Music Matters in Memoir Writing~A Reflection

Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler

Music is moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, and life to everything…Without music, life would be an error. “Plato, attributed


"Listening to Music" Galina Barskaya/dreamstimefree

“Listening to Music” Galina Barskaya/dreamstimefree


I have always been amazed at the ability of music to affect my mood, transport me to another time and place and help me connect to my own creative energy.

When I write about the past, I often tune into Pandora radio for whatever decade I may be writing about.

Okay, I’ll admit, I do often sing around the house, too. I usually wake up with a song on my mind and end up giving voice to it until it eventually dissipates as I go about my day. Here’s the deal- I can’t really sing but that doesn’t matter. I  do enjoy belting out the tunes to my audience of Rosie and Max, our Golden Retrievers and to Wayne, my husband who usually just smiles and shakes his head.

Music helps me to connect…


Music is a universal language:

The Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli can sing to me anytime and I’ll understand his language of love. Here he is performing The Prayer with Celine Dion at the 1999 Grammys:






Music is therapeutic:

Think about the soothing background music played in the dentist’s or doctor’s office to calm you, or the use of music in hospice settings to ease pain and anxiety. Music therapy, also called” expressive therapy” is a part of any helping professions’ role in healing according to Wikipedia.

Power of Music by Louis Gallait. A brother and sister resting before an old tomb. The brother is attempting to comfort his sibling by playing the violin, and she has fallen into a deep sleep, "oblivious of all grief, mental and physical."  Wikipedia/Music Therapy

Power of Music by Louis Gallait. A brother and sister resting before an old tomb. The brother is attempting to comfort his sibling by playing the violin, and she has fallen into a deep sleep, “oblivious of all grief, mental and physical.” Wikipedia/Music Therapy




Music is transformative:

It often transports the singer or musician to an altered state. Have you ever seen American cellist and virtuoso, Yo-Yo Ma in concert and seen the ecstasy on his face when he plays the cello?





Music reflects and defines the times:

Social movements are galvanized in the music of the times. Here’s Peter, Paul and Mary at a concert in Japan in 1990 singing Where Have All the Flowers Gone? It speaks to the pain and loss of the young men of my generation, the 1960’s, in the Vietnam War, and fueled the anti-war movement:





It is clear to me that music has extraordinary benefits to enhance productivity in life and in writing.


When I was thirteen, my parents encouraged me to take piano lessons. Begrudgingly, I’d sit at the upright used piano, pounding the keys, wishing I was doing anything other than that. Eventually, they let me quit, realizing I had no interest. As time went by, I began regretting that decision. For years, I longed to be able to play and dreamed of getting back to it someday.


After a trip to Missouri in 2006, when my friend, Mary Sue, sat at her Baby Grand piano in her Victorian sitting room with an upright piano and an organ, and mesmerized me with her piano music, I made a decision.


I would play the piano again.


As soon as I returned home, I went shopping for a used piano and bought an upright Kimball the same day. Soon after, I signed up for piano lessons which I took regularly from a lovely teacher, Sarah,for six years.


Now, let me be clear. I do not aspire to be a concert pianist nor do I expect to be able to play by ear as Mary Sue does. But I can read music and I can play for myself so that I recognize the tune. If I’m on a roll, others who happen to be in the vicinity recognize it too.


I play the piano for the sheer enjoyment of letting my fingers dance across the keys in a way that transports me and gets me in rhythm with myself and my creative energies.


When my friend, Marilyn, was dying of ovarian cancer in Wisconsin in 2009, I’d sit at the piano and play, visualizing myself connecting with her spirit. I couldn’t be there with her in person but I could play music in her honor. It was my gift for her and to myself.


On my parent’s 65th wedding anniversary in 2008 when I couldn’t be with them, I played Let Me Call You Sweetheart over the phone.
I stopped playing about a year ago listing a litany of excuses…focus on writing, play with the grand kids, do the laundry. I figured I’d lost my music…


So I sat down the other day and began playing some familiar tunes-Beauty and the Beast, Ava Marie, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling and guess what?


I got my music back.

My piano

My piano


I need to practice but as I finish the first revision of my memoir, it’s the least I can do to connect with my own rhythms so that what flows onto the keyboard will spill over onto the pages helping me to  connect, heal, transform and define the times and my story through my writing.



For me, music does matter in memoir writing.




How about you? Do you have ways to tap into your own creative energies? How do you get in rhythm?



I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~




This week:  I’m also over at Cate Russell-Cole’s blog, CommuniCATE with a guest post; “Confessions of a Memoir Writer”



Next Week: Memoir Author Pam Richards will discuss “Dare We Write About Miracles in Memoir?” Pam will be giving away a copy of her memoir, Singing From Silence to a commenter who will be selected in a random drawing.



  1. says

    Beautiful post Kathy! I did use music during my memoir writing. Like you, I listened to the music for the period of my life I was writing about. It brought me inspiration.

    I also played music when I wanted a dance break. :-)

    I believe music is essential, it changes the energy whether writing or just for pure enjoyment.

    • says

      I didn’t even think about the dancing part, Andrea. I guess that’s why I love Zumba! Taking a break and playing is so important, especially if you are writing and music definitely enhances the experience. Thanks so much for sharing and dance on :-)

  2. Kevin Lydon says

    When I am writing and sometimes when I am reading, I listen to piano music. It is like a trigger that allows me to relax and let my mind wander and zero in on my thoughts..

    In writing my memoir, I have listened to songs that were important markers for me when I was a kid. I can still picture and hear my mother singing Crazy by Patsy Cline while we were all cleaning the house on Saturday morning.

    • says

      Kevin, There’s nothing like a good old country song to tug at the heartstrings. I love how it takes you right back to the memory of your Mom singing while you were all cleaning the house. What a smart woman to give you such lasting gift. Lovely. Music really does help us make connections. Patsy Cline’s Crazy sounds like a brilliant way to make cleaning fun.:-) Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your story and thoughts.

  3. says

    Great post, Kath! I have found listening to the music of a certain era takes me right back to the time and place and inspires creativity, especially in memoir writing. I always warmed up before basketball games to the beat of my favorite artists. I regret that I never learned to read music, but that doesn’t stop me from strumming my guitar and singing especially with my daughter.

    • says

      Oh Pat , I can just visualize you getting pumped up for a game by listening to some tunes..I’m thinking Chariots of Fire! And I love the image of you and your daughter singing while you strum on your guitar. I’m always amazed how certain songs trigger specific memories, instantly. Sing on, my friend!

  4. says

    Oh Kathy, you have written my story here. So many points of connection, I’m not sure which ones to choose. When my husband and I were in Kazakhstan we sang an American folk song each time it was important that we offer a toast. The words may have been lost, but the music we offered was always so appreciated. Today, we sing in a hospice choir here in Vermont. In itself, that is a gift to us, but it’s helped me see that I’m a tenor. As a result of no longer trying to stretch out of my range to sing the melody, I’ve found I can actually carry a tune. Singing harmony has become a gift to me. And the way music brings us back in time: oh my. Don’t get me started. Crazy, yes indeed. Wake Up Little Susie. And so it goes. Thank you for a lovely post.

    • says

      Hi Janet,What a gift to know what range you are and to be able to share it with others in a soothing, healing way. What a wonderful ministry you have singing in a hospice choir. I’ve heard “when we sing, we pray twice”. Yes, Wake Up Little Suzy brings me right back to junior high school and hanging out with my girlfriends talking about boys. So happy you liked the post. Music really does connect us not only to ourselves but to others. Thanks very much stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated. Keep on harmonizing!

  5. says

    Wonderful post. My choice is classic rock and oldies. They transport me to a particular place in time and inspire me. I derive much of my inspiration for my writing from the words of songs and enjoy every minute of listening to it.

    Music can change my mood from bad to good soothe me when I’m blur, and transports me to a place of tranquility.

    Music is truly a gift from God.

    • says

      Dear Margarett, It’s nice to meet you! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your lovely thoughts about how music inspires you. I agree, “music is truly a gift from God.” What a comforting thought. I appreciate your comments and hope you’ll stop by again.

  6. says

    Thanks for reminding me how important music is. I started taking piano lessons at age seven and couldn’t wait to quit when I was a teenager. But I thank my parents for introducing it to me. I still can read music, so like you, one of these days I’ll begin again.

    Our son Paul was such a wonderful musician. I miss his playing piano in our home – it was like a private concert.

    Most important, music, like writing and painting, is a great resource for healing our woes. It truly is a gift.

    • says

      Madeline, How precious those memories of Paul playing the piano in your home must be. Thank you for sharing. I agree,”music is a gift” and “heals our wounds”. I do hope you will get back to playing the piano soon. Blessings, Kathy

  7. says

    Hi, Kathy, what an interesting post, and how nice to learn this new and beautiful tidbit about you. :)

    Are you acquainted with Charlie Hale’s blog? He’s an amazing writer and almost every post includes a song on video. He finds that music has an amost sacred connection and influence on his life, and therefore on his past. He has a special way of linking his stories with music. I make it a point to always read his posts. in Here’s a link to his blog:

    Happy writing!


    • says

      Hi Linda,
      Thanks for stopping by and for the link to Charlie Hale’s blog. “Music has a sacred connection and influence” on us certainly resonates. I look forward to checking out his blog. BTW, I originally found my music in Missouri through Mary Sue, the friend of mine whom you met. Music really does connect us :-)

    • says

      Yes,Barb, isn’t it amazing how music taps into memories and emotions so readily. Speaking of connections,I was just getting ready to get back to Through Frankie’s Eyes when I received your comment. Synchronicity? Talk about connections! Thanks for stopping by.

  8. says

    Lovely post, Kathleen. I love music, too, and love playing the piano. I don’t sit down and play as often as I probably should. When I do, I get lost in the moment and feel completely relaxed.

    I don’t usually listen to music when I write now, but I used to write mostly poetry, and I found that listening to certain music helped me write.

    Music is very evocative, so I am thinking of buying some CDs of 70s and 80s music to listen to, if not when writing, at least before I write. Might help!

    • says

      Dear Tina, Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I know the feeling of getting lost in the moment while playing the piano. I usually listen to music when I feel stuck in my writing and need to evoke memories from a specific time period. I agree, music is evocative. Good luck with those 70s and 80s CDs!

  9. says

    Kathy, I’m thrilled that you got your music back! What a wonderful story of how music helps you in transformative ways with your writing. Playing for your parents on their anniversary: what a sweet gift.
    I’ve always experienced a strong connection between music and painting/creating art, which does also include, but rarely, silence. Thanks for sharing this part of you. :-)

  10. Christina says

    Kathy, what a wonderful post! We are in a hotel room in Florida and have just thoroughly enjoyed several songs by Andrea. The Prayer, of course, but what an added treat to listen to Somos Novios… 2 renditions. I used to teach this song to my students. There were complaints (some bitter) but I know they all secretly enjoyed learning the words and belting them out.

    We need to push on but I will return to this and listen to all when I can. And the piano! Again, you have my number. I brought my keyboard to Maine In July and played some of my mother’s favorites for her for her b’day.

    Hope all is well. Will contact you when we return to winterland.

    Much love, Christina

    • says

      Hi Christina, So good to hear from you!Florida…how nice. It’s freezing in the Northeast with below zero wind chills. I had forgotten about your keyboard. How sweet you could play songs for your Mom’s birthday. Music is a gift. Enjoy the rest of your trip and I look forward to reconnecting when you return. All is well.

  11. says

    Kathy, this is simply beautiful! I can almost see and hear you, seated at the piano letting the music swirl around you! I started taking piano lessons at age 8 or so and took through high school. While I don’t play often now, music is a very big part of my life. I, too, capture the mood with music while I’m writing, and singing along to music has made many a road trip more enjoyable. Thank you for pointing out what should be obvious — creativity comes in many forms and is enhanced in many ways!

  12. says


    This is lovely. It is true that music transports us to another time, another place . . . another life. I can still see myself sitting on the bus, heading back to college, holding a little transistor radio and listening for the first time to a song called “Wichita Lineman.” I loved it! Well, who doesn’t? So much of our lives, are built around songs . . . John and I dancing to “As Time Goes By” at our wedding, which, of course, is a scene I wrote in my first memoir. Music and memoir complement each other. As always, you provide very interesting and useful ideas and techniques for writers to employ. Looking forward to our Feb. 23 workshop and you sharing your ideas with our writers!

    • says

      Thanks, Susan. I agree, music and memoir do complement one another so well. Wichita Lineman takes me right to a painful memory. I was a young nurse working in ICU when two male visitors in hunting garb showed up to inform my co-worker that her husband had been killed in a hunting accident. They had been married for three weeks. I don’t know why I connect that specific memory with that song but it flashes up every time I hear it. So many of our memories-happy and sad-are built around songs. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting. I am looking forward to our 2/23 journaling workshop very much!

  13. smita jagdale says

    Happy tuning in this post, kathy! Music is a medicine for a weeping heart and soul. Listening to music takes you far away from the sad situation and it is like a trance. I love Indian movies and they are loaded with emotional songs. It takes you deeper into your own situation, it helps you to have some strength, it lets you spill out your pain to get some peace of mind and it gives you points for your own dilemma and, your writing becomes stronger and meaningful. I am listening to Andrea Bocelli while writing to you. Am I lucky or what?

  14. says

    Hi Kathy, Oh yes music has always been very important to me. I was never lucky enough to play an instrument but as a teenager in peril I used music as an escape. When working on my memoir, I went back and listened to all those hits from the 70s and cried and cried. It was cathartic as well as memory-triggering.

    I love this day and age. My son bought me a Kindle Touch for Christmas and installed the Android operating system. So I’ve been downloading music. It’s been a lot of fun.

    • says

      That’s a perfect description, Grace,”music is cathartic and memory-triggering.” It’s amazing how music can be so evocative. I just saw “The Million Dollar Quartet” Show today-Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley and every song trigger a specific memory from the past. Keep rocking on with your Kindle Touch :-) Thanks for stopping by.

    • says

      Sonia, I don’t think you are an exception at all. There are times when I prefer to write in silence as well. It’s the times I feel stuck that music helps trigger memories in the same way that looking at old photos does. In my opinion, we have to find ways to tap into our own creativity and that is a very individual choice. I’d love ot hear what others think about your question.

  15. Cuznjames51 says

    I’ve never seen or heard of an article or a site that speaks to my emotions for music as this piece of writing.

    Although I’m not a musician, the melody of some music or sometimes even the lyrics will mystically transport me to another dimension. Music helps me come to grips with my emotions and with my love for family and My Lord Savior. And it doesn’t have to be classical music either. It can be as diverse as blues or as unexpected as rock.

    I recently was even inspired by a rap song. The song is called “She’s Gold” and is performed by a young rap artist by the name of Josh Baze. To me, this is as expressive a love poem as Keats or Bronte. It is so beautiful it brings me to tears. It reminds me so much of my wife of 39 years and how our love has grown over the years. My eyes fill up just writing about it. Give yourself a treat and listen as well.

    • says

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Cuznjames. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I agree,music is music no matter what the category and has the ability to move and inspire us. I’ll be sure to check out Josh Baze.


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