Music Is What Feelings Sound Like

The secret chords mentioned in the lyrics of “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen

Years ago, I worked in Ireland on a fashion photoshoot. (That sounds so pretentious, but I was just a glorified baggage handler. But yes, it was awesome!) Our charming bus driver began to sing to us on the bus ride back to the hotel—traditional Irish pub songs for swinging a pint and others that broke your heart. We were transfixed, silent, and completely in love with this elderly gentleman…until he passed our hotel without stopping. All the Americans yelled, “Whoa, you missed the turn!” “Stop!” “That was our hotel!” He never took his foot off the gas pedal and only said, “I’m not done with the song!”

What is the mysterious power of music that transforms, transports, and translates all of our life experiences? I suggest two ingredients: a good story and a killer drum beat. Our bus driver needed to finish the story, and he would not compromise a single word, even for his hungry passengers.

I was fifteen years old when MTV began. It felt innovative, but in truth, music has always played scenes in our minds. We all star in our own movie in our heads, and there’s definitely a soundtrack playing. For instance, when I’m cooking, it’s Loreena McKennitt. Linkin Park channels my anger, and when I’m feeling spicy, it’s Fleetwood Mac. When I’m creating music, it’s almost always a gift to God, and when I’m lost, I hear “Hurt” by Johnny Cash. We use music as therapy, memory triggers, inspiration, and hiding our secrets. Some use it as a weapon or manipulation, but we cannot escape its influence.

Music accidentally became an essential theme in Mount Hope. In fact, I relied too heavily upon lyrics to convey emotions because I knew the reader would hear familiar words, and it would pull on their heart. It was a crutch, and if I’m honest, it felt like cheating. I didn’t do it consciously, but I let lyrics do all the emotional heavy lifting for me. It wasn’t until my editor told me, “You can’t print lyrics without permission from the songwriter,” that I realized the handicap. So first, I panicked and began stalking artists on Twitter to get their permission. Turns out, when you start your direct message with, “You don’t know me but…” they stop reading immediately. So I sat in the challenge of it; write about the emotions a song evokes rather than relying on lyrics.

I have thirty-five songs referenced in Mount Hope as a playlist. I no longer consider adding songs to the story cheating but rather a cultural adaptation. Humans began as storytellers, and those stories grew into songs. So now, I’m reversing the process. I’m grafting songs back into the story.

In addition, Mount Hope also has a soundtrack. These are the songs I heard in my head as I wrote specific events. For example, the first song is from one of my favorite artists, José González. I heard his song, “Killing For Love,” in my head as I wrote the Prologue. I suggest you read the opening scene and then listen to the song on YouTube. If you like this kind of brain candy as you read, then check out the list here. Also, let me know what music you hear as you read Mount Hope.



  1. Shannon Allen on March 17, 2022 at 1:01 pm

    I literally won’t write a word until I have chosen the perfect music inspiration. Usually a movie score since lyrics just distract me.

    I enjoyed your book very much. Thank you for giving a voice to those the Church has abandoned and scorned. May they feel God’s love in the words of this book.

    • Kellie Woolf on April 7, 2022 at 8:14 pm

      Yes! Movie scores are my favorite too. Thank you for the kind words and encouragement.
      I aspire to be as good a writer as you.
      Love ya,

  2. Ann Meigs on March 20, 2022 at 8:33 pm

    Kellie, I will share your fabulous words of writing wisdom with my eighth grade language arts students! They are logical words, and everyone can connect music to their own stories! Some evoke memories, some dreams of the future, but ALL connect to an emotion. I’m so proud of you, my friend! Much love.

    • Kellie Woolf on April 7, 2022 at 8:17 pm

      Thank you, Ann! The students are lucky to have you as their teacher. I can’t wait to hear how it goes. Thank you for the love, friend!

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