Quick background, in case you didn't click on the link to read more about it: having decided to end my 23-year tenure as artistic director at the Newnan Community Theatre Company with a bang, I set about translating Mozart's Nozze di Figaro into idiomatic, modern musical comedy English. My goal was to produce something that was 1) singable; 2) recognizable to modern American audiences as musical comedy; and 3) funny.
On the whole, I think I succeeded. This 18th century opera buffa was sold out, start to finish, and audiences in Newnan, GA, laughed riotously for four hours. Who knew?
Over the year and a half that I worked on the translation, this is what developed: I would open my score, my waste book score (although I didn't call it that at the time), my rhyming dictionary, and I would put on this music:
As its subtle rhythms started, my brain would slip into translating mode, moving like an insect back and forth over the text, the rhyme scheme (I attempted to stick to da Ponte's rhyme schemes in order to tie scenes together, which is no easy trick in English, let me tell you), the jokes, the punchlines, the characterizations, the singability of the phrases...
Yes, it was like putting myself into a kind of trance, what Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow." The trick of such a ritual is to provide a trigger for the brain: now, it says, now we're going to stop paying attention to other things and pay attention to this particular task. It's a surefire way to cross into that liminal state. The title of Steve Roach's magnum opus, Dreamtime Return, is a delicious bonus.
I am not alone in using this ritual, of course. Michael Cunningham has said that he uses a different "soundtrack" for each of the books he writes. With The Hours, he was listening to Philip Glass (among others), who went on to write the stunning soundtrack for the movie.
Anyone else? What are your soundtrack rituals?