Friday, 19 July 2013

Tell stories

There are many examples of story telling and narrative drive in music, from the country and western song, to the tone poems of composers such as Liszt and Richard Strauss, but perhaps the grandest example of story telling in music is opera. And perhaps the grandest and most ambitious of all opera is Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

It is worth standing back from this gigantic monument of a work to appreciate its timeless, story telling characteristics. There are heroes and heroines and impossible undertakings. There are villains who seek to undermine the heroic progress and replace it with one of their own. There are endings and new beginnings. There are victories and defeats and countless reversals of fortune and through it all, intertwined with the story's narrative, there are essential truths about the nature and meaning of life. 

In terms of the music itself, significant ideas and characters are given their own musical themes and these rise out of the musical ocean accompanying the action when they are particularly significant or the onward narrative demands it. In Wagner's operas this background, boiling ocean of ideas is not only symbolic of the subconscious and conscious feelings of the individual characters, but also of the overall feel of the world depicted, its ‘background radiation’, the cultural and psychological atmosphere within which the characters live and breath.  

It can often be very effective to take the above principles and apply them creatively to our problems and issues. Who are the key players and are they positive or negative forces (heroes, heroines or villains)? What are or could be their roles? How powerful are they and how important are they to the situation or problem? What challenges, events or tasks are crucial to your success? Which ones need special (perhaps heroic) attention, the mastery of specialist skills or the application of expert knowledge? What is the overall story of the problem? Where were its beginnings? What is its history, its back-story? How has its narrative progressed so far? How many subplots (secondary problems) have formed? When will all the subplots or secondary problems come to a head? How is it all likely to end? What type of ending would you like? What are the alternative endings? If it looks likely that it will end tragically how can you alter this (or at least survive to fight another day)?

Lastly, what type of atmosphere or background radiation surrounds the problem? Within what ocean of culture, thoughts and emotions does the problem exist? How has this shaped the problem? Indeed, is it the very reason for the problem's existence?

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