Distance • Recognition • Connection • Experience
I miss traditional storytelling, in the only way that you can miss something that you either never had, or had all too briefly. I suppose it’s really more a faith in the belief that it was something integral to human experience, because by traditional storytelling I don’t mean “old books and stories”, I mean the act, the skill and the practice of a narrator telling you a story. You know, out loud. Possibly around a campfire, with a wizened, white-bearded village elder captivating audiences of all ages with amazing adventures once had, heightened and punctuated by the use of voice, facial expressions, the shaking, thumping and cautionary points of a gnarled branch that doubles as a walking stick… (this goes hand-in-hand with my romantic, medieval imagery of “storyteller”).
I was lucky because my family recognised and encouraged my love of telling and hearing stories when I was young. I have one very fond memory of myself, my two brothers and my mother sitting on our lounge room floor in a circle, TV off, making up stories and telling them to each other in turn. I doubt I was much older that 5 or so, and the most that I can remember is that somewhere in my story was a pterodactyl. And probably a wizard (there always seemed to be a wizard of some form in my stories). It was a wonderfully unique thing to do, even back in the 80’s most likely – suggest that kind of activity to most families today and they will probably look at you like you’re a weirdo.
The Art of Story Telling is the Art of Closing Distance
Story telling has the capacity to close the distance between belief and disbelief, the known and the unknown, experience and inexperience. People have a tendency to participate, at least on some level, with the story being told, and will therefore experience it on a personal level even if the story being told is of circumstances one may never experience in real life. In that regard, I think the traditional practice of storytelling is a valuable art form; one very different from committing tales to paper. While I believe that on some levels everything is a solitary experience, with an openly shared experience, connection with and to those that shared it is intrinsic.
People use different, often superficial, ways to connect to one another now, or to at the very least maintain a sense of connection – this isn’t new or surprising news. The primary means of communication outside of direct conversation that we have (letters, phones, emails, MySpaces, Facebooks, instant messaging etc. etc.), have the odd ability of being able to both distance us from personal relationships as well as initiate and develop them. My purpose however, isn’t to take any in depth look at that particular phenomenon, or any lack of social interaction. What this is really all about is that I believe music is not only one of the only arts we have left that fosters the same sense of shared experience that I feel (from that limited experience as a 5yr old) the original storytellers were able to, but that it now serves the same, deeper function traditional fairy tales once did.
Even at its most basic level, as pure entertainment, music has the innate capability to forge connections between people. When two people who have never met before begin a conversation, chances are music will be one of the first topics brought up, for obvious reasons. Most people are able to participate in a conversation about music because most people like at least some of it. Everyone begins a conversation about music on level ground, personal taste and opinion comes into it and hopefully it moves to common ground. (Ok, so there are some jerks out there who always think they have superior taste in music than everyone else and that they have the ‘higher ground’. Higher ground is, however, shaky ground and highly susceptible to having rocks thrown at it. There’s also far less air up there so prod them into speaking passionately and profusely until they run out of it, turn blue and topple to their well-deserved doom. Where all the evil wizards are).
What talking about music really does, aside from hopefully keep conversation flowing, is it enables an unspoken mutual understanding and recognition to take place at a different level. Music speaks to us on an emotional level, so when we speak to people who share similar tastes and passions in music, there’s an automatic sense of connection based on a shared understanding of something else; which generally goes completely unspoken. The scope can be pretty wide, I’ve no doubt. By which I mean the intensity of that sense of connection can range from merely thinking ‘hey, this person’s pretty cool’, to (and if you’ve read any of my previous posts you may understand this reference) “OMG, that’s my favourite band too!” and suddenly you’re in love, or at the very least some briefer variation of it… What it boils down to is that often when we meet someone who has the same or similar understanding of our passions, it makes us feel understood, too. We soundtrack ourselves, so much of our lives, with the music we listen and connect to, that in turn it helps us feel a connection to those who are listening to the same ‘soundtrack’ we are.
Ok, so what does all or any of this have to do with traditional fairy tales? Well, it’s all about what I mean by traditional fairy tales; as well as how, and the reasons why, we connect to music in the first place.
To be continued…
Men hur kommer man in i berget, frågade tomtepojken by John Bauer
Rumplestiltskin by Walter Crane