Musicians as Storytellers

April 14, 2011

Even though I finished Dan Pink’s The Whole Mind over a month ago, I’m still stewing around many of his ideas and thinking about how I can relate to them musically.  I wrote a post about Design in Music, and now have been thinking about how another one of his six senses, Story, can be framed from a musical point of view.

Pink’s pop quiz at the beginning of the Story chapter demonstrates how powerful Story is for us.  He asks us two questions, one which asks us to recall a specific fact from earlier in his book.  The second question asks us to remember a story.

Out of the two questions it is much more difficult for us to remember an “isolated factoid”.  But stories are easier to remember, and as Pink says, ‘in many ways, stories are how we remember.” He continues, “that pop quiz gave us a quick glimmer, it runs counter to how our minds work…in the Conceptual Age, minimizing the importance of story places you in professional and personal peril,” and that with facts becoming so widely available and instantly accessible, he adds what begins to matter more is the “ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.”

Obviously placing any musical work in its historical, political, or social context guides performers enormously towards understanding how to interpret a certain work.  More so, it’s truly the story of the work.  If we know the whens, wheres and hows of a composer ‘s life (the context) all this can help us to understand how interpret (or deliver) a particular piece more effectively.

Or how about creating an original context or story-line, or images, or even a dance movement to help reach the kind of emotional impact that you’re looking for in a particular passage?  When learning the Martin Ballade, I still remember a former mentor during a lesson saying, “no, no, no! Here you have to imagine a pig’s head full of blood, dripping!” in order to get me to deliver a particular passage with the right emotional impact.  Being over the top and exaggerating beyond what we have to do while performing may help us to get to where we need to be.

Using story to interpret the music we perform more effectively is something that most of us do already.  However it might be an interesting exercise to do more of this more often and see if it helps us to reach our musical and interpretative goals more effectively, or perhaps it may help us to make a more meaningful connection with our listeners at our next performance.

Laura Lentz ©2011

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