'Cat in the Stacks: Music to Research By
I’m Michelle Callaghan, a first-year graduate student at Villanova University. This is our new column, “‘Cat in the Stacks.” I’m the ‘cat. Falvey Memorial Library is the stacks. I’ll be posting about living that scholarly life, from research to study habits to embracing your inner-geek, and how the library community might aid you in all of it.
Since I’m a cat, I have excellent hearing. Unfortunately, that means I pick up on conversations on the opposite end of the hallway, on the sounds of students playing Frisbee outside, on the snores of my dog, and it makes it so difficult to focus on whatever I’m reading.
Even in a library, ambient noise is often unavoidable (although you’ll find some of the best study spaces on this post!) Instead of building an eight-by-eight cell with soundproofing foam and an Ethernet jack (although hey, if you can pull it off, go for it!), compiling a list of study-friendly music just might save your attention span and your grades.
It’s up to you whether you think you can handle reading words while listening to music with lyrics, but I find it almost impossible. Luckily, I’m an audiophile of all things instrumental. Here are my go-to study/reading/writing jams, all of which can be found on Spotify:
1) The album Tree of Life by Audiomachine
2) Anything composed by Thomas Bergersen and/or Nick Pheonix, and any combination of the two thereof. Together they compose as “Two Steps from Hell,” but don’t let the aggressive name fool you – their music is epic, powerful, instrumental, and often angelic.
3) Film Scores
“How to Train Your Dragon 2,” composed by John Powell, is my current film score obsession (also fantastic for running!). But you can never go wrong with Hans Zimmer or John Williams. “Star Wars,” “Jurassic Park,” “The Lord of the Rings,” and “Gladiator” are particularly fantastic scores. In the same vein, video game soundtracks—composed specifically to be both invigorating and unobtrusive—are great research buddies.
4) Classical music. Mozart is a prime choice.
5) Christopher Tin’s song cycle “Calling All Dawns”
My obsession with this song cycle is never ending, and I go back on what I said about songs with lyrics for “Calling All Dawns.” If you like world music and melodies that inspire you to run barefoot across the globe embracing every second of living, this album is perfect. And unless you’re impressively multilingual (the album features songs in Swahili, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, French, Lain, Irish, Polish, Hebrew, Farsi, Sanskrit, and Maori—in that order!) the lyrics probably won’t distract you from your studies. Plus, every song flows directly into the next, pulling motifs across the album. It’s my favorite.
So there it is! A little overview of my personal research and writing playlist. In extreme cases, noise-isolating headphones or earbuds that eliminate outside ambient sounds can be a lifesaver, and although they can get a little pricey, they’ve helped me through plenty of those This-Is-Due-Tomorrow-Be-Quiet panic attacks. Still, sometimes all you need is something to help you stay calm when deadlines are making you anxious—and music has your back.
What do you listen to while reading, studying, or writing?
Article by Michelle Callaghan, graduate assistant on the Communication and Service Promotion team. She is currently pursuing her MA in English at Villanova University.
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