I have always loved music. In first grade, on my school playground, I pretended I was Judy Garland performing for anyone who would listen. In the years since I have had just enough formal training in music to be dangerous. Im barely able to read music and although Ive tried several instruments the only one Ive ever been successful with is the banjo and that has been a slow, slow painful progress. My singing is well...OK. I sell a song more than sing it. Lets say Im not a natural born musician. But oh how I love music.
Why do I tell you these things? To remind you that music belongs to everyone. If youre a storyteller you shouldnt be afraid to use it to make the story richer. If music is in your heart then it will help translate the spoken word.
Most of my best story successes have been when Ive added music to them. Many times when I decide to use music in a story its because certain lines in the story are like poetry or there is a chant or phrase used over and over. To me the stories that have these qualities are like mini-Broadway musicals.
One of my stories, Mr. Bun, is the Russian version of The Gingerbread Man. You can listen to it on my website, www.rosiecutrer.com. Mr. Bun calls out to everyone he meets that he can run away from anyone. Fortunately the words were in poem fashion and so all I had to do was to try and come up with a tune that sounded Russian and had a cocky feel to it. When I decide that I want to try adding music to a story I look for music that is from the storys culture. Hopefully by immersing myself in the music for several days Ill get a feel for the style that says "Russian". I went to the library and checked out recordings of Russian folksongs and classical pieces. I didnt feel confident in my knowledge of Russian culture to create an original piece of music and so I tried to adapt a classical piece by Reinhold Gliere titled "The Dance of the Russian Sailors." Mr. Bun is running down the road and so the quick paced Russian dance music fit well. When you hear the music you imagine this little bun character Cossack kicking his way down the road. Before using the music I made sure that it had no copyright restrictions. Now the really interesting thing about this is that after about a year or so I went back to listen to the original classical piece and found that I had changed the tune without even realizing it. It had become a new piece of music.
In another story that I do, Kevin and the Lady, I put music only at the beginning to set a mysterious mood and then again at the end to slowly ease the listeners out of the story. This story is also on my website. Kevin and the Lady came from the British Isles. The origin of the story is fuzzy. Some say the story comes from England others say Ireland. I felt that the story had an Irish feel to it so thats the attitude I chose. I found all of the Irish music I could to listen to. I listened to The Irish Rovers, The Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem and Eddie Delahunt but nothing seemed right. Finally I came across a CD of Irish childrens music Titled When I Was Young. On this CD I heard As I Roved Out on a May Morning a song based on an old ballad. It had the perfect sound and the lyrics were quirky enough to go with the strange happenings in the story. Since it is an old ballad there are no copyright issues.
In winding this up Id like to say again that Im not that great of a singer but Ive never let that stop me from singing. Ive learned how to pick music that I feel comfortable with and is in my range, not too high. You have to know your limits but I think too many folks refuse to try putting music in their stories because they think that they are not professional musicians. Too me not having the restrictions of formal training have freed me up to do things that a trained musician would never think of. Dont ever underestimate the power of dumb luck. I also know how to sell a song. By that I mean: how to get up there and use stage presence and energy. So go ahead. Give your heart a chance to sing.