I too, listen to instrumentals while writing. It puts you in the zone… like watching a drama that is heightened by the musical score.

    I enjoyed your story very much!

    Ellie

  • Interesting! I am eager to read more, Mary Lois.

  • Tricialafille says:

    I agree with you about “no lyrics.” Outside words fight inner ones. Here’s a suggestion, since you’re wearing out CD’s” the soundtrack from “Out of Africa.”

  • ML–I love music too, although am more inclined toward folk, classic rock and (my secret pleasure) Motown. Although I love music,I have never been able to write with it playing. I listen too hard so it never recedes into the background. In theory it makes sense that music could set a mood for the piece of writing but I’ll be danged if I can do it. Adrian

  • Adrian, thanks for your comments. Yes, when you get right down to the hard passages, putting you hero in jeopardy and then watching him fight his way out, I need silence, too. But music sure helps me get in the mood to go back in time and experience life in the 18th century!

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