WORKING WITH PROSE, POETRY, AND STORYTELLING

 

Working with poetry, prose and storytelling is yet another way in which you can add an entirely new dimension to how you play the Native American Flute.  This is also an excellent way to share deeply personal and spiritual material with your audience.  I define the term "audience" as any one or any thing within earshot. This includes animals, insects, humans, birds, trees, plants, etc. You have the ability to send prayers, make affirmations, or perform your spiritual devotions at any time, while your audience receives the emotional content of the written word through your music, even though you may have spoken no words aloud.  You can also tell stories, which may or may not incorporate the voice, further expanding your repertoire on the flute.  Learn to look at stories in a new way.  They will help you to look at life in a new way.  Stories bring teachings, healing, humour, wonder, delight, and community into our lives.

Choose or write a poem, prayer, affirmation, creation story, or any other writing, prose or poetry, that you find inspirational.  Make it something special; something that has heart and meaning for you.  Some good sources are:  Fairy tales; nursery rhymes; myths; fables; riddles; affirmations; mantras, poetry anthologies; inspirational daily meditations; Sufi stories, as well as other spiritual teaching stories; prayers; etc.  A particularly good book for inspiration is The Book of Qualities, by J. Ruth Gendler.

Read the piece several times, both silently and aloud.  What is the overall mood or tone of the piece?  Does it have a theme?  Does it have a rhythm?  Experiment with different flute keys, rhythms and embellishments that convey what you are trying to express.  If each line had a voice, what would it say?  How would it sound?  What message do you want to send?  Close your eyes and play with emotion and authenticity.  Employ shading, utilizing the full range of the voice of the flute.  Sing with your breath.  If you feel it, they will feel it.

Focus on playing the key words that stand out for you in each line or phrase.  People experience things in many different ways, and will likewise express them differently.  There is no "right or wrong" way to interpret your experiences on the flute.  This is your personal journey, not someone else's.  Avoid trying to play each word in the line (i.e., the words "the", "and", "but", etc.). You want to convey the concept, mood, and feeling tone of each line.  Don't worry about trying to mimic the actual sounds of nature; it is enough to merely suggest.  For example, your story or poem might contain a reference to an animal that does not naturally make an audible sound, the grass growing, an ancient tree, stones, clouds, etc.  Try to think in terms of conveying its personality and your emotional connection thereto. If it had a voice, what would it say?  Does it move slowly and ponderously, or does it move quickly?  Or perhaps it does not move at all.  What does it feel like to you?  With a little imagination we can convey all of these concepts on the flute.  Remember, you can play longer than it takes you to physically read the line, whether visually or verbally.  If you have chosen a Haiku, play the feeling engendered in you, not just 4 lines of text.

If your piece has a line or word that repeats, choose a repetitive riff and/or embellishment and use it wherever that line/word appears.  If your story or piece has distinct characters, make a special riff, specific noises, embellishments or sound effects for each character and play these on the flute each time that character appears.  If you are performing verbal storytelling, incorporate voices, gestures, and movements in addition to the above suggestions for the flute for each character.  For example, in the film "Star Wars" each character had their own music.  You could tell when someone was going to enter a scene by the music that played just prior to their arrival.  Another good example is the children's story "Peter and the Wolf."

There are many different presentation styles with which to experiment when working with the flute and poetry, prose and storytelling.  Here are a few suggestions:

O    Try recording the poem and then playing the flute with the recorded words in the background;

O    You can also just read silently as you play.  Depending on your presentation, you have the option of providing your audience with copies of your poem, story, etc.; displaying the written word on a projector with various images; preparing posters; decorating a small set; etc.;

O    If you are working with a story, you can narrate, play a little, resume the story, switching back and forth between narration and playing until you have finished the story;

O    You can also read one line of your poem, then play each successively spoken line on the flute;

O    If you are working with more than one person, each person can choose a part or a character to read while you play;

O    Again, if you are working with more than one person who plays the flute, each person can choose a different part to play, while you each take turns narrating or reciting;

O    Experiment with combining different flute keys for different parts of the piece, story, etc.  Utilizing different flute keys enables one to convey different emotions, moods, characters, and themes;

O    Choose a Native American Creation story to read and play the sound effects on the flute.

Play with the above examples and mix and match, adding and deleting what works for you.  As always, the possibilities are only limited by your creative imagination!

Now that you have decided what method you wish to use, play your piece several times and record your efforts.  Don't try to remember what you did the last time, just play it from the heart each time.  Go back and listen to the recording and choose what sections sound best to you and then combine them.  Ask a friend to listen and offer constructive feedback.  What sections engaged them the most?  Was the feeling tone or emotion adequately conveyed?  If using the voice, was it adequately projected?  Your practice will help you to explore fully the piece you have chosen to work with, experiment with your flute, and will ultimately give you confidence in your final presentation, while still leaving room for improvisation.

Here are some good Storytelling skills to develop:

O    Build up tension;

O    Utilize space in both your narration and flute playing;

O    Feel the story;

O    Animate your voice;

O    Experiment with different voices and mannerisms for different characters;

O   Watch your facial expressions in the mirror;

O    Practice your eurythmics (harmonious gestures and movements)  in the mirror;

O    Project your voice; play with the dynamics of loudness and softness;

O    Use the full range of the voice of the flute;

O    If you can do it with your breath, you can do it on the flute; and

O    If you can do it with your breath, you can do it on the flute; and

O    Make sure you have adequate amplification.

Remember to make friends with space/silence, utilize shading, phrasing, and descriptive embellishments. Place your space/silence strategically for effect.  SPACE frames what you want to say.  Play a line or phrase; frame it with SPACE.  This creates interest, suspense and tension, which makes for good storytelling.

Finally, a suggestion from Johnny Moses, a Tulalip Native American Master Storyteller, oral historian, Healer, and "Whisperer."  Johnny listens to the secrets of the world and shares them with others through stories.  Johnny's grandmother told him that, "We all have beautiful voices.  Learn how to keep your voice beautiful by telling stories to the trees, water, animals, plants, and clouds.  Later on, when you practice on people, you can see them as trees, birds, beavers, insects, etc., and never be afraid of people anymore."  We can also keep our flute voice beautiful in the same way.

In the final analysis, what makes a good flute player and storyteller?  Learn to listen with your Third Ear:  Listen and play with your Heart.

 

                                       c Stephanie Baldridge 2004

 

 

 

 


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