Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ A new note

My new venture is singing lessons. It’s going well. My singing teacher, Bianca, is tall, Australian, young, good-looking and full of spirit. At least half of every lesson so far has concentrated on the production of voice, diaphragm and larynx, position of head and tongue, the focusing of sound and other such matters.

How strange, I’ve been thinking, that as someone who has worked as a storyteller for three decades – or is it four? – I have never had voice lessons before. A number of voice workshops, perhaps, but not anything continued and concentrated. In my work, I suppose I felt confident that my voice could reach the back of pretty much any audience. I remember being asked to tell a story to 800 pupils in a black school in South Africa. The 800 pupils were seated outside (always more difficult and certainly not very personal) but it went off OK. Big halls at such events as Festival at the Edge also seem to have gone alright. Awful acoustics, surrounding noise: all kinds of obstacles have occurred and there’s been the occasional failure. For instance, I remember one person coming to me after a story I’d told to a crowd of other storytellers standing around me at some festival or other. She was bothered. She hadn’t heard the last word of the story. That felt unforgiveably awful!

But on the whole I’ve felt pretty OK. Happy  that my voice was carrying and also conveying the emotions I wanted. I’ve felt particularly rewarded when telling a deep kind of story that has been especially important to me and the atmosphere has been able to become very stilled and quiet. On such occasions, it has felt like every word and inflexion is being heard.

But the singing – well, now I’m appreciating the lovely things that Bianca urges upon me. For instance, observing the forward flow of the line, pushing on with the words and the sense of the phrase, not holding things up with unnecessary emphasis in pronunciation when the music needs you to move on. It all makes a good deal of sense and I can see – and hear – that, put into practice, it makes a difference.

Besides, it’s an enormous pleasure to be getting all kinds of songs suggested to me. The song we worked on this week (after the half-hour or so diligently devoted to diaphragmatic matters) was Feeling Good – one of the wonderful songs sung by the wonderful Nina Simone. But I’ve also been singing classical stuff – for instance, Handel’sArt Thou Troubled? Also I’ve been working on my Alto line in the duet setting of ‘Where’ere thou walk’ (also by Handel) that I’ve started singing with Paul.

As well as giving its own pleasure, the singing is proving a bit of a comfort to me right now. A few days before the end of our Canada trip, we received –out of the blue – news of the death of one of our greatest friends, Larry Jenkins. Larry was living in New Zealand. It felt all the harder, with our being so far away from our own home at the time, to begin to accept the news of his passing. Now we’re back home, the loss is hitting me time and time again and harder. Larry was a musician and music teacher as well as much else besides. He knew more than almost anyone else I know about music and musicians. He was the person who got Paul singing. Now at last I am following suit. I think he would have been pleased.

PS: photos this week are, of course, of the nightingale and the blackbird, both of them beautiful singers.

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One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ A new note”

  1. Meg Philp Says:

    Dear Mary
    A fitting tribute to your dear friend. Singing makes a great ‘life-jacket.’ I feel it shift the listening space when I sing during a storytelling. Must do more of it.
    Best Regards

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