For one of my classes, I listened to two audio stories. As in the post about TED talks, the themes of these stories are unrelated. However, they both use storytelling methods to capture emotions, inform, and tell a story. (Note: To hear these stories, see the link at the end of this post.)
The first is a piece on Dan Knudsen, a musician from Portland, Maine. In order to set the stage, the piece begins with a clip of his music.
The clip immediately draws you in. His voice is a bit off-key and nasal. The lyrics are extremely strange. This is a bit humorous, but more importantly, it is intriguing. It makes the listener wonder, “Why is someone doing a piece on this mediocre amateur musician?”
Throughout the piece, it is stressed that his music is different. More specifically, his lyrics are pretty weird. But this being different is crucial to the story because it draws the audience’s curiosity.
Knudsen throws in another intriguing factor. There are a couple mentions of his signature trademark: a fannypack. What the fannypack contains is never revealed. A clever quip is that it is “where the magic is.” This fannypack has a sense of mystery that adds to the allure of the story.
Finally, throughout the piece the listener is almost forced to like Knudsen. He is simple and quirky. He is described multiple times as being a good guy. It is noted that his music contains no cynicism or sarcasm. And, based on the things he says and the way he speaks, it is apparent that he has not a bad intention in him.
This piece is so successful without visual accompaniment because of the clips of him playing live music. Whenever one is played in the background, one’s imagination immediately paints the picture of a smoky barroom with a man, a microphone, and a guitar.
The second audio story that I listened to describes a convent of nuns in Waterville, Maine in the wake of a tragedy.
The beginning of the piece sets the scene with an audio clip of women praying the rosary. The sound is echoey, putting in the mind an image of nuns praying in a chapel.
The first commentary does two things: First, it sets a tone of being in the aftermath of a crisis. (“We are all so… so wounded. We need to keep bonded with people around us…”) Next, it sets a tone of wanting to move forward. (“We need to keep bonded with people around us instead of setting up barriers and saying, ‘They did this,’ and, ‘They did that.’ You can’t live that judgmentally. It does something to yourself. You can’t judge.”)
Next, the narrator (Jessica Alpert) offers a visual by describing the appearance of the convent and the ages of the nuns. This makes the story that much more real for the listener.
Following the description of the convent, you hear an account of the tragedy. As the nuns describe a mentally ill parishioner forcing his way into the convent and strangling one of the nuns to death, you can sense the fear. The shaking voices of the eyewitness accounts put the listeners in the action and impart the fear into them. The emotion is again able to be felt when one of the nuns begins to cry.
The narrator then describes a dramatic scene – the falling action. It sounds like it was taken from a movie. The police burst in, guns drawn. The murderer is standing there with a statue of the Virgin Mary in his hands. The police instruct him to to drop the statue or they will fire. This vivid description puts the listeners in the action.
The account turns eerie when the nuns describe their dying Sister’s screams. One nun says quietly, “[The police] didn’t get here in time to save her life.”
These descriptions make the audience feel as if they’re witnessing the scene firsthand, seeing the attacker, hearing the screams and commotion, and feeling the fear that the nuns felt.
Afterward, the piece becomes more peaceful. The nuns announce that they quickly forgave the murderer. They explain that they symbolically dramatized this forgiveness by inviting the parents of the murderer to have their feet washed at Mass on Holy Thursday. This represents the washing away of any blame or guilt. While talking about this, church music is played in the background to realize the scene even more.
The feeling of peace and forgiveness is reinforced when a nun quotes a wise expression from Zen Buddhism: “No praise, no blame; just so.” She softly speaks this quote twice, and is followed up by a short moment of silence.
Finally, a nun uses a bell as a metaphor for this experience. She explains that every strike must hurt the bell, but it produces a beautiful sound. In other words, for every incident that causes pain, make something joyful come out of it.
The piece closes with the sound of a congregation singing a hymn. This brings the theme of praying full-circle. (Remember that the piece began with the sound of nuns praying.) However the song implies that the ending is joyful and beautiful.