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Book Soundtracks for the Classroom

Beyond music, my other passion is reading. Having been the English or Reading lead in schools over the last 7 years, it's an area of education close to my heart, so it recently got me thinking about how the process of listening to music and reading books could be linked in the classroom.


Back during the infancy of cinema, there never really was such a thing as a 'silent film'. Musical accompaniment heightened the action and amplified the moods on the screen. It was easy enough to consume for the audience. After the music came the voices, the dialogue, the sound effects and soundtracks, and we have become experts in watching and listening until our senses are overloaded.


Reading, however, is inherently a silent past time, and cognitively more challenging than watching a screen. Not only do we have to fully comprehend the text, we have to create the visualisations ourselves, one that undoubtedly varies from reader to reader. In a technological world with screens at our fingertips, perhaps this silence invites many of us to supply our own accompaniment. During a typical journey on public transport, you might encounter a multitude of readers immersed in their books, headphones on, pages open, each crafting their own personal soundtrack to the written words in front of them. Some having music as background ambience, others opt for using headphones, while some find any form of noise to be distracting, especially when lyrics overlap with reading words. I for one distinctly remember thanking Andrew W.K. in my university degree dissertation (about music censorship) for providing a continuous soundtrack and motivation to finish 20,000 words in time! I most definitely would not recommend this to anyone. We're all different!


In terms of the classroom, I've already created a range of lyric reading comprehensions based on famous rock, Disney and musical songs which can be seen here, but what about using music to help bring a novel to life or to stimulate visualisation and/or provide other layers of meaning or add to the richness of the text? Which children's books have songs or soundtracks forming an integral part of their story? We know that books that have turned to films are often synonymous with their soundtracks (e.g. Mary Poppins or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), including books that gone to theatre (such as Matilda) but what about books written with a soundtrack in mind?



One well-known book that links music to the content is Wonder by R.J. Palacio. From Bowie's Space Oddity to Beautiful by Christina Aguilera, the story is punctuated with references that tie in with the storyline, the themes and the emotions of different characters.


Wonder by R.J. Palacio

1. Wonder by Natalie Merchant

2. Space Oddity by David Bowie

3. The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side by The Magnetic Fields

4. Soldier's Joy by Anonymous

5. Beautiful Child by Annie Lennox

6. Beautiful by Christina Aguilera

7. Beautiful Things by Andain

8. Star Wars: The Throne Room Scene by John Williams

9. Canon in D by Pachelbel

10. Under Pressure by Queen

11. Light and Day the Polyphonic Spree

12. Wake Me Up When September Ends


Other authors have written soundtracks after having written the book. Christopher Edge has written blogs that outline songs to play at the start/end of each chapter that help bring the story to life and give the novel further depth. He has also written in The Guardian 'How to create a book soundtrack', which is well worth a read if you'd like to try it yourself. His book The Infinite Lives of Masie Day is one such example.


The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge

1. Birthday by The Sugarcubes (Chapter 1)

2. There She Goes, My Beautiful World by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (Chapter 1/Chapter 3)

3. If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You by Super Furry Animals (Chapter 3)

4. Way To Blue by Nick Drake (Chapter 5)

5. Pictures of You by The Cure (Chapter 5)

6. Space and Time by The Verve (Chapter 6)

7. Lazarus by The Boo Radleys (Chapter 7)

8. Black Milk by Massive Attack (Chapter 7)

9. 3 a.m. Eternal (Blue Danube Orbital Mix) by the KLF (remix by The Orb) (Chapter 9)

10. The Private Psychedelic Reel by The Chemical Brothers (Chapter 9)

11. Midnight in a Perfect World by DJ Shadow (Chapter 11)

12. Where Are We Know? by David Bowie (Chapter 11)

13. Infinity by The xx (Chapter 11)

14. Two Months Off by Underworld (Chapter 12)

15. Inbetween Days by The Cure (Chapter 13)

16. Hymn (David McAlmont version) by Ultramarine (Chapter 14)

17. Where The Light Gets In by Primal Scream featuring Sky Ferreira (Chapter 15)

18. Hey Sunrise by The Charlatans (Chapter 16)

After asking authors on Twitter to see if they had music in mind when they wrote a story, it was fascinating to find out how music was often wrapped up in the writing process itself or more consciously entwined within the content of the books. For example, Alistair Chisholm has recently come up with a mixtape of songs to bring his sci-fi novel Orion Lost to life.  M.G. Leonard, who was interviewed by Lauren Laverne on BBC 6, created 5 key songs to play for each of her Beetle Boy books. The brilliant book Kick by Mitch Johnson is set in Indonesia, with the lead character Budi stitching football boots for a living. It's only when you look closely, you realise each chapter is named after an Elvis Presley song!


Some authors have an extensive playlist of songs that they listened to whilst writing their books which may have had some influence on (or provide atmosphere to) the novels they have written. Steven Butler has one such playlist which he uses when writing books such as The Nothing to See Here Hotel, which can be heard here. SF Said has also written about his musical influences on the content of his brilliant books Phoenix and Varjak Paw which can be read here.


Novels and songs could easily co-exist and become another tool to help bring a novel to life in the classroom without relying on visuals or TV trickery to do so. It's also a way authors could express themselves further when words can't. Finally, it's a great avenue for exposing children to a range of songs and musicians they otherwise may not have heard. Whilst instrumental music may provide an ambience whilst reading, a playlist of songs before or after chapters may add further meaning or context to help children reflect on what they have read or what they are about to read. Children could listen, then respond about how the music emphasises elements within the book in terms of tempo, dynamics, pulse and rhythm, or how the lyrics to songs complement the character's emotions or add to the storytelling.


Here is a mix of novels that I've found that already have soundtracks. Some I've made myself. They are a mixture of film scores, songs with lyrics, musicals and playlists. Give it a try next time you're reading in class as an extra hook into the book!


BOOK SOUNDTRACKS - The List


Enjoy the music! If you want to make one yourself, I'll gladly add it to the list. Email me at info@manicstreetteachers.com. I'll be adding more playlists to books in the coming weeks too, so keep coming back to check!


Matt

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