• S.E. Burr

Integrating Music and Other Subjects into Novels

My favorite book by John Green is An Abundance of Katherines. I love the way he includes complicated math equations in a seamless and natural way. My favorite book by Brandon Sanderson is The Rithmatist, which includes art, lines, and geometric figures. When reading a novel, I expect to be entertained and even to learn a bit about the human condition by seeing the world through a character's eyes. Little nuggets of information about art, science, cooking, or basically anything, are added bonuses. I walk away from a book finding myself interested in a subject that previously completely bored me, like cooking.

I was the weird kid who was teased in school for singing without realizing it. I always have a song in my head. Earworms are my constant companions, and I often write songs to narrate my life and help me to cope with whatever I'm dealing with from moment to moment. Of course music made its way into my books. Unfortunately, I've found that my ability to compose songs in my head far exceeds my ability to bring them into the real world.

In The Magicians' Chorus, the first book in a middle grade series which has not been published yet, music is literally magic. I wrote a number of songs for the book and I am so grateful to my aunt, Nancy, and to my friend, Ronalee, for writing down the musical notation for them based on recordings of me singing. The scores are simple enough to be played by beginning musicians. Since many kids join band in middle school, and middle schoolers are my target audience, I thought this worked quite well.

There are two musicians in the "Gobbled" series, but there is no actual music until the third book, Goblin Winter. That book includes two songs, but they're less integral to the story than the songs in The Magicians' Chorus. I didn’t want to bug anyone to write the scores. Although I took several years of piano lessons as a child, I never learned to really understand music in a way that would let me compose it on an instrument. Enter the guitar.

For the last two months I have been learning to play the guitar on a 3/4 size instrument I bought at a yard sale. I am using an app called Yousician, which I CAN NOT RECOMMEND HIGHLY ENOUGH. I like the free version. Having the amount of time I can use the app per day limited is very motivating to me. I don't want to skip a day because I don't want to lose that free time. The idea of writing a song on the guitar was far less intimidating than it had been on the piano. I could simply say, "These are the chords I know, so I have to make it from these." Actually, I did end up making up a chord, which wasn't ideal, but I just couldn't find one that seemed to fit.

I know the song is horrible. I'd only been playing for six weeks when I wrote it, and I don't yet have any recording equipment beyond my phone. Still, I feel like it was a step on the path toward getting the music in my head out into the world.

I'd love to know what you think of the songs in Goblin Winter and in The Magicians' Chorus (if I ever get it published!) What are your favorite novels that incorporate a little bit of something else?

Here's the song "You Died" from Goblin Winter. Constructive criticism is appreciated. Here's a link to the chords: https://t.co/7DoHLVBn1u