Music has always been an art that reaches my emotions before anything else, and on a deeper level than most forms of expression. I love instruments, I love choirs, I love blues, I love soul, I love old time Appalachian bands and gospel. I love orchestral pieces and accordions and harmonicas and French horns and tympani drums. I love jigs and reels and fugues and hymns and carols and Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and Broadway tunes and soundtracks and Carol King.
And I love lyrics. I love a songwriter who can string together inspired poetry that I can sing to the tops of my lungs. There is no purer manifestation of the yearnings of the human heart. At least, not mine.
When I write, I always find inspiration in music and my playlist becomes a kind of personal soundtrack that follows me around through my days. Ironically, I can’t actually write while I listen. But almost any other time, my ipod is working hard to help my brain form the story it wants to tell. In particular, with The River Witch I relied on music to transport me to the setting. I did listen to some Sacred Harp music occasionally, but found it difficult to appreciate for its own sake. I think the experience of actually participating in a singing is what most interested me.
What I did do was start to search for songs that were sacred to me, as the alligators’ songs were sacred to those on Manny’s Island. I went looking for music that moved me or challenged me, like Granny Byrne’s choir. Lyrics that spoke truth or drew a strong reaction, like the Trezevants. Driving rhythm that helped me imagine the Seminoles or the Saltwater Geechee people, like Nonnie. Lullabies that the mothers in this book and the world over, may have murmured to their children. Hymns that brought lonely individuals to a bountiful table of acceptance, the true power of the Sacred Harp. And soon, I had a list of songs that began to tell a story much like the one in the novel.
Of course, there were many more than the ones listed here. Songs of all kinds, because just as I believe our stories are all about our search for the divine in a temporal world, our music is an expression of the longings of the soul.
I wonder what songs are sacred to you? I hope you’ll enjoy the music on my playlist and maybe share some of your own.
The River Witch Playlist
Oh Cumberland Matracea Berg and Emmylou Harris (The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band)
Salty South Indigo Girls (Acoustic Version)
Somewhere to Lay My Head Florida Folk Life Collection
Flood Waters Anna Kline and the Grits and Soul Band
She’s Not Innocent Antigone Rising
All Roads to the River Kathy Mattea
Wayfaring Stranger Emmylou Harris
I Find Jesus The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Fleet of Hope Indigo Girls (Acoustic Version)
Amazing Grace Florida Alabama Progressive Seven Shape Note Singers
Forever Young Bob Dylan (Biograph version)
I’ll Fly Away Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch
Here I Am Mary Chapin Carpenter
Wellington’s Reel Florida Folk Life Collection
Just Breathe Pearl Jam
Jubilee Mary Chapin Carpenter
Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show
Down in the Valley – The Head & the Heart
Question for you: what’s on your favorite playlist? When do you listen to it?