When I was in elementary school, we had art class once a week, in the basement of the school building. I loved art. I couldn’t paint or draw particularly well, but I loved the chance to create things out of thin air. One day during third grade, our art teacher sat us down at a big table with humongous sheets of plain paper in front of us, along with a box of crayons. “I’m going to play some music for you,” she said, “and I want you to draw what you think the music is saying.” She placed a record on the player and set the needle down. The room filled with the wondrous sound of what I now know is Tchaikovsky’s Festival Overture in E♭ major, more commonly known as the 1812 Overture. I sat at that table, listening as the music rose and fell, and I started drawing a picture of barren trees with snow piling up at their roots. Something in the music sounded cold and wintry to me. Other people drew different pictures, with lots of color and movement. When the song ended (and what an ending it is – this song has cannons, y’all! Cannons!), the teacher told us the story of Russia’s victory against Napoleon. I was secretly proud of myself for catching on to at least part of the story Tchaikovsky was telling with his music. But it wasn’t just me understanding that should have impressed me – it was the composer’s skill at telling a story through the medium that worked best for him.
We tell stories with words on a page, but that isn’t the only way to do it. Musicians do it with notes, and painters do it with color. The best stories reach inside you and touch a place in your heart that awakens your imagination. We communicate with stories of all kinds, and stories have become so familiar to us that we can mention a single word and everyone around knows what we mean.
Last Saturday night, I performed in a show called Raqs Synister. The theme of the show was dark music, and many of us tried to tell stories with our dance. The show closing act was a duet. The first dancer lay on the stage with a black lace bag over her head, and the second dancer joined her, removing the bag and dancing with her until the first dancer suddenly slipped the bag over the second dancer’s head, and she fell, seemingly senseless, to the stage. It was gorgeous and terrifying, and I found myself trying to decide who I thought the first dancer had been. A ghost? A demon? An evil spirit trapped by the bag and only able to achieve freedom when another took the bag instead? That dance has stayed in my head ever since, and I may end up writing a story based on it.
So today I’d like to hear about the non-written stories that thrill you. A piece of music, a painting, a dance…don’t just name it. I want you to tell us about it. Go!