Essay: An Obsession with Melancholia & Laments

tears-1089593_1920As a young child, I sat on my mother’s bed listening to the radio playing in the background. Wistful songs lured me into sadness or melancholia. And some of the first songs I heard of this nature included, Theme from Love Story, Theme from Born Free, Diana Ross’ Theme from Mahogany and many jazz ballads.

However, the first tearful 45 that I purchased was Terry Jack’s Seasons in the Sun. I loved that song which came out around the same time as the novel, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It was far from the saddest pop songs that fueled my imagination. Other songs that swirled in my childhood heart were The Rollingstone’s Ruby Tuesday and the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby (probably the saddest pop song ever).

I listened to these songs while American television-watchers obsessed over movies about people dying from cancer (that was big in the 1970s). In fact, everything felt big and expansive in the 1970s such as bellbottoms, long hair, exaggerated clothing, exaggerated comedy, and exaggerated melancholia. After all, this was also the era of Watergate, the economic recession and the continuation of the Cold War. If people remember the 1970s or even the 1990s as happy times, then what rock were you hiding under?

In my adulthood, I explored melancholic music from the Elizabethan Era with a musician and composer by the name of John Dowland. He would later inspire (although not directly) the songs of Nick Drake, the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and goth musicians.

In an age of positive psychology and positive affirmations, do we still have room for melancholia? Is it wrong to dwell in darkness once in awhile as John Dowland once sang? Is it wrong to spend a gloomy afternoon watching the rain pour out of gray clouds and listen to laments while sipping a cup of turmeric tea? And what does melancholic songs do the brain? For me, the process of listening to the songs brings catharsis. When I cry I release toxins from my body and this can’t be a bad thing.

If pop songs aren’t your cup of tea, listen to Portuguese fados, flamenco songs, Irish laments, or funeral dirges.

I will leave you with a few melancholic songs dear to my heart.

Ruby Tuesday (The Rollingstones, performed by Melanie Safka



Nick Drake, The Day is Done


Eva Cassidy (cover of Edith Piaf’s Autumn Leaves)


Sting performing John Dowland’s In Darkness Let Me Dwell

Write it—Choosing Your Novel’s Music Soundtrack

Glenn Gould informs my writing…

My writing process changed with each of my novels. When I wrote my first novel, Super-Natural Heroes, I handwrote the entire novel in two notebooks. Instead of writing my morning pages, I wrote three pages a day for my novel. Many of the chapters ended up as three page chapters. 

With my fifth novel, Enter 5-D, I wrote my plot lines and character traits on huge white sheets of paper which covered the floor of a 350 square foot apartment (really a converted garage). Both my first and fifth novels feature multiple plots and since I tend to go into a trance when I write, I needed concrete guidance which is why I drew my plot on the large sheets of paper. I also created a vision board for my novel.

The other practice I have with all my novels is that I listen to music which I would use for the movie soundtrack for my stories. When I worked on Love Quadrangle, I mainly listened to Glenn Gould performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations which does appear in my novel and in fact, provides a theme for the novel. I listened to Gregorian Chant while I worked on Super-Nature Heroes, and I listened to French cafe music (mostly French swing) when I worked on Agnes and Yves.

Since I’m currently editing my fifth novel, I’ll talk about the soundtrack music for this novel. I started listening to Nick Drake as I worked on this novel. And one song in particular, “River Man” became the theme for my Ferryman character. And the song plays in my thoughts when I am even thinking about my novel. Other Drake tunes that I associate with Enter 5-D are “Pink Moon,” and “Things Behind the Sun.”

Since my protagonist Eurydice is an opera diva who is best known for her role as the Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute), I watched Diana Damrau’s performances of this role performing “The Queen of the Night Aria”. I also include Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue in the background.

I’m a musician and have immersed myself in music my entire life. My mother even played music for me while I was still in the womb. So, music always plays a key role while I’m writing a novel. And it’s not just background music. I write from listening to tone, timbre, and rhythms. My novels have a sense of musicality in them. Silence plays a role too.

When choosing a soundtrack for a novel (and possibly the movie version later), let’s consider the following.

  • What are the characters’ dominant moods and personality traits? What songs would define each of the characters, even a phrase from a song?
  • What songs describe the landscape of the novel?
  • Songs provide melodic tension and rhythm.
  • Which songs honor the pace of the novel?
  • And which songs provide themes for the novel?

You can add other questions to this list. And don’t stick with the usual musical genres either. If you normally use pop music for your soundtracks, shake it up a bit and try classical or jazz chamber music. Why not listen to music from around the globe, especially if your story takes place in a foreign country?

If you would like a coaching session on becoming consciously aware of music or would like help coming up with a soundtrack for your novel, sign up for a coaching session. I am a music expert and I provide you with this blog Whole Music Experience which features reviews and interviews, as well as, some music examples. For world music, check out World Music Central.

Whole Music–My Love Affair with….Music

(from the Whole Music Experience blog)

Queen Anne tub, 1995
When did my love affair with music begin? Was it while I swam in the waters of my mother’s womb when she played old jazz standards and Broadway tunes for me? Was it during my first music class in elementary school? Was it after John Lennon’s untimely death when I played Beatles albums back to back and cried quietly in the background? Or was it during my college radio show when I discovered alternative rock and folk-rock music? Or was it the first time I heard one of Astor Piazzolla’s tangos sizzle on my stereo?

With a human-to-human love affair we know when we first taste love on the lips of another or see it in the eyes of another as he or she gazes at us from across a room. But what is it about music that has some of us going gaga or giggling behind a veil of indifference? And what is music anyway? It’s intangible and we can’t hold it in our hands? We can’t really embrace something intangible, but our emotions can. I happen to believe that the strongest force on the planet is music. There is nothing more powerful to align us with the Divine or to separate us with a wall of hatred or indifference between us.

Music calls the shots and its frequencies direct our emotions and shapes our moods. When a marching band blasts its way down the streets, a part of us marches along with them. Try not tapping your feet or swaying a bit. When the orchestra launches into a tango suddenly we’re all looking around for a dance partner or at the very least, we catch ourselves swooning and thinking sensual thoughts, sometimes against our will.

I have immersed myself in more music traditions than I can name in a blog posts, but let’s just say I’m well acquainted with field recordings hailing from places the average person can’t even pronounce much less find on a globe. I grew up with the usual pop music, turned to alternative rock in the 1980s and 1990s, and then discovered world, then jazz, then classical, then early music, while landing back in traditional or folkloric music. I’ve pounded a drum in drum circles, I’ve attended sound healing circles, and I’ve joined my voice and other musical talents in jam sessions or played solo mainly.

Astor Piazzolla, Wikipedia

I have no idea what my brain looks like on music, but I would shudder to see what it looks like if I never had the musical training or experiences that I have had. As a journalist then later a music researcher, I’m on board with deep listening skills. I hear the subtleties which is why I enjoy classical music to the extent that I do. I know a lot about music. I hosted and produced radio shows centered on music, interviewed musicians for over 20 years, reviewed over a thousand recordings easily, and became a lifelong learner in regard to musical traditions and musical healing practices. I don’t know where I end and music begins.

I’ve met people in my lifetime who have little to do with music. These people are often suffering from an illness or malaise. But I also know people who suffer from certain brain conditions or hearing conditions, don’t enjoy the musical journey. But for everyone else, ask yourself, when did your love affair with music begin? Feel free to leave comments below.

Patricia Herlevi is the author of Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit). Are you a publisher looking for a book that marries ethnomusicology with the healing power of music? 

An Author’s Itchy Feet (Writing Hiatus)


In September I put my 5th novel away, with the idea that I would return to it by the beginning of October. However, I’m still living in a temporary housing situation and I don’t have the space to work on the edits and rewrites of that novel, Enter 5-D. It would help if my Patreon campaign attracted patrons as that would allow me to at least spend more for housing while I write.

I have also looked into renting a room from a professor by circulating notices around the university campus. I try not to think about my novel because when I do I’m hit with writer’s remorse and other gremlins.

If you are an arts patron type and looking for someone to support, either contact me via this website or go to my Patreon campaign page and make a pledge. And tell your friends and colleagues too. Enter 5-D has commercial potential, unlike my other novels. And who knows, maybe some day you’ll say that you got in on the ground floor. Shooting for the moon.

Signed with Literary Agent Lisa Hagan for Whole Music


I’m honored and proud to announce that Literary Agent Lisa Hagan is representing my non-fiction book, Whole Mu

sic (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit). See the Whole Music tab for a book description.

Since coming up with the concept for the book in 2005, and the subsequent music research since the conception of the book idea, I have thought of Whole Music as a game-changer for the music industry by bringing the healing power and consciousness of music to the masses.

If you enjoy learning about music consciousness, visit Whole Music Experience too.