Art, Music, and Emotion

As a stoic, unsentimental Scandinavian, it takes a LOT to make me cry in real life , but when I’m listening to music? Or experiencing some kind of art combined with music? OMG, someone pass the Kleenex.

Music alone reliably opens my emotional floodgates, but combining great music with another type of art can tip the experience to transcendent.  Today, I’d like to talk about art that makes us cry.

Apologies in advance for what will certainly be a video-heavy post. I hope you’ll be able to come back to this post when you have a little time, experience some of the art that tugs at MY heartstrings, and also share your own.


I’m a long-time viewer of So You Think You Can Dance, the competitive reality show that’s given so many dancers an opportunity to strut their stuff to the world. After the season is over, many of the Top 20 dancers deservedly make the leap from amateur to professional, but I find myself most emotionally impacted by the auditions – no, not the emotionally manipulative “up close and personal” sob stories, which I fast-forward past – but the performances themselves… just an as-yet-unknown dancer, interpreting a song through movement, in their own little world, before any famous choreographer gets their hot little hands on them.

The musicality of these two SYTYCD auditions literally brings me to tears.

After her audition, Melanie Moore , the eventual Season 8 winner, not only received a standing ovation from her fellow competitors, but was told by one of the judges that Zeus himself would invite her to dance on Mt. Olympus.

Moore is dancing to “The Meadow” by Alexandre Desplat, from the Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack.

Below, director/producer/choreographer and SYTYCD guest judge Adam Shankman gets a little verklempt watching Billy Bell’s audition. Adam wasn’t alone. (I’m a sympathetic crier, so this audition was a double-whammy.)

Billy is dancing to “To Build a Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra. Unfortunately Bell sustained an injury partway through the season and had to leave the competition.


In my opinion, the last scene of the Six Feet Under series finale is the one of the most perfect pieces of television ever aired. In six sublime, fast-forwarded, largely dialogue-free minutes, we learn what the future holds for every member of the extended Fisher family as the youngest daughter, Claire, drives cross-country to start her first grown-up job. Given the Fishers run a funeral home, could the series really have ended any other way? Set to Sia’s “Breathe Me,” this scene and this song are forever entwined in my mind, combining to create a piece of art that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

FAIR WARNING: Some readers may find the montage’s subject matter – death – disturbing.


Every morning when I sit down to write, I choose an artist, song, album, or playlist that I think will transport me to the emotional head space of the character whose POV I’m writing from that day. (Music is that reliable a tool for me; there are some pieces that make my eyes sting every time I hear them.) Here are Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, joined by Jason Bonham on drums, performing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, with an arrangement I feel rivals the  original.

The chorus coming in at about 4:10? Talk about transcendent.


You wouldn’t expect that reading a rocker’s memoir would provoke much of an emotional reaction, but Duran Duran bass player John Taylor’s 2012 memoir, In the Pleasure Groove, accomplished this rare feat. When Taylor described how his bandmate Simon LeBon sang “Save a Prayer” at John’s father’s funeral? Fellow Ruby Sister and Duran Duran superfan Vanessa B. and I both bawled like babies.

And finally, from my own work. In my 2009 GH finalist/2011 debut novel TASTE ME, I killed off a secondary character that some readers thought was developed strongly enough to get her own book – and yeah, it hurt.

In this excerpt, a siren choir sings Annika Fontaine home:

A burst of wind buffeted the small group as they assembled on the edge of the rugged cliff. Lukas instinctively leaned in to shelter Scarlett with his larger body. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed his father doing the same thing for Claudette as she stood in her family’s ancestral worship area like a poised ivory statue, her face locked in a rictus of control. In this thin, milky light, her hair looked more gray than red, and her mourning-white trench coat whipped around her legs. She cradled a fuchsia suede bag about the size and weight of a sack of sugar in both arms.

Her daughter’s ashes.

As opposed to her mother, Scarlett blazed with defiant color. She’d made no attempt to harness her hair, and it billowed behind her like a red sheet on a clothesline. Her calf-length wool coat was bright turquoise, her pink boots glowed, and her face was blotchy with tears.

Grief and sadness poured out of her like blood from a wound. Lukas clenched his jaw and held on to her hand as the siren choir gathered around them in a loose semicircle.

“Let us sing our sister home,” the Celebrant intoned. She turned her substantial body to the pounding sea and extended her arms to the sky and waves, singing the first haunting notes.

He thought he was prepared. He really did. But when the other women joined in… Jesus. Dissonant harmonies shrilled up and down his backbone, and he grasped Scarlett’s waist more tightly—whether to support her or to be supported, he didn’t really know. Scarlett was as much moaning as singing, her incomparable voice rising above the others as she extended her arms to the sea and tipped her head up to the sky. The collective mourning energy swirled above them like a whirlwind as the sirens sang the Fontaine family lineage, imploring the wind and the waves to accompany the brave siren Annika to her final resting place. Annika, daughter of Claudette, daughter of Signe, daughter of Siobhan, daughter of Siann, of Sorcha, of Catraoine. Of Sinead, Maire, Ceile, and Fiona. On and on, back through the generations, the sirens recited the names the unbroken Fontaine matrilineal line back to Canola, Goddess of the Harp.

It was now up to Scarlett to ensure continuity of the Fontaine line.

On and on the singing went, the sirens acknowledging sisters lost to history, sisters who’d protected their families and ensured their species’ survival by luring marauders’ ships into the cliffs with no weapon but their voices. Lukas surreptitiously popped an antacid and tried to distract himself by focusing on the waves pounding against the cliffs, the swooping gulls, the fall sumac blazing between the rocks, where the paparazzi crouched like fucking jackals. Something, anything, to distract himself from the taste of Scarlett’s saltwater mourning mixing with her mandarin essence.

How his seed boiled at the thought of fathering Scarlett’s child.

Finally, the plaintive song came to a close, and the Celebrant stepped back, gesturing to the churning water.

“I … can’t do this,” Scarlett whispered brokenly, the first words she’d spoken to him in nearly a week.

Lukas bracketed her chilly face in his warm hands, trying to pour whatever strength he could into her. “You can.”

She clutched his wrists with her hands for a long moment, her eyes locked on to his. Finally, she stepped away from the shelter of his body and joined her mother at the edge of the cliff. And as the other sirens chanted, “All that was…all that is…all that shall be,” they reached into the bag with their bare hands, casting Annika’s ashes to the wild, wild sea.

Oh yeah. That still makes me cry.

Is there a type or piece of art that makes you cry? Happy tears, sad tears, bittersweet tears? Feel like sharing?  




TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, has been nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace



27 responses to “Art, Music, and Emotion”

  1. Elizabeth Langston says:

    I watched the televised funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco. At one point, they played a piece of music: Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. It is this lovely, poignant, mournful piece of music. The camera switched to a long shot of Prince Ranier. He was weeping broken-heartedly, eyes closed, while the people around him sat in stoic silence.

    Everytime I hear that song, it makes me want to weep. It’s my “go to” piece for writing a melancholy scene.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Beth, I had a similar experience watching Princess Diana’s funeral on TV, when John Tavener’s “Song for Athene” started playing. One of the microphones picked up the sound of someone trying to muffle a sob, and I was toast.

      Tavener, Eric Whitacre… something about dissonant harmonies gets me every time.

      • Elizabeth Langston says:

        Another Diana fan here! I was exactly 6 months older than she. Got up at 4am to watch her wedding. Got up in the wee hours of the morning to watch her funeral. My husband knew she had died the night before and set his alarm clock early so that he could wake up and tell me, instead of me stumbling over that bit of news.

        Elton John singing “Goodbye, English Rose…” anyone?

        I am a total SYTYCD fan. I don’t normally like Sonya’s choreography, but she has upped her game this year!

        • Tamara Hogan says:

          Yeah, Sonya’s work tends to be hit and miss for me – sometimes I feel the quirk level is higher than it needs to be – but I’ve LOVED her pieces so far this season.

  2. Vivi Andrews says:

    Tammy, I love you. Once again I was nodding along to everything you said. Raising my hand as another SYTYCD junkie. And that scene from Taste Me. Girl. Make me sob, why don’t you? Music is everything.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Vivi, it’s kind of funny…no matter how many times I watch those SYTYCD videos, I tear up in the exact same place, every single time. I can’t figure it out, but at least I’m consistent! 😉

      Sometimes I kick myself for killing off Annika… she was a hoot.

  3. Elisa Beatty says:

    Amazing stuff, Tammy!! Watching the audience reactions to the Stairway to Heaven piece was truly moving.

    And that passage about Annika’s funeral….maaaaaaan. So intense.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Elisa, watching Yo Yo Ma sitting in the audience, listening to Ann and Nancy with his eyes closed, enraptured, is a wonderful visual, isn’t it? Even Robert Plant wiped away a tear at the end of the performance.

      I’m glad you find Annika’s funeral scene as impactful as I do. 😉

  4. Gwyn says:

    What a fabulous piece, Tammy. I love the videos you’ve chosen, and will stay away from SYTYCD lest I become hooked. Beauty comes in many forms, and when it touches our hearts, it becomes divine.

  5. Rita Henuber says:

    WoW! What a fantastic post. Thanks for the memory with the excerpt from Taste Me.

  6. Addison Fox says:

    What a great post! I love the various pieces you used and I think it’s endlessly fascinating how the act of creation is so dynamic and living (no pun intended after the Six Feet Under video!) 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this – what an incredibly thoughtful piece!!!!


    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks, Addison!

      When I’m upstairs in my house, the TV is nearly always on, murmuring in the background. Earlier this afternoon, when I was pulling lists together to get me through the next week or so (cabin with a friend, home one day, then off to RWA National *gulp*) I ran across the last half hour of the movie “Purple Rain.” There’s a scene near the end of the movie, after The Kid’s father’s been shot and his band has to play to keep their spot in the lineup, where he plays a song his band mates Wendy and Lisa have written. There’s a place near the end of the song where he kisses Wendy, his lead guitarist, on the cheek. She quickly turns, focusing on her playing so she can hide her own tears.

      Kleenex time.

      Having written this post, I think finally see my personal Kryptonite combo: death + music + someone else’s tears. BOOM.

  7. Thank you for such a thoughtful post. I’ve thought about trying to write while listening to movie soundtracks, but haven’t made that happen yet. 🙂 I own How to Train Your Dragon and Pirates of the Caribbean because the way the music swells and ebbs really builds the emotion and helps tell the story.

    Great excerpt, too!!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Anne Marie, in a roundabout way, you gave me the idea for this post. Remember when a group of us Rubies were in your hotel room at RT, stuffing swag bags for the Ruby Burlesque Revue? I don’t even remember what the topic was, but Shelley C. made a comment about how something must have been emotional for me. I remember looking at you, smiling, and then saying something along the lines of, “Not really, but let’s not get started on my family of origin issues.”

      The comment stuck with me – one of those light bulb moments – and after thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that, sometimes, for some of us, second-hand emotions, like those I experience with art or music, can feel a lot safer than experiencing such emotions ourselves. I’m still puzzling it out, but I feel like I’m starting to gain some insight into why my writing voice has always seemed so much more emotional that I am in real life.

      It feels safer on the page.

      • I remember that. 🙂

        I love those light-bulb moments of growth and regrouping.

        And I think for people who tend to have more left-brain thinking on a daily basis (analytical, verbal, seeing parts rather than the whole), I think having something more right-brain or creative (writing, music, etc.) can help deepen the experience of emotions. Does that make sense?

  8. Diana Layne says:

    I don’t have a play list as such, but I do have favorites that inspire me. Heart doing Stairway To Heaven, omg, chills. I’ve been disconnected (to everything, life, writing, life) a lot for about a year now and I’ve been using music to help me reconnect. Once I remembered I had music that I liked. Yeah, it’s been a rough road. Smoothing out now, though, thank goodness.

  9. Good reminder, Tammy, that music is an integral part if every experience. The right song increases the emotional expression. I always feel like every life has it’s own soundtrack,.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      So true, Jacqueline!

      A couple of days ago, my boyfriend asked me what I was thinking about. I had a song running through my head – “Maybe Tomorrow” by Stereophonics – and I realized that this actually happens to me pretty frequently! Any downtime in my thoughts turns to music.

  10. What an amazing post. I need to dig out my music playlist again. I had some great country songs that I played when my hero’s heart was broken but lately I’ve been craving complete quiet. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Bev, I know what you mean by craving quiet. Sometimes the best way to refill the well is to elimiate all the man-made clutter. Mark and I spent the 4th of July weekend with friends at a cabin in northern MN, and it was so nice to sit on a chaise lounge on the dock, revising a manuscript, listening to the loons.


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