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The Music of Storytelling

I was preparing a story for one of my presentations this past week and, as I usually do, I asked a friend to listen and provide a critique. She’s a songwriter, so I especially appreciate her thoughts regarding brevity, descriptive phrasing, and modulated rhythm.

After listening to one run-through, she asked if I’d mind if she improvised something on the piano while I told the story. Rehearsal time is a great opportunity to experiment and I readily agreed to the idea.

The result was something just short of magical for me.

I don’t know if my enthusiasm comes from years of movie-watching and enjoying the larger-than-life scores that play in the background, but her improvisation improved the flow of my narrative. She built upon what I was saying, and her choice of melody inspired my pace…especially the “wait for it” pauses.

I’m not certain why the experience took me so much by surprise. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to present the poem, “Life Is Fine” by Langston Hughes. A jazz group played behind the words, and I loved the empathy generated. (They made it easy for me to tell what was just right, and what needed to be “punched” a little more.)

Music tells its own story. Lyrics aren’t essential. The notes alone tug at our emotions, and they have a special power when they highlight an especially poignant moment.

If you are not sure about using unobtrusive music as a background to your story, I strongly recommend the film, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Pay special attention to the music playing behind the older Scout’s voiceover narration when it appears in the movie. The combination is haunting.

In the meantime, I’m planning to experiment some more with musical accompaniment. The scope of possibilities that open with that combination are exciting to consider!

Thank you for reading.