Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Paint your words colourfully and with pride

Word painting is a technique used by composers and song writers to highlight the meaning of words and phrases. This meaning can be physical, abstract, or emotional: e.g., ragged, jagged music for words describing uneven ground; fluttering, shimmering music for words describing angels and heaven; yearning, sighing music for words describing love. 

The Baroque composer Handel did a lot of word painting, and today's songwriters still do it. (Here are some examples of Handel's word painting, and this Wikipedia page not only explores Handel's word painting but also provides examples from contemporary songs.)

Musical word painting increases the impact words and phrases have upon listeners; it makes words and phrases stimulating and enjoyable to hear; it makes meanings memorable.

The best musical word painters, as the above Wikipedia page clearly shows, are some of the most successful and popular of musicians: their music is fondly remembered and sought-after by concert-goers.

We can all benefit from the principle underpinning musical word painting; we can all make our words and phrases stimulating and memorable by incorporating them into rich and colourful pictures. 

We can do this by framing our words within personal stories and anecdotes, supporting our words with relevant and memorable photographs and graphics, and forming our words into rich metaphors and impactful phrases. We can even do the most obvious thing: we can write in colours that emphasise the meaning and feeling of our words.

If we make our words and phrases stimulating and memorable, we increase their ability to influence and inspire: to influence people to our way of thinking and inspire people to think and act innovatively.

But lastly, a word of caution.

Some people have ridiculed the use of musical word painting, calling it (among other unflattering things) childish and naïve. These ridiculers have included composers. For example, Thomas Campion (a renaissance song writer) said that "where the nature of everie word is precisely expressed in the Note… such childish observing of words is altogether ridiculous".

The reasons for this ridicule can be personal, social and cultural. Perhaps a person has stoical values that eschew making dramatic gestures and expressing emotions. Perhaps a person lives within a society that is similarly stoical: which seeks to hide overt gesture and emotion beneath a cultural blanket of withering admonishments.

Music, like most things, suffers as a result of ridicule; it becomes a barely heard and distorted echo of what it could be. 

Do not allow your words to suffer in a similar way. Do not allow them to become a faintly heard whisper of what you wanted to express. Do not allow ridicule to fade your words to grey.

Paint your words colourfully and with pride.


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