The Elements in Music

I realize it sounds like I’m about to talk about composing music, but I’m beyond ill-qualified to be part of that conversation. (Honestly, as a kid I could ace any choreography assignment my ballet teachers gave me, and then turn around and fail every composition assignment my music teachers gave me. It was awesome.) What I am going to talk about is using music in my work, which I’m also very bad at, but I’m trying to figure it out.

One thing I’ve been really interested in, ever since I was a little girl, is symbolic associations. Colors, plants, animals, flags, heraldry. I always thought it was interesting how people (and countries) used things to represent them. What was even more interesting to me was how many cultures came to similar associations before coming into contact with a culture with similar associations, although a lot of that has to do with simple observation of the world than any inherently psychological connection.

About a year ago, I thought it would be fun to try to create a playlist that reflected each element. It seemed like such a simple prospect. Think about the qualities often associated with an element, and then find songs in my collection that reflected and evoked those qualities. It was so simple, in fact, that I avoided it up until I started working on fleshing out the monasteries in my story world. Each monastery reflects a different element, so I thought I’d work on each playlist as I worked on the monastery that shared the element. Kill two birds with one stone, as it were.

I’m working on the first pair at the moment, and I’ve come to realize some important things. The first is that I don’t have much in the way of music that would fire anyone up. The second is that various types of music will reflect an element all on their own. For example, we tend to think of folk music as being very earthy. It should come as no surprise. Folk music reflect a culture of people we would call “down to earth”, reflecting that connection. Flamenco music (my go-to when I just can’t find my own get-up-and-go) is considered spicy. Again, it’s no surprise as we consider the originating culture fiery. I haven’t figured out yet what the obvious air and water connections are, so feel free to add those in the comments.


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