Thursday, March 10, 2011

Music for an 18th century state of mind

I had a fun discussion with some girlfriends earlier this week about movie soundtracks, and our favorite movies. No surprise that mine are almost all historicals, complete with sweeping soundtracks, lots of fiddle music, often with a Celtic strain. It's the music that transports me to the 18th century mountain frontier, and what I listen to in the car when I'm scene-weaving and dreaming up plot turns, or listening to my characters' urgent voices.

Topping my list of favorites are the soundtracks from:

Dances With Wolves, music by John Barry
Last of the Mohicans, music by Trevor Jones with the haunting ballad I Will Find You, by Clannad 
Braveheart, music by James Horner
The Two Towers, music by Howard Shore (especially the Rohan theme, with its gorgeous Norwegian Hardanger fiddle weaving a haunting strain throughout... yes, I rather like haunting music. I flirted briefly with the idea of learning to play a Hardanger fiddle after first seeing the film. Very briefly.).

A movie I recently watched for the first time, The Journey of August King (Jason Patric and Thandie Newton), based on the book of that title by John Ehle, was set and filmed in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina (home of my heart). It has a gorgeous soundtrack by Stephen Endelman that I don't own, but would like to if only it was available. I've yet to find it, but since I own the movie I can at least hear it from time to time.

Other music that puts me in the right mindset for writing my 18th century stories is a haunting (again with the haunting!) and inspiring book/CD package called No Man Can Hinder Me, The Journey from Slavery to Emancipation through Song, by Velma Maia Thomas. There are songs on this album that I cannot listen to without weeping, even after years of hearing them. They are powerful, evocative and raw. Some of these songs have inspired scenes I've written, especially in my novel Kindred.

And Music of the American Colonies, by Anne and Ridley Enslow. Many of these songs were completely new to me, some of them political, some of them humorous, some highly educational. One of them, Anna, is played on Benjamin Franklin's invention, the glass armonica. And yes, it is a haunting sound. And very beautiful.

There are so many Colonial and Early American inspired collections out there. I'd like to sample a few, but would love to know your favorites first. Or are there other movie soundtracks that transport you to the 18th (early 19th century is fine too!) century? Please share them in the comment section.


  1. For movie sound tracks, of course Last of the Mohicans. The Two Towers is a great choice too. I hadn't thought of that one, but it does fit.

    I have Keith and Rusty McNeil's Colonial & Revolution Songs, a 2-dic set that includes some narration on the history. It includes a lot of really interesting songs I was totally unfamiliar with when I bought it several years ago. Haven't listened for a while and need to again.

    Mark O'Connor's Liberty is excellent and also features Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, and James Taylor. And I love Sing We All Merrily: A Colonial Christmas by Linda Russell and Companie. One of my all-time favs is a 3-disc collection I latched onto several years ago titled Holiday Traditions: Celtic Collection, which includes 2 discs of Celtic Christmas music. The 3rd disc is titled Winter on the Moors, and I am enthralled by it, especially track 1, Snow and Roses. When it's playing I can't do anything except stand in front of the stereo in absolute ecstasy.

    For mood music when I'm writing Native American settings I love John Huling's Mesa Sunrise and Ancient Canyons. Yes, it's modern Southwest tribal style, but they're yes, haunting, and they get me there, especially Coyotes Dance, Trail of Memories, Ravens River...and really all of the stunning tracks on both discs.

  2. The Last of the Mohicians is one of my all-time favorites. I think it was the only award that movie won at the Oscars that year and it was fully due to them. Love, love, love it!!! :O)

  3. I enjoyed your post, Lori. I don't really have any favorites as I don't seem to listen to music as much as I could to offer inspiration. But maybe that will change. I do enjoy going to youtube and listening to videos of Celtic flavor and I love harp and violin music. It sort of depends on the story I'm working on as well. I have a series tucked away with a strong musical theme - the harp.

  4. Thanks for the replies Diane, Carla and Joan.

    That's a great list, Joan. I'll see if Amazon has some samples for them. I only wish I could listen to music WHILE I write. I have to work it in between the utter silence I need to write (I wear earplugs in an empty quiet house), and the many audio books I like to listen to.