Creating AYICM: Listening to the Music

I work on the scripts for each episode in two stages. When I write the first draft of an episode, I don’t listen to the music; at that stage it’s an essay on music history, purely book-based writing. Once it’s finished I put the first draft away for months, so that I can return to it later having mostly forgotten what I wrote. This allows for a thorough rewrite, and writing of course is all in the rewriting.

One challenge I face is to try to make the material as conversational as possible.  Since I’m making an audio show and not writing a book, the delivery has to be different. But how do you make a music history essay conversational? Address the listener directly, of course, referring often to “you,” and offer as much self-disclosure as I can, referring often to myself. “I liked it,” or, “It was the first time I’d listened to this composer.” But on the other hand I don’t want to get too casual. It would be easy to go too far with a conversational approach, making the effect sound contrived and even coming across like I’m making fun of my subject. Listeners take a thoughtful, meditative approach to classical music, so I think my writing style ought to match that — it should be at the opposite end of the spectrum from a wild, shouting, shock-jock atmosphere.

It’s also during the second draft stage of writing a script that I listen to all the music. This often takes more than a week: I often have to listen to multiple critically acclaimed recordings of a piece to decide which one to recommend to my listeners, and most pieces require at least two or three listenings before I’ll be familiar with them. When there’s opera on the program, I’m likely to need to devote 20 hours or more to listening time that week. But as I’ve said before, in a sense I’m hoping to make a living listening to classical music with this project — I’m not at all complaining about having to devote 3 or 4 hours a day to it! I want to listen to as much of the classical repertoire as I possibly can in one lifetime.

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