By Limor Shiponi
To tell you the truth, I think most people never really figured out what storytelling is made of and how it works. On a deeper level, I think many people have never heard good storytelling. This comes after months of observing and actually reading many of the citations and links flying around via twitter and facebook.
I’m not going to get into all the details. I will if someone cares to talk about this seriously. For now I have only one thing to say – all this deconstructing and pulling apart is getting most of the conversations AWAY from storytelling and that’s really bad to my humble opinion.
54 thoughts on “What I think about all the blah blah around the evolution of Storytelling”
I may perhaps be one of those you directed this towards. I have followed you since I discovered you in my search through all things “storytelling.” I think that you should “get into all of the details” and I think that would be well received by all and I also think it might generate conversations that need to take place. Would you please consider doing this? Is there anything I can do to help? Thank you!
Never typed a Greg with a double g, will be interesting to know where this comes from.
You broke a heavy silence which I found frustrating and I thank you for that. Through this blog I’ve been writing about some of the details but I never know if someone is taking any of this material in as a basis for conversation or food for thought.
MIGHT generate conversations is good enough for me. I don’t need to consider I know I want to. You can help yes, by kicking off the discussion and taking a shot at the question I’m going to pose in the next paragraph. But before I do I’m inviting anyone to take part. I don’t mind if you are a beginner, a professional, a “hot” name, a kid or someone others see as a “guru” (can’t stand that word in the context of storytelling) just keep the conversation going, I think it is important.
So Gregg tell me, why is it that the Merriam-Webster dictionary has no definition for Storytelling? why do people prefer to say ‘Narrative work’ and talk about ‘story’ when something very different is going on? why, on the other hand do they use ‘storytelling’ when they want to sound “sexy”?
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I am somewhat surprised that MW doesn’t define Storytelling. I checked their online version and sure enough, it’s listed as a noun under Storyteller, so, I imagine from their perspective we are to assume that a Storyteller engages in Storytelling.
I am curious as to whether or not they do define Storytelling in the unabridged version. That requires a subscription online that I don’t want to sign up for as I’ll not likely use it other than to check into this. I have an older unabridged version in the attic somewhere but I don’t know that we’ll gain anything as far as this conversation goes by my searching it out and checking.
So, I guess it’s time to throw the question back at you. 🙂
Why do you think it is that they don’t? I know for sure that there is no way they or Wikipedia or any of the “definition” sites will get anywhere close to the definition of Storytelling you have in the sidebar.
On a side note, I have had a few discussions with novelist Peter Damian Bellis about Narrative, Story, Storytelling and the emotional connections that occur so I am quite curious as to where you are going with your question.
When you ask “why do people prefer to say ‘Narrative work’ and talk about ‘story’ when something very different is going on?” I think we’re going to have to get some shared working definitions in place before I can offer any answer. In the time I have been actively immersed in following this ‘storytelling ecosystem’, I have come across more different definitions for Narrative and Story than I ever would have believed possible.
Once again, I’ll have to ask you. What is it “that is very different going on?” What is your definition of Narrative? Your definition of Story in the sidebar is quite nice and seems to mine the real depths of Story.
As to your last question, “why, on the other hand do they use ‘storytelling’ when they want to sound ‘sexy’?”, I think I have seen instances of what you are referring to although I have never thought of them as seeming sexy. That’s likely a genetic defect on my part. 🙂
So Limor, why is it that “most people have never really figured out what storytelling is made of and how it works. On a deeper level, I think many people have never heard good storytelling?”
And while I don’t disagree, can you go into the reasons you think that “all this deconstructing and pulling apart is getting most of the conversations AWAY from storytelling and that’s really bad to my humble opinion?”
Don’t go searching in the attic; we’ll make it down here.
Why do I think it is that “definition” sites don’t touch this? I think they don’t see the reason they should. Storytelling is transparent if you don’t see the difference between it and other story forms so it becomes ‘story’. This does not mean I think storytelling is a story form solely.
They can’t get to my “sidebar definition” because they are not storytellers. Storytellers don’t get to my sidebar definition either because they too, in our nice little kingdom, don’t see a reason. Storytelling works for us so what’s the big deal. This is not the complete situation – some storytellers are looking at this issue and I think they are coming from a close place to where I started – frustration in needing to mediate our world to the rest of the world if we want to cross a line into business, non-profits, training, therapy or even education.
Ecosystem is a nice way to put it, the problem is that storytelling as in storytelling is pushed aside from being the main site… this is not about hierarchy. This is about core.
If you want to know my definitions, here they are, see how you feel about them:
Narrative is the playground of what will eventually materialize into a story event including the medium. Endless pieces of information, connections, sensations etc.
Plot is a choice taken in the narrative. A linear path of actions meeting details put in a certain way.
Story is the emotional arch that rises in the listener – listening to the plot, using parts of the narrative, some of them not mentioned at all in the plot.
The plot’s influence on the narrative is – form.
The way the story is expressed in the plot is – theme.
The purification of story in the narrative is – metaphor.
All the above is interconnected and works in mutual influence.
My definition in the sidebar is about storytelling, not about story.
Seems people assume the word ‘storytelling’ helps sales like sex. That’s what I mean.
I’m stopping here, keeping your other questions because this already might be too long a comment for a conversation.
Well, I hope you’ll answer those other questions because I have a feeling they’ll generate some interesting conversations too.
Those a very thought provoking definitions that you have given. They’ll be conversation provoking as soon as I get time today to get back to this. 🙂
Two items from what you said, beyond your wonderful definitions, that I’d like to ask you to further talk about if you get the chance.
“Storytelling works for us so what’s the big deal. This is not the complete situation – some storytellers are looking at this issue and I think they are coming from a close place to where I started – frustration in needing to mediate our world to the rest of the world if we want to cross a line into business, non-profits, training, therapy or even education.”
Mediate which world? The ‘storytelling’ one? What line is there to cross and why?
“Seems people assume the word ‘storytelling’ helps sales like sex.”
I see this with ‘story’, the word is batted about like a shuttlecock in badminton, but not with ‘storytelling’. What am I missing?
Also, just ran across this. In light of what you’ve written the last two days thought it might be of some interest to you.
http://j.mp/cmdzGe (Storytelling Reclaimed).
Hi Gregg, I’m back, thanks for your patience.
What is the very different thing going on? My answer appears in the blog post called “The core of storytelling – masterful storytellers” type this into the search box and you’ll get there. That post contains several understandings and among them my suggestion for the exact definition of storytelling written in italic fonts.
My reasoning for the claim “most people have never really figured out what storytelling is made of and how it works” is connected to the way we tend to analyze a phenomenon, especially if we are knowledgeable or experienced. Many professionals from various fields who have “found” storytelling lately (not to say some of them are sure they have invented it) interpret the phenomenon from their point of view, without even thinking there might be something about its narrative they are not aware of. Like for instance the huge difference between written and spoken cultures, inner motivations, rules of conduct and so forth. People from cultures who value script are very often blocked to the possibility of trusting the spoken word or even finding it valuable beyond “old wives tales”.
If you’ll listen to my conversation with Brother Wolf (latest blog post, June 6th) you’ll hear who I think is responsible for not clearing the mist and a few more ideas around this issue. This also connects to why not enough people have heard good storytelling – there is not enough of it to go around. There are other forces playing here too – the market for instance, which is not necessarily aware of the difference between telling jokes and storytelling; Copyright issues, which force some event organizers to push some storytellers into telling mainly personal stories. There is more.
So as I said I do believe all the deconstructing and pulling apart is getting most of the conversations AWAY from storytelling. Why? Let’s look at a few examples and I assume we both know these situations:
So you have this ‘marketing’ company who knows storytelling is hype now. They think “let’s look into it”. In the best case they’ll call upon a storyteller. What do they want? a workshop, three hours max, ok? Through the workshop they want the storyteller to show them how storytelling will help them sell more. If they are paying attention they will arrive to the conclusion they need to know much more. Costly, they are not interested and they’ll find their way. If they are paying very close attention they start feeling alarmed – the person leading the workshop could very easily replace their leading planner and that is out of the question. So they end up with the conclusion this is something they already know how to do and they don’t want anything beyond a couple of tips for the road, something “new and fresh” or a “wow”.
Storytelling is not part of the “wow” culture. “Wow” diminishes the recognition of subtlety and storytelling is subtle, delicate, intimate and personal. Storytelling does not buy recognition, it earns it. That’s why it is really closer to marketing (real marketing) not publicity. In the bigger game we all know marketing is being pushed (in most cases) into publicity and sales, tell me I’m wrong.
Education – again, they want us to teach them how to “deliver the message” in a more effective way. Storytelling is not about delivering a message, it’s about eliciting questions – each listener’s questions, looking for their own answers suitable to where they are in life, not educational propaganda.
Then you have all those fields dealing with the “inner scene” – of a person, an organization, a team and so forth. But if storytelling work is situated in an environment where no true-talk is allowed so the outcome if any exists, is artificial, a fake and worth even greater damage.
I think the worst in the deconstruction process are two things: trying to turn storytelling or really parts of it into a commodity anyone can purchase and narrowing the voice of the art by more powerful disciplines that have wider backs like academia and money. This leads to my answer about crossing the line, coming soon.
I’m delighted you were able to get back to this and continue. I did listen to your interview with Eric and Tweeted about it and posted about it in my “dailies”, Storytelling and Curation. However, :-), I’m going to go back and listen to it again in light of what you said. I’ll be back as soon as I’ve done that.
These were two really wonderfully thought out comments you just posted. Thank you for taking the time to do so!
One quick question after listening to the interview with Eric again ( and 6 1/2 pages of notes later) as well as starting to read the post “The core of storytelling – masterful storytellers”. What is your working definition of ‘narrative”? Thanks!
Never mind the narrative definition question. I thought I remembered that you had provided it earlier and sure enough, you had. Now I want to look at that ‘playground’ in light of what you talked about with Eric and what you talk about in the “The core of storytelling – masterful storytellers” post. As well as everything else that you’ve said in both of these recent comments.
I see you have been busy 🙂 and from what I understand I’ll wait for your next move. Thanks for the tweets too.
Ok, reading that post you pointed me to and going back and listening to the podcast with Eric through this ‘seashell’ of conversation has been very helpful.
I thought I had a pretty good idea of what you were hinting at in your first post about all of this. I suspect that’s part of what made me engage. And I know that I didn’t disagree with what you were saying. But neither did I know you well enough, your background, definitions, frames of reference, etc. to be able to properly engage in this conversation. I suspect that you will still overwhelm me in several places and I hope that when you do, you’ll grant me pause to catch my breath. You have thus far and I thank you for that.
Kathy Hansen (A Storied Career) asked me whether I had found anything that really surprised me as I was taking this journey through the lands of storytelling. I answered that by saying that the oral storytelling traditions and practices that were so alive in this country and in Europe (I have a very parochial frame of reference here, I’m sorry to say), and being practiced by Eric and other people like Bill Ratner and The Moth Storytellers, as well as those at all of the storytelling festivals throughout the countries, were the biggest surprise.
The prejudices, if we call them that, I bring to ‘story’, ‘storytelling’ and ‘narrative’ are grounded in the Humanities of English and Religion and the Social Science of Politics. In the post you pointed me to, you offer this suggestion as the definition of storytelling:
“Mediate ideas articulated in words to or with other people. Storytellers work with thought and relationship. The same process happens in literature, poetry, and theater. It is the need to successfully mediate the verbal and kinesthetic narratives to other people orally, in time, while adapting to a specific telling, that demands the use of a third narrative. That is the vocal, the narrative of patterned movement.”
I have two questions for you as a result of reading that and listening to the podcast. (Am I driving you nuts yet with my questions? 🙂 )
Obviously, I like the reference to literature, poetry and theater but the first question is, does the same process you refer to above happen in Music too? You told Eric that music and storytelling are closer than literature and storytelling. And that reading poetry might be a close second. Am I missing something or am I just not seeing the forest through the trees?
The second question has to do with the ‘three narratives’. Can you expand on the difference between ‘vocal’ and ‘verbal’? Is verbal the ‘thought process’? And what of ‘patterned movement’ as it relates to ‘vocal’?
I’ll stop here and see what you say before continuing on to address those elements of the deconstruction process.
This is a very long answer, take your time.
I thank you for engaging in conversation and taking the time to research, read, think and process. Reaching core issues in storytelling requires being very specific, otherwise we use generalizations that take us away from understanding and I’ve seen enough of those, not only in storytelling. So thanks again.
Yes, storytelling lives and it’s beautiful. No one can actually stop its existence. We need it like air, warmth, shelter, contact, food. Even in the most oppressed societies, storytelling goes on in secrecy, a small flame but its there.
Thanks for presenting your points of reference, your background, it is important and I would not call it prejudices. Driving me nuts with questions? That’s usually my part according to my students. No, you’re not, on the contrary.
Answering your first question and I’m repeating my suggestion for the definition of storytelling:
“Mediate ideas articulated in words to or with other people. Storytellers work with thought and relationship. The same process happens in literature, poetry, and theater. It is the need to successfully mediate the verbal and kinesthetic narratives to other people orally, in time, while adapting to a specific telling, that demands the use of a third narrative. That is the vocal, the narrative of patterned movement.”
I perceive both music and storytelling as sculpturing in time. Music does not use words and after checking this out, words cannot be translated into a definition in music syntax. A single note does not frame an idea. So here we have discernment, although music, already with a single note, does create a sensory experience for the body (kinesthetic).
A line of notes – beginning with two, is already a relationship and a thought but that thought is not expressed in the music itself as an idea. If you engage rhythm, patterned movements joins in. We have a need for that patterned movement, its part of our wiring and even when it is absent from the actual sounds we create it.
I say music and storytelling are close because of the inner patterned movement created by our response to sound, whether the pattern is there or not. Why do we hear “tic tock” when the clock actually makes the same sound on all ticks? We search order and order is in patterns. We like to break them too but we need to know order exists so we can feel safe to fly high. Storytellers in a way master the use of time through patterns and they express this “sculpturing” with their use of the vocal narrative.
Literature and theatre created other safety nets. They materialize in a more concrete way. They too use patterns but not with such intensity as music and storytelling. You can leave a book in the middle; you can’t leave storytelling in the middle because when you come back the event will be already in another place. Theater is closer but still it is not as dependant on the ongoing relationship between story, teller and listener in its creation.
Reading poetry is very close according to the above understandings. Although the text is physically present (a book) the event is still very dependent on what is actually happening in real-time and patterned movement is one of its building blocks.
I don’t know if this is enough to answer your question and if it is not just tell me so.
Beginning to answer your second question I’m citing from a written document I’ve created some years ago so my ‘voice’ might sound more formal. This has to do mainly with the vocal and patterned movement. Verbal we will talk about later on, I feel this order is right:
Melody – musical line
Once there was a fiddler who played with a sweetness that got all his listeners dancing, and whoever heard the sound was drawn to dance. A deaf man came who knew nothing of playing, and what he saw seemed to him like a fit of madmen, with no source and intention.
Melody has been called “The soul of Music”. If you catch your self whistling a song or any other composition, it would usually be the melody you are whistling. A good melody has its power to move us, although we cannot always tell why. It is the thread, the line or curve upon which hangs the work, whether music or tale. A performing musician can tell you that playing the melody to it’s right quality might be the most difficult thing to do. It is also an ability musicians “musicality” is tested by. Even non-musicians say, “I can’t carry a tune”.
A melody is a sequence of single tones we perceive as a unity. That means we get the impression there is some kind of conscious arrangement, a significant relationship among the separate tones. We get the sense of a beginning, middle, and an end. In telling a story, the audience perceives the meaning of each single word, they know the meaning, but when the words are arranged in a sentence, they perceive them in relation to the thought as a whole. In music, single notes create an impression, an experience, but if put into a succession, we don’t perceive them separately but in relation to each other within a pattern.
A melody works in two dimensions: It moves up and down, tones being higher or lower, and forward in time, tones claiming our attention one after another and for different durations. Melody has some more qualities: It can leap or move stepwise, it can have a narrow or wide range (range being the distance from its highest to lowest tone), it can be loud or soft, fast or slow, it can create different atmospheres. Summing up all the melody’s qualities I can say that its character is determined by its overall pattern of movement.
Let’s examine a well-known tune:
Bah-bah black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!
This melody is divided into two halves. Each half ends with a resting place, which is known as a cadence. Don’t let the word “resting” mislead you. It does not mean an energy shutdown. It is a punctuation of the music flow, and many interesting things can happen there. It is a place of momentary discharge, that lets you charge up for what is about to proceed, and when performed, should not give the feeling of cutting off the movement of the melody, even if it is the final tone. Inconclusive types of cadences give the feeling of a comma, while full cadences give the feeling of a full stop.
Both parts of the melody examined here are combined in a “question-and-answer” formation: the second part emerges from the first part and completes its meaning. The listener comprehends the full melodic phrase only after it has been performed. This quality of organic unity is necessary in time-based information delivery.
Repeating ideas in both parts of the melody unifies the structure. In this case – the same tone repeating its self. Interest is created trough contrast – moving in opposite directions and the little coil at the end of the first part. This combination of unity and variety is basic to music and story architecture. Without unity there is chaos, and boredom takes over where there is no variety.
I would like to illuminate three more characteristics of the melody: The central tone, melodic rhythm, and the melodic climax.
The central tone is that one tone in a melody all the others are pulling towards in different forms of relationship. A central tone is evident in all musical traditions, but its power is determined in different ways. What is important to emphasize here is the understanding that melodies don’t “take a walk” just like that. These orbits the different tones of the melody take in relation with the central tone, and the fulfillment of those relationships is what gives the feeling of reaching a goal.
Rhythmic pattern is what moves the melody forward in time. Its what keeps the melody alive. Try and sing a melody you know, but keep all the tones in equal duration. The melody looses life, and it does not give in to clear phrasing.
The melodic climax strikes the listener as the peak of intensity. It gives direction and intention. It creates the impression of crisis met and overcome. Above all, the melody has to be interesting.
Melody is the direct bearer of meaning from composer to listener. The music performer carries the essential task of delivering that meaning and creating the bridge between the composer’s intention to the listener’s perception. If the character of a melody is determined by its overall pattern of movement, movement is the main element a performing musician has to explore, in order to carry out his task well.
Rhythm – musical time
“In the beginning was rhythm.” Hans von Bülow
Rhythm is called “the heartbeat of Music”. In Greek, the word rhythm means “flow”, and refers to the controlled movement of music in time. The rhythm of a musical passage is determined by the duration of the different tones, their frequency of appearance, and the regularity or irregularity with which they are sounded.
Rhythm is the element of music most closely connected to body movement. It is what makes people fall in step when listening to a band play. It is what makes us nod, or tap, or dance in our chairs or on the table. Even if we can’t move a muscle, the rhythm of music can still make our inner parts move. It grabs us by the gut. Its simpler patterns, if repeated over and over again, cause a hypnotic effect. We feel in ourselves a kind of ideal motion. Rhythm makes us feel the pulse of life.
One of the most common remarks I’ve heard as response to good storytelling performances is “Oh, She’s got rhythm!”. I feel this is a description for that live and electrifying quality some performers have, and it doesn’t necessarily mean high speed. It’s more of what I interpret as the listener recognizing the ability of the performer to get all the different events happening during the performance into a relationship that flows as a live stream of water. This gives a feeling of vitality and order, of relating, and recharges all who are present. In it’s larger sense, rhythm controls all the relationships within a composition and in a whole performance. This quality is many times referred to as timing.
Where does rhythm come from?
Rhythm springs from the need for order inherited in our minds. We have the deep need to impose patterns. If we listen to the ticking of a clock, to the clacking of train wheels, to any mechanically produced sound, we automatically impose a pattern on those sounds. We hear them as a regular pulsation of strong and weak beats. We organize our perception of time by means of rhythm. Because if we didn’t, we would feel in the hands of a merciless caprice destiny, and that is too frightening. So we created our own ideal universe. That universe is Art, and rhythm is it’s controlling element. That makes us feel safer.
Time organizing in music
Musical time is usually organized in terms of a basic unit of length. This unit is called a beat. The beat is what we clap our hands or tap our feet to when we listen to music. If you attend a concert of music amateurs, notice many of them tap their feet while playing. That is something a professional musician will never do, for he already has the beat inside him, and tapping can interfere the free flow needed for playing melodies. It also cancels the conductor’s beat, or the pulsation of his fellow players in an ensemble.
In most of the music we hear some beats are more accented than others. These stronger beats usually occur at regular intervals – every other beat, every third beat, every forth, and so on. This causes us to perceive the beats in groups – two, three, four etc. Each group is called a measure. In general, the most accented beat in a measure is the first one, and it is called the strong beat.
This patterned arrangement of time is named meter. It gives a metrical framework to a musical event, whether a single measure or a whole work. Within this framework rhythm flows freely. I can demonstrate that by saying that all Marches have the same meter: ONE two, ONE two, but within that meter each March follows its own rhythmic pattern. The bass drum in the band will be beating a regular pattern – the meter, and the clarinets will be playing many notes of different duration – the rhythmic pattern. Together, they will be articulating the overall flow of the music.
As I mentioned earlier, unity carries order. But it also opens the door to boredom – unless variety is presented. Two pleasures participate in this game: satisfying expectations and surprise. One way of surprising within the metrical framework is syncopation. Syncopation is a deliberate upsetting of the normal accent. Instead of playing the accent on the strong beat of the measure, it is placed on a weak beat or between beats (offbeat). This causes conflict with the meter pattern we have already perceived, and our pleasure of meeting satisfaction through the fulfillment of our expectation meets surprise.
The meter tells us how many beats there are in a measure. The beat gives us the length of the basic time unit within a musical work. But none of these two tells us whether these beats occur slowly or rapidly. The element of music that provides us this important information is called tempo. Because of its fundamental relation to storytelling I will present this element separately.
Tempo – musical pace
Tempo means the rate of speed, the pace. The flow of music in time involves both meter and tempo.
Tempo and mood are interrelated. We hurry our speech when we are excited, waving our arms rapidly all over the place. If we are afraid, we might turn very slow, almost lifeless, trying not to be noticed by what is frightening us, or hysterical, moving erratically. If we feel lively, our body becomes jumpy like a bouncing ball.
Music is an art of movement, and the rate of movement is of prime importance. The music performer can derive pretty much of the composer’s intentions just from reading the tempo indication at the top of the score. If the tempo is set correctly while performing, the listener will feel physically and psychologically what the writer meant. Our entire being adjusts to the rate of movement, consciously and subconsciously.
Tempo markings indicate the character of the music as well as the pace. Notice the use of the word character, isn’t that interesting? The pace of time units defines a character! Tempo terms are usually indicated in Italian and there are many of them. Here are just a few of the most common tempo indications: grave (solemn, very very slow), largo (broad, very slow), andante (walking pace), moderato (moderate), allegro (cheerful, fast), vivace (lively), presto (very fast). There are many modifying adverbs added to these indications as well as terms signifying changes of tempo, thus creating a mini-dictionary for describing musical pace.
The simple version of the previous paragraph should be: The rate of a beat indicated by a verbal definition signifies the character of a musical work.
Now, after reading all that you might ask – what does this stuff have to do with storytelling? I’ll wait for you to ask but it does 🙂
I’ve read through your response twice and I’m still standing. 🙂
I can see where some threads of your response relate to the musicality of storytelling but I can hardly wait for you to explain and tie this all together. People who might be ‘listening to your musical responses’ will likely be grateful as well, so, I’ll ask, what does this have to do with storytelling?
And, thank you so much for explaining all of this and being so patient with your responses and my questions.
How is all this connected to storytelling? Great question 🙂 not so fast though…
All the above, whether we are aware of it or not, exists with music, its creators and listeners. All partners in a musical event have the ability to refine emotions, moods, ideas into music through physical experience/materialization and decode them from music. It’s a language, not universal, but the need for it is and so is the ability “to music”. It’s a form of human intelligence. We don’t need to be aware of all of these components if we are just having fun or if we are armatures, but beyond a certain degree we do. There are two main practices here – learning it theoretically and practically and learning it practically alone through a long mentoring period which lasts between seven to ten years in any culture.
What does it really mean for a performer? That we have a specific way we can follow through training to be able to reach the point we serve the musical event right.
What is right? That’s another good question.
Brief story: conducting class, a peer student is standing on the podium raising his baton to kick-off Beethoven’s Fifth. The music as we have heard it a million times before fills the room. One minute down the road the maestro stops him to ask “how did you choose the tempo?” the student gives the single wrong answer for a conducting class “that’s how it is usually done, no?” maestro freaks out politely, points into the score and says “read the genius.”
What was he suggesting there? That through our training as musicians we have an accurate or close to accurate ability to find the answer to the tempo question and that the answer is written somewhere inside the score. Beethoven knew it, it is part of the narrative of western music, when the audience hear it they can tell if it “feels right” or not quite, and the student – the performer, is supposed to know it too if he wishes to transport the spirit of the entire work in a way the audience can decode the intention and take it from there.
The character is written on top – Allegro con brio, but that’s not a specific tempo although close. The close to accurate answer hides in the physical world, in the translation of movement in the way it will elicit all the intentions wrapped in the piece. In the case of Beethoven’s fifth, after knowing all the parts of the narrative of western music the way Beethoven knew them, it is the viola part in that movement that dictates the answer. All the other instruments involved could “suffer” a different tempo. The viola can’t if the original intention of movement interpretation and the way it affects the listener is to be expressed.
Notice how such a small detail in the entire ecosystem of this piece influences not only the technical issue of selecting the tempo. The right tempo is then translated to a force that moved audiences through generations of western music to hear “destiny is knocking at the door” although never mentioned in the music. It tapped into universes of meaning and the way they transform and translate in the physical world.
Each musical style is partly a different narrative and if you want to play Jazz, you’ll have to know its narrative which in some ways overlaps other styles but they also have defined unique narrative parts. You can play the music without being aware of its narrative but the outcome is shallow and does not create the same experience.
I say the same thing happens with storytelling. Why do various storytellers send themselves into learning tales in their original language? Why do they research narratives? Why do they try to understand and experience cultures connected to the stories they tell? Why did I study and practice the medieval sword as part of my research towards performing my latest program? That’s something that once upon a time we didn’t have to do, but today we do. We no longer tell only the stories of “our culture” (whatever that means today) to “our people”, the situation is different for the modern day’s storyteller.
We no longer (unless we tell only the stories of a very specific group we actually come from) have a direct physical connection to the narratives most of the stories we tell come from. In short, we don’t know how it “feels” and how that feeling translates into movement, expression, how it codes and decodes intentions in story, teller and listener that could be from anywhere on the globe. We are no longer sure about what is right or close enough to right. That’s why too often I hear the answer “well, that’s MY way of telling the story” from various storytellers indicating the work is “right” in their eyes, but if we check with the audience and the story – they are not as satisfied… which set me off on the road of research in the first place.
I’ll wait for your input.
I’m not at all sure what makes me ask this, but the question is there, so…
What came first, music or story?
I am coming to understand why you say storytelling is an event and clearly the same can be said for music as witnessed by the examples you have just pointed out. There is a triangle in the music event you describe and I suspect that same triangle exists for storytelling.
Storyteller –> Story –> Listener
No matter where we go, triangles seem to inform our past, present and future.
If I understand correctly, that storytelling triangle is an event. The success of that event can clearly be seen from the eyes of the teller and/or the eyes of the listener. The success of the ‘story’ though is dependent upon the ’emotional connection’ that forms between teller and listener? Would that be the right way to say that?
Further, just as with what you pointed out with music, the storyteller would need to be aware of narratives. If the narratives are neglected, as you said about music, “the outcome is shallow and does not create the same experience.” The story experience for the listener would not be as powerful, as memorable, in that set of circumstances.
Which brings me to your closing statements.
“We no longer (unless we tell only the stories of a very specific group we actually come from) have a direct physical connection to the narratives most of the stories we tell come from. In short, we don’t know how it “feels” and how that feeling translates into movement, expression, how it codes and decodes intentions in story, teller and listener that could be from anywhere on the globe. We are no longer sure about what is right or close enough to right. That’s why too often I hear the answer “well, that’s MY way of telling the story” from various storytellers indicating the work is “right” in their eyes, but if we check with the audience and the story – they are not as satisfied… which set me off on the road of research in the first place.”
If we lack that physical connection, which in turn directly affects our ability to “feel”, we would not be as effective in our storytelling as we could be since “feeling and movement” play an integral part in the storytelling triangle.
Am I even close?
I’m smiling here. You are very close and after watching two more *storytelling evolution* items yesterday I’d say you might be moving towards being labeled a heretic. Feel?!!! What do you mean feel? Oy vey!
What came first, music or story?
That’s a great question and what is great about it is not the book keeping but the connection to evolution. I’d say for one that the NEED for patterned movement was first. Then comes the question of defining music and story(telling). What would be referred to as music – the ability to create sound? To bang a saucepan? Is a bird’s singing – music? What would be referred to as story(telling)? Writing a journal? Telling someone what just happened on the train? Creating a brand story between professionals in a marketing company? Geo-location storytelling i.e. pushing information through technology into smart-phones belonging to people participating in a web-based role-play game preferably in the form of augmented reality?
Another good question and a BIG one too. If I’m keeping to the core model of storytelling: storyteller – story – listener and them being a necessary part of the storytelling event including the mutual influence they have on each other in real-time, I’d say that if the above examples do not include all three in their core creation, they are not storytelling, they are not music, but a stage in evolution or events using part of the skills/understandings of storytelling, story, sound, script and computer technology.
Yes, the storytelling triangle is an event and its success the way I see it is in its ability to convey meaning for all three. I’m delighted to see how you elegantly bypassed the triangle when trying to define success of story in that event, since emotion and movement are obvious for the storyteller and the listener, but for story…? Yes, an emotional connection is created between storyteller and listener, but really, what about the story?
Story: Bob Bloom who played with Toscanini for several years came to visit him one day. They were having lunch together and the maestro seemed tired. Bob suggested he’d take a nap. Here is the rest:
He said, “I’ve been up since five o’clock this morning studying this symphony.” The symphony that week was Beethoven’s Fifth.
I said, “Maestro, how many times have you conducted that?”
He answered, “Oh, hundreds.”
I said, “And you’re still studying it?”
I loved his answer. He said, “Well, I’m always afraid I may have missed something.” This is how he really felt about music.
This is very important to understand concerning our conversation. If Toscanini conducted that symphony hundreds of times, he obviously knew it by heart. You can see video recordings – he was not using a score. Is not using a score the same as ‘by heart’? Memorizing the musical text is one thing, by heart is something else.
What was Toscanini looking for in the score, again, after performing the piece so many times? I’ll push it even further by asking – was Beethoven’s symphony the same every time Toscanini visited the score? The text was, but what about the music? What about the story? We’ve been talking about pieces written by a single person, what about folktales, myth, and legends? They don’t have a single creator so who or what or where are we visiting?
By heart is Toscanini visiting Beethoven’s narrative requesting “show me again, tell me how it is this time” and in turn breathing life into Beethoven’s ability to code part of the spirit of humanity in a way relevant to Toscanini’s time, then transferring his new finding to his players in the orchestra, recharging the listeners who in their turn give a new reason for the piece to exist as it does for them. Another bit of meaning is conveyed then which is most probably so important for mankind that we can’t stop getting at it again and again.
So the story too is dependent on the emotional connection or the ongoing need to feel the flow of life. Toscanini knew it was his responsibility to visit the narrative again and see new connections to the narrative of his time. Same with storytellers, we don’t become ancient Chinese or Greek when we visit the narrative of a myth, we explore it to know it physically, emotionally, intellectually and find the connections by which we can bring those stories into today’s world through.
Brief story: Large storytelling event, an advanced student spots pro teller in the audience and asks for her feedback (no, not me). She says, “Fine choice of story, good voice, strong projection, audience impressed, you know nothing about the story beyond the text and I can hear that from your voice.”
The narrative was neglected no doubt. But hey, the audience was impressed so what’s the problem? In light of the triangular interdependency model, you tell me. In light of your closing statement/question I think you have the answer or maybe a new question 🙂
I’m going to take that “oy vey”, coming from someone of Hebrew heritage, as high praise. 🙂
I’m thinking about all that you just said and will continue our conversation along this line. May I ask you two things?
First, what did you mean by “…watching two more *storytelling evolution* items yesterday I’d say you might be moving towards being labeled a heretic.”
What two items were you ‘watching’?
I’m thinking that being labeled a heretic here might be a good thing. 🙂
Second, are you certain that you don’t mind taking all of this time you are being so generous with and talking with me about all of this?
Oy vey is so many things that yes, it can be considered high praise. Might be also showing some concern for you digging into this material if evolutionary storytelling is considered to be this
(the two items I was watching). What will become of you if you will stop looking at state-of-the-art technology? (don’t worry, I have a solution for that :)) just to make it clear – I’m joking.
In my world heretic is usually a good thing as it is in this case.
Don’t mind? I mind very much, that’s why I’m having this conversation 🙂
Update – it takes two to tango so I need to ask you the same question…
I was watching the DIY days yesterday as well! How wonderful that we might perhaps be able to talk about geolocation or location based and augmented reality storytelling.
I should have known better than to ask if you mind. 🙂
If what you want to talk about has the word storytelling in it, we can most probably talk about it including – geolocation, augmented reality, second life, storytelling MIT robots, gaming, social media, hula-bula platforms (made that one up, it’s a name of a bar really) or whatever.
Answering your update, this conversation is the highlight of each day. (Okay, okay, so I lead a sheltered life. 🙂 )
I’m still wondering what possessed me to reply to your initial post. That was a lucky day for me.
I do like the sound of hula-bula too. “What can I get you to drink, sir?” “I’ll have a hula-bula martini please. Extra dry. Two olives please.”
Oh, and I can’t resist this.
“What will become of you if you will stop looking at state-of-the-art technology? (don’t worry, I have a solution for that 🙂 ) just to make it clear – I’m joking.”
I know you’re joking but in the overall “essence of story, telling and teller” maybe you’re not really. And that (the technology thing) could be another conversation thread for sure.
But, and I can’t help but smile as I ask, what’s your solution?
Okay, back to the conversation at hand. Yes, I can answer that last question. In some ways I am close. But I have so many more questions. 🙂 They’ll get asked in due time I’m sure.
Going back to music and story for a moment, I would think that we “heard”, “listened” before we “spoke”. In many ways it’s too bad we don’t adhere to that in today’s world. But that’s neither here nor there for the moment. Maybe this is the more relevant question. Did we ‘sense’ (feel?) patterned movement and then express that through music, through storytelling?
The concept of real time (real time web anyone?) in relation to story (and music too, but how else is music experienced than in real time?) that seems to be what sets oral events apart from books, literature, etc. We can go back to reading a book ‘story’ but the dynamic (the flow of life?) between teller and listener/reader may have changed. I suspect that it’s likely to have changed from sitting to sitting. I read a lot so I’ll have to look at that through this lens.
I loved the Bob Bloom-Toscanini story. When you said “Memorizing the musical text is one thing, by heart is something else.” I think I understand what you are getting at. Storytellers can memorize myths and fables and tales and stories all they want. If they don’t ‘flow’ through them then the ‘heart’ part is missing.
As I look back on exactly what you said, you answered that for us. “By heart is Toscanini visiting Beethoven’s narrative requesting “show me again, tell me how it is this time” and in turn breathing life into Beethoven’s ability to code part of the spirit of humanity in a way relevant to Toscanini’s time, then transferring his new finding to his players in the orchestra, recharging the listeners who in their turn give a new reason for the piece to exist as it does for them. Another bit of meaning is conveyed then which is most probably so important for mankind that we can’t stop getting at it again and again.
So the story too is dependent on the emotional connection or the ongoing need to feel the flow of life. Toscanini knew it was his responsibility to visit the narrative again and see new connections to the narrative of his time. Same with storytellers, we don’t become ancient Chinese or Greek when we visit the narrative of a myth, we explore it to know it physically, emotionally, intellectually and find the connections by which we can bring those stories into today’s world through.”
That last part seems to me to be very critical to the core model. Bringing the stories (the mythology, the fables, etc.) to today’s world so that they can be shared and experienced by the teller and listener through the lens that is “today”.
In answer to your last question “The narrative was neglected no doubt. But hey, the audience was impressed so what’s the problem?”, the problem, it would seem to me, is that ‘impressed’ isn’t anywhere to be found in ‘conveying meaning’. We need ‘meaning’ to live. ‘Impressed’, uh, we don’t need that so much.
Shaken, not stirred. The Martini I mean. I used to be a bartender, James Bond’s Martini story comes with the territory. Got into bartending for storytelling, so I could listen from the front row to stories people don’t usually tell in other circumstances, seriously.
What did posses you to reply to my initial post? It would be interesting to know eventually. I asked myself the same question.
Not joking about the triangular interdependent model, there I’m dead serious, as I’m about its connection to technology. If you haven’t seen it yet, search for a blog post called “Storytelling, engineering, decision making and teams” and in it for the file called “The Quest Master”. Long read, might seem a little awkward, not so coherent to a reader who is not directly connected to knowledge management issues since it was written for a very specific purpose. The post called “masterful storytellers” is taken from there.
Back to your comment.
Yes, to my opinion we did sense patterned movement and then express it through music and storytelling. First at such a primordial level I would say those expressions could not be called music or storytelling. They did not carry an intention, just like what a baby does. As we learned about meaning and its effect on communication we started refining until reaching the level of art. If we were in the same room I would show you an exercise to prove this primordial need still exists in your body. The instructions to that exercise cannot be transferred via writing to a satisfying degree.
Music can be experienced not in real time if you listen to a recording but then, just like in storytelling, the listener is out of influence in the triangle. You don’t even need a recording to sense that. If you visit storytelling events regularly you will most probably witness those times when it seems the storyteller is busy with his/her own world, that the presence of the audience doesn’t make a meaningful difference. It should every time and yes, it does change from sitting to sitting. The presence of a specific audience can make me change the story slightly or really recreate it in a different way, not only change the “expressive” part. Everything is interrelated and interdependent, there is no “recycling” going on. The better you know the story, the more audiences it meets, the more by heart it is, the more by heart you can get, the more authentic to the physical part of the narrative, past, present and future. Yes, future too (that’s mentioned in my “sidebar” definition). More believable, real.
You are right, bringing the stories (the mythology, the fables, etc.) to today’s world so that they can be shared and experienced by teller and listener through the lens that is “today” IS critical. We tend to reject information we don’t see relevant. One way to meet the challenge is to “modernize” the text or bring in what are called “asides”. I prefer the deeper way – the storyteller being the bridge through research that will help him be very particular, create for himself a specific point of view about the story from which he can recreate it in the now. That can be done even when the text needs to stay intact and there are situations in which it has to stay that way. Stories believed to carry a special power in the choice of words for instance or stories written in rhyme or verse.
So if the problem, as it would seem to you as it does to me, is that ‘impressed’ (audiences) isn’t anywhere to be found in ‘conveying meaning’ (although sometimes they can live together) and we need ‘meaning’ to live, how did storytelling become a hype word? How is it that after about 6,000 years or so of storytelling that conveys meaning in the deepest form known to us it is suddenly being confiscated to endless domains that have very little to do with its essence? By now you might have a pretty good idea about storytelling, when in great shape, being a rather complex act although seemingly simple or “natural”. Where is all this leading to and why on earth is it called storytelling?
This might be the point people would ask themselves “so what? Go with the flow, why do you care, what’s the big deal in asking those questions?”
Maybe they are right; maybe asking these questions is out of place, irrelevant. I’m not so sure about that and to tell you the truth I’m worried. Not necessarily about making a living – I very well brought my ability into the business world. I’m worried about where all this is going from the core and I have a couple of tiny question here:
Why is the MIT investing 25 million dollars in the center for future storytelling creating among other things robots with expressions and more real-time sharing interfaces?
Why is so much money invested in developing what is called location-based storytelling?
Why are “sentiment” monitoring systems developed?
I’m not yet stepping into the space of looking at those initiatives and determining if they are storytelling or not (as if they would care). For now I’m just asking – WHY?
I think that you just brought us back around to your original question. “How did storytelling become a hype word?”
Shall we explore that?
Before we do, can you tell me where I can find more on this: “Why is so much money invested in developing what is called location-based storytelling?”
Always shaken by the way. Bond or no. I can imagine that you were a great bartender. I did a little of that as well…
Explore we shall.
Location-based storytelling and money:
Whrrl which is called exactly the above – how much to develop, market, sustain etc.? shall we consider also FourSquare, BrightKite and a few others? Na, they don’t call themselves LB storytelling so we’ll leave them alone.
What about all the interfaces calling themselves Web 2.0 storytelling? I can’t imagine the numbers. Just get “Web 2.0 storytelling” into Google, the robots will do the rest.
Part of what MIT is doing is also connected to the above.
Do you think we have a large enough budget to continue?
Bar tending is great for storytellers. It should be part of a storytelling methodology 🙂
I’m reading the KM PDF. I have thought about asking you this question before, but forget to do so as I’m busy soaking up what you say. Do you know the work of Heraclitus? Specifically as it relates to chaos and order?
The fragments? yes. Wish I could read them in the original language and witness first hand how he solved the issue of phrasing them.
An English writer, John Fowles, did a very good job with The Fragments in one of his works, The Aristos. He had spent time teaching in Greece after university.
I’ll go looking for him see if I can find his work. Thanks!
Found it, there is a copy at Haifa University 20 min. from where I live. On my list.
I’ll be very curious to hear what you have to say about it if you get the chance to read it. It’s been almost 30 years since I last read it.
Yes, mediating the storytelling world i.e. an art form and a practice.
Story: Some time ago I was invited to lead a half-day workshop with the staff of a “support center”. All the people in the group were either psychologists or social workers. This, to my opinion could happen (and did, more than once or twice) with any other group of professionals too but in this case they were therapists. Four hours went by, it was interesting, and they were participating until I said something about a conversation I once had with a storytelling student insisting that his experience showed him that what I was saying about something was totally wrong.
After figuring out what he thought was wrong I asked what experience he had. He was sure he was a storytelling veteran after hitting the stage ten times. So I told him that until performing at least fifty times, the word experience was out of place in our craft. That just like in sports, art takes physical practice, the body and not only the mind need to learn. The workshop collapsed the moment I told them that. They were at rage forgetting any kind of professional code of behavior not to say ethics. From that moment on anything I said was questioned deeply trying to shake my foundations; they could not trust my knowledge as “serious” any more.
Understanding this was not about me anymore I led the workshop into an exercise I knew they would like since it was fun and took them away from rationalization.
Driving home I tried to figure out what was going on there. I had my thoughts but since I did not know for sure I had no final conclusions. Later on I heard their side of the story from one of my team members who is a therapist and works with them (he was not there that day). He told me what they told him and was trying to hear my side of the story. I told him what I’m telling you. He was surprised about their reaction and about the rage too. We figured out I most probably hit some foundation pillar by suggesting experience is a necessity in storytelling and that cognitive knowledge alone was far from enough.
This happened more than once and eventually I found the way to bypass possible barriers although it is always a stretch for them, but it’s ok. It took a lot of listening, learning various professional languages and mediating storytelling or really tiny parts of it into other professional worlds still holding onto the idea they know much more when that is not even the point.
>> I see this with ‘story’, the word is batted about like a shuttlecock in badminton, but not with ‘storytelling’. What am I missing?<<
Maybe a couple of Google alerts? 🙂 I don't know really but maybe we see what we are looking for.
About Oscar Hemmer's piece – although not always easy, the freedom to question anything is one of the main reasons I love living where I live.
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A rich conversation…so much here…thank you Gregg and Limor for engaging with each other.
Thanks. Seems we are only at the beginning 🙂 you’re invited as you well know – whenever suitable.
I know of your site and work. I’ve linked to several items of yours on my daily story posts. I’m a big fan.
Please do join us. I’m going to be playing Luke to Limor’s Yoda. 🙂 I have spent more time in the last year researching story, storytelling and narrative than you would likely believe possible. Limor has a depth of knowledge and feeling about storytelling that is unlike any others I have found. And, she seems so very willing to engage, to talk about it and to teach. The passion she has for the art form and ‘events’ is palpable. Let’s see if we can extend her reach through this conversation.
*lol* ok, as long as I can keep the sword 😉
Those light sabers are pretty cool! But, you’re Yoda, you don’t need one. 😉 You know how to tell stories. That beats a light saber any day.
Yoda wants to keep the light saber anyway. Helps Yoda to concentrate brain power 🙂
Can’t even laugh from my own words since I’m in bed with a terrible back pain. Laughing hurts right now.
Will answer your longer comment when I can get the people here to get me my real computer, not this toy…
Then by all means, keep the saber! 🙂
No more laughing. Rest your back. There is nothing more debilitating than back pain. I hope it gets better soon.
Yes…Gregg I follow and appreciate your insights…this is a big conversation and needs a chorus of voices…Limor is a enchantress of story tricking herself and others to keep folding in and out of whatever we are apt to swallow on the surface. Her journey is perpetual and never without rigor and critical soul work. I share her lyricism for the poetry of story…not in a literal way but in the way in which we approach…the complexity of an orchestra giving life to a dormant expression frozen on a page and re-birthed with each interpretative playing and hearing…
She is tireless Storyteller and keeper of the art…despite English not even being her first language she has also been a great translator and articulator of where and how bridges between different disciplines and domain. I will chime as impelled…for now I am driven to soak in a wonderful conversation between two hearts and minds keen on reflecting…
Thank you for your kind words about my work.
You can melt Antarctica with your mastery of words… I wish I could write like that.
Honest to goodness! I was just about to write and tell Terrence he’d brought a tear to my eye with that writing. I’m surrounded by Yoda on one side and John Donne on the other!
You are so right though Terrence. Obviously about Limor, but also about this needing a chorus of voices. Here’s hoping…
I too enjoyed this conversation immensely. Interested readers who wish to listen to the interview with Limor Shiponi and I. Can find here http://www.artofstorytellingshow.com/2010/06/06/limor-shiponi-striding-towards-storytelling-mastery/
Limor has also linked above on the right hand side.
Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA
Hi Eric, lovely to see you here. Interesting how suddenly there are two conversations going on. I knew one day the Chartres labyrinth icon will come in handy so I kept it through the middle ages, or so it seems 🙂 Invited to join the conversation whenever you feel like it.
Wait! Wait for me!! (pant pant pant!)
hello (sharp intake of breath, bent over double, catching breath)
I, found, all this …so bloomin interesting!!! But have not digested it all yet. I will return with my own wee words, but until then
you’re not alone, and these discussions are important.
will also spread the word on this conversation around the Irish tellers.
Waiting. Storytellers own eternity in any case so no rush…
Take your time this discussion is not over yet. Wee words, big words, all welcome.
Happy to see you here!
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I just went through this and, to be honest, after the first few comments I scanned and cherry-picked to the end because there is WAY too much to absorb in one sitting. Also to be honest, I found myself developing a bit of a negative response to it — partly because there was so much (though I do realize it’s not intended to be read all at once but as it was produced, a back and forth over time).
The negative reaction was partly the result of feeling the conversation, in its way, reflects the original complaint of, “… all this deconstructing and pulling apart is getting most of the conversations AWAY from storytelling …” In other words, it’s analytical and thus has an academic quality to it, something I’m currently trying to get away from. I do the same analysis thing and, as you suggested, I find I’m less involved in writing, telling, hearing and otherwise encountering stories when I start analyzing. I end up spending more time talking about stories.
I get muddled when I over-analyse so I’m trying to simplify these days. As I was going over this discussion, I wrote out a few quick definitions of my own:
Story: stuff that happens
Storytelling: the relating of stuff that happens
Storyteller: someone who relates stuff that happens
I have an older Oxford Dictionary that has a number of definitions for storytelling and the very first reads something like, “the telling of stories.” Put another way, it is made of two words and, while it seems simplistic, their meanings are pretty clear. What I would add, if anything, would be that telling can take many forms: oral, written, film and so on.
I love stories probably because my grandfather told them. I doubt he would have thought of himself as an oral storyteller but that was what he was. But I also read oodles of books when I was young and throughout my life. While oral and written storytelling are two very different things, in one sense I think they are the same (other than both relating stories). For me, a written story has to have a voice. Somewhere in your head, you are hearing that voice. So for me, the narrator is always a character, even if that character is an objective third person.
I could probably ramble about stories all day. I’d better stop now. … 🙂
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