Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

The journey: Musician turned storyteller November 18, 2010

My artistic challenge was to develop new storytelling skills in the attempt to make my delivery of classical music more accessible.

Unless I know a piece of music very well and can anticipate what is going to happen next, I have a tendency to drift off when listening to music. I belive many new comers to classical music feel the same, as the music just washes over them. However, I find it easier to understand music when it has a narrative or is programmatic. For example, in Peter and the Wolf I like the way I can associate different tunes with different characters. If gives me something to focus on and keeps me engaged.

I wanted to build on this idea by using language to help guide what the listener should focus on. For this I realised I needed to improve my storytelling skills. I wanted gain to gain confidence in telling stories and learn any tricks of the trade. My final goal was to be able to incorporate storytelling with classical music.

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Once upon a time – Storytelling course October 17, 2010

I undertook a storytelling course run through the WEA to gain some basic skills in storytelling. The course compromised of four two-hour long evening sessions in Stonleigh.

Working with the workshop leader, Janet Dowling, as well as receiving feedback from the rest of the group allowed me to develop my own storytelling style as well as build experience and confidence.

One of the most useful tools I learnt was how to break down the structure of a story and put it into 8 boxes. Most stories follow this pattern of: initial situation, problem, (preparation for quest), try, try, try, transformation and conclusion. I found this helpful as it made the story easier to remember as well as being a template for any stories that I choose to invent.

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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.

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A musical retelling of ‘On the way Home’ August 26, 2010

Filed under: 1A: extending my arts practice — concerttuning @ 5:33 pm
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On the way home.MP3 by Alice Hyland.

This recording was taken while performing the story, ‘On the way home’ to my parents. While it is no means perfect, it is a starting point from which to expand.

It quotes a number of famous tunes:

  • Claire’s ‘sad music’ = Early French Song by Tchaikovsky
  • female friends = The Trout by Schubert
  • male friends = Kontretanz by Beethoven
  • wolf = wolf theme from Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev
  • crocodile = ‘never smile at a crocodile’ theme tune from Disney’s Peter Pan
  • Dragon = ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ from Opera by Wagner
  • Happy music = The Trout by Schubert

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My first audience member aged 3 August 25, 2010

I had the fantastic opportunity to test-drive my musical storytelling on my 3 ½ year old nephew. The story that I was working on was one of his favourite books, so I hoped it would be appropriate for his age. The day before I had brought my cello out and showed him how it worked and even let him have a go. I first tried playing it to him just after we got back from a long walk and he was playing with his new racing track. However, when I got to introducing the ‘big, bad wolf’ I was told, ‘Alice, can you stop playing your cello now, it too loud’.

I little deflated, I gave it another attempt the following day, asking whether he wanted to hear the story if I didn’t play so loud. I started by putting my mute on, but after a few notes he told me to take it off! Much to my relief he stayed engaged for a full 20 minutes, and even played a part in telling the story.

I sat on the sofa while he sat on the floor with the story book on my music stand, so that it was clearly visible. He alternated from lying on a blanket and listening, to standing up to look at the story book when prompted and even got up really close looking at my cello.

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Experimenting with story books and music

I visited my parents house for a week and took the opportunity to go through all my old cello music. I found a great book with lots of well know tunes arranged for cello.

Having the idea that I wanted to involved the audience, I enlisted my Dad’s help to see if we could make up a story together. I chose a piece by random and playing through each phrase asking him questions such as who do you think the story is about and what did he then do? However, this did not produce the results I wanted, as as Dad pointed out he did not have a child’s imagination and there wasn’t enough contrast in the piece. Though we made up a piece about Pinocho not going to school, I knew I had to rethink my strategy.

The original plan was to add words to a classical piece, but after hearing an account of how an animateur combined stories and music, I scrapped my original idea and decided to start with the story and work the music around this. Consequently, I delved into our old children’s books to find some good stories for inspiration.

I selected some books that had lots of repetition and a clear structure, so that there were plenty of opportunities to repeat tunes. Some particular favourites were ‘On the way home’ and ‘Peace at Last’ by Jill Murphy, as well as a recent book, ‘Room in a Broom’ by Julia Donaldson. Another story to look at would be the ‘Gruffalo’. These books all have several contrasting characters, as well as a repetitious structure.

I then experimented added tunes to characters as well as creating sound effects with my cello until I had something resembling a story interrupted with short musical interludes.

 

Storytelling at the National Gallery: Magic Carpet Sundays August 3, 2010

Filed under: 1A: extending my arts practice — concerttuning @ 8:16 pm
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On Sunday 1 August I went and observed one of the story telling sessions at the National Gallery.

The event was targeted for 2-5 year olds. The families met in the Education Centre and then went to search for the magic carpet in the Gallery, through which the storyteller built up the anticipation.

After unrolling the carpet together, they started by looking at the painting of Renoir’s Umbrellas to see what they could see. The children came up with things such as the basket, the hula hoop, the umbrella and the tree. They then started to think about how they were connected and the setting the scene. The story-teller asked questions such as was it raining, what was the lady going to put in her basket and how was the girl going to play with her hula hoop? The storyteller let the children lead the ideas with a bit of guidance.

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