I’ve done a lot of writing this year and only some of it on here and whilst at home. Much more often my writing gets done in and around the University of Liverpool in libraries and some other writing spaces I’ve found (finding that I do my best writing if I move around now and then).

And when I get sat down in one of my writing places I’ll usually listen to music. Familiar music that can be just there in my headphones, helping me create my own sense of place wherever I am. Music to write by.

Some of this music has words. Soul, country, blues and deep south sounds for ‘organising things’ sorts of writing. Fixing things up, replying to messages, sorting calendars and places to meet. But when my writing goes deeper and I need a different level of concentration, then the words mostly leave and the music becomes classical, soundtrack and bits of jazz. Particularly the music of a playlist I’ve been assembling since late last year. Music that’s now helped me write the best part of twenty academic essays as well as get me seriously going on what’s likely to turn into my PhD.

I play it in the order I’ve put it together. So ‘Quiet City’ By Aaron Copland is the sound of me organising my stuff now. Opening my laptop and the Scrivener folder of whatever I want to work on. Checking where I’m up to, if there are any pdf’s still to be read before I can begin writing, anything unknown that needs finding out now. Then I start.

And the shifting music keeps me moving, stops me being distracted, comforts and encourages me and sometimes, when it’s needed, gets me to sit back and only listen. Only listen to the beauty of the music for a few minutes. Then, having paused, move on again. As often as not in a new direction and with a new thought that’s just occurred to me through the music. The music I write by.

Time, work, thought and writing then happen.

And should I find I’ve got to the end of the playlist, currently the 29 tracks you can see in the pictures here, and I’m still sat in the place where I first sat down, then I’ll know it’s time to move on.

Time to pack up, go somewhere else, get my stuff out again – laptop, power lead, glasses, headphones – and begin again. Start the music again.

And I’m not going to write about the music itself here. You can see what it is from the lists if you want to go and listen to any of it for yourself. But I do want to give out some credits to the people who helped me find most of it, all of them part of BBC Radio 3:

Sarah Walker and her producer Martin Pyne for much of the feel of the playlist, their steady championing of female composers and even the collages they make to promote each Sunday morning’s programme, an idea flagrantly copied here by me.

Petroc Trelawny for so many early mornings, including a recent week from all the way along the River Severn. Public service broadcasting as high art.

Elizabeth Alker for late night inspirations and enthusiasm from Salford.

And all the people from Andrew McGregor’s Record Review each Saturday mornings, who’ve contributed so much to my education by patiently taking me through so many versions of so much that’s now on this playlist.

BBC Radio 3

I haven’t officially cited you in any of my academic work, but you’re all cited now. I couldn’t have written it without you.

Music to write by, it’s how I work. Surrounded by all this beauty.

And so’s you know, I have of course listened to the playlist as I did this writing, typed it out, made the collages and got it ready to publish. All of which took me up to track 15, Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Music. It gets stuff done, this music.

More of my university writing here at Fieldnotes for Utopia.

Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place: http://asenseofplace.com.

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  1. My usual drivetime listening is Radio 3, especially in hte morning. But my car has a wonky aerial which is not the first thing on the list to fix. So occasionally, I’ll find that my radio loses station lock and then the only thing it will receive is Classic FM.

    It is awful.

    The presenters know little about the music they’re putting out, the station is run like a popular station with listener dedications, competitions and phone-ins, the adverts are trite in the extreme and very much indicate the demographic they are aiming for, and the music shows little originality in its selection. They appear to have a playlist (the theme to ‘633 Squadron’ turned up about three times in five weeks) and that playlist rarely strays far from the well-known.

    I have to wait for favourable atmospheric conditions before the Radio 3 signal gets strong enough to allow the radio to lock onto it again. Oh, the relief! And Petroc’s week of broadcasting from along the Severn was, fortunately, something I was able to enjoy, too.

    1. Alan Bennett describes Classic FM as serving up ‘bleeding chunks’ of music, as it were, freshly and clumsily ‘torn’ from the larger composition they belong to.

      I have often wondered if one can tell the difference by mere listening, whether it’s a male or female pianist playing a work.

      Emmanuel Ax, a Canadian is my favourite interpreter of Chopin and comes across as very ‘physical’. He is a big guy.

      But then Hélène Grimault has astonishing technique and mastery.

      Pretty much anything by Schumann is sublime with not a single note wasted.

      I think Mozart should be ‘rested’ for 100 years.


      1. Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions Nick.

        As you’ll have gathered I’m relatively new here so the Mozart I’ve found through Andrew McGregor’s programme sounds more than fine to me. And any particular Chopin or Schuman you’d recommend?

  2. To be fair, I think it’s Mozart’s Turkish Rondo which drives me mad – bashed out ad nauseam by every street, shopping centre and airport pianist the world over. (Hark at me! As if I have been anywhere!)

    Six Canons for Organ, Opus 56 demonstrate Schumann’s originality and gift for melody very well. Delicious.

  3. Herewith Sox Canons for Organ Opus 56 which I intended to attach to my previous comment.

  4. Hi Ronnie.

    Good to read your reflections on this…it’s a subject that feels like it could cope with a lot more discussion.

    I recognise your distinction between music to ‘sort things out’ to as opposed to music to actually write to. I know when I’m transitioning activities because the music with lyrics and simple rhythms suddenly starts to get really distracting and annoying.

    I’ve scoured spotify but can’t find you or your playlist. Is the playlist public? Would you share a link on here?



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