Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

Learning from the master: Ben Haggarty September 10, 2010

After contacting the Crick Crack Club about my project of combining music with storytelling, Kate recommended that I go and see Ben Haggarty perform Gilgamesh at the Soho Theatre on 7th September.

Though I vaguely remember listening to some professional storytellers around a camp fire when I was a child, this was the first time I had been to a performance in a long time. What struck me was the fact that it was one person on stage for the whole show.  You had to be prepared to believe.  It wasn’t acting but then it wasn’t over played. It reminded me of an over-enthusiastic child getting up and telling a big story they had made up to get out of doing a chore.

Interestingly, I noticed a gradual increase in the level of drama throughout the performance. While Ben started by setting the scene using a simple narrative, by the end he was doing silly voices and actions to illustrate the characters. I assume this was planned to allow the audience time to warm up and slowly be able to believe in him. I can imagine that if he had initially started too over the top, the audience could have quickly dismissed him as ‘hamming up’ the story.

If you were given room to doubt the storyteller’s authenticity, I believe the magic of the story could easily be broken. I think this is why the personal charisma of the storyteller is so important. Are they someone who can reach out and engage all the different types of people in an audience? This made me consider my style of storytelling and what type of audience I would be able to connect with.

The performance incorporated music with Manya Maratou on percussion. While the music was often used as a backdrop to the story, notable moments when the music came to the forecourt were at the chime of a bell.  I think it was the way that it was combined with the story that made it so memorable. The piercing sound was allowed to resonant while Ben Haggarty paused in the narrative at a moment of revelation. However, in the second half when Manya played some ethereal tunes on some pipes I was torn between listening to the music or the story. This highlights the issue of conflicting auditory information. Can music and storytelling be successfully combined, or will one always have to be dominant over the other?

While through the performance I learnt a great deal about storytelling, there wasn’t as music as I had hoped. It made me think that if I used the same story, how could I make music more integral to the storytelling?

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