Daily Archives: January 27, 2011

Music to Write By! Andrew Peterson-The Far Country

This is the third installment in a slowly emerging series on music that I use to inspire me and keep me focused while I’m writing. For more background and a more thorough explanation of how and why this is useful, check out my earlier posts on the subject, where I review Skillet’s Collide and Eniad’s Avalon, and one by Stephanie on creating a soundtrack for your story.

General: Andrew Peterson is, without doubt, one of the most “real” and creative manifestations of Christian music.  Unlike many other famous examples, he’s the sort of musician that intelligent Christians can listen to without cringing or going into a mind-numbing haze.  Peterson derives his music from his own personal experiences, and a very expansive imagination.  In The Far Country, he gives us examples of both.  Not all songs fit into a particular theme, but a number of them focus on death and the idea of what happens after.  For Peterson, indeed for all Christians, death isn’t something to be hated or feared.  It isn’t an end; it is the beginning, a gateway into a world far greater than any we can currently concieve.

Choosing this album to review might seem odd on the face of it, given my purpose in this series of posts (examining how music can be useful in writing fantasy and science fiction).  Despite its cover art, The Far Country lacks the “feel” of fantasy.  At first glance, one might think it was an album of Celtic, medieval, or adventure sounding pieces that could fit well if played in Bag End or Rivendell.  Admittedly, there are some songs that seem like they’re trying to be that (i.e. “Haven’s Grey” or the title track), but by and large most are a folksy combination of guitars, drums, piano, and synthesizer that could be played over any light rock or pop station.  On top of that, the vast majority of songs (all but the two mentioned above) are very explicitly modern.  It might seem a little difficult to get inspired to write about fantastic stories and worlds when listening to a song about driving to Pittsburgh.

But that would be a very shallow interpretation of Peterson’s work here.  Peterson’s genius isn’t in his sound–though that is quite good–it’s in his lyrics and the ideas he conveys through them.  What Peterson is doing in The Far Country is opening a window in the ordinary to worlds unimagined, thereby showing us that this world around us is far bigger and more fantastic than we previously allowed.*  He makes his story, our stories, part of the immense tapestry of the Greatest Tale Ever Told, and the closer you listen to him, the more you see things around you in a new light.  For instance, in “Queen of Iowa,” he recounts an instance where he and a friend played a private concert for a seriously ill woman whose husband and asked them for the favor since she couldn’t attend the larger one.  What for many of us would be a simple act of charity is revealed to be time with a queen, spent on holy ground.  In “Little Boy Heart,” he reconnects us with a time when monsters lurked behind every tree, waiting to be vanquished, and offers a “joy in the journey” with Christ that will “make a grown man cry.”  I know that I find the older I get, the more I get piled on me, the harder it is to feel these sorts of things, and therefore harder to connect them to readers.  The Far Country is an intellectual and emotional salve for my own soul.

My personal favorite is probably “Haven’s Grey”.  It is an end-of-life story from Frodo’s perspective, but told in such a way that I can easily believe he’s talking about me.  It tastes of the bitter-sweet moment when I will finally say goodbye to this world, looking forward to my communion with God, but also missing the dear family and friends I will leave behind.

So, how do I suggest you use The Far Country?  It really doesn’t serve me well when I’m actually writing.  The tone is just too modern for that.  Instead, I suggest using it in the hours or days leading up to a writing session to put your mind in a proper frame.  You will start to see things in a new light and think of possibilities that would otherwise have escaped you as “nonsense.”  Peterson will open the door for you; it is then up to you to walk through and explore the lands beyond.

So, in a nutshell…

Andrew Peterson, looking contemplative. (I think it's in his contract for an album like this.)

Album: The Far Country

Artist: Andrew Peterson

Year: 2005

Genre: Folk/Pop

Discography

Spectrum: Contemplative/Modern/Nostalgic

Pathos: Expansive

Good for: This album is best used in opening your mind to new creative possibilities before sitting down to write fantasy or science fiction.  It would also be useful in writing more modern genres.

Want to purchase this album?  Click here.

Today’s Crazy Prayer Request: My doctor’s office went an’ got a court order to kill me because I have phlegm in my throat. Could you pray the phlegm would go away.

*Incidentally, that is one of my major beefs with atheism:  it’s simply too small and limiting.  The more I see of this world, the more obvious it becomes that it is far greater than we can conceive of, let alone master and control.  “There are more thing in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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