Telling stories with music

Alien tripod illustration by Alvim Corréa, from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I first discovered the epic wonder that is War of the Worlds on a road trip. My partner was driving, which I mention because I became so infatuated by this album that I would not have been able to concentrate on less mesmerising things like red lights or stop signs. At first, I was drawn in by the commentary  spoken in such a vintage-sounding, easy-to-listen-to voice, and then by the epic music of Jeff Wayne. As it continued, I was amazed by the ability of Wayne to tell a story using music and minimal dialogue. You see, as I was listening I could clearly picture the events in my mind, which is really quite impressive. Sure, I can do this with words – think about the senses to create a feeling of being in the narrators shoes, using similes and metaphors to forge strong imagery… but with music? This helped me rediscover music with a new purpose – a medium of storytelling. Another artist I was recently introduced to that exudes narrative in their music is Overwerk. Specifically their album The Nth Degree, even more specifically the song below: Of course, this is not a new concept. Thinking back to personal favourites like Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (from The Nutcracker musical) we are reminded that before film became such a common and popular form of entertainment, musicians embraced their role as storytellers. 

Maria Tallchief as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nicholas Magallanes as her cavalier in the New York City Ballet’s 1954 production of The Nutcracker. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

One could argue that popular contemporary music still embraces this role. After all, lyrics often tell a story of love, strength or heartbreak. However, what is remarkable about the works of Jeff Wayne and Overwerk is their ability to tell a story through music, not words (I think Muse might be a contender for this ability, too, especially their older pieces). I mean, if you take out the lyrics from GInny Blackmore’s Bones, for example, and we’d be challenged to build any sense of narrative (side note – I have nothing against Ginny Blackmore, in fact, I really like that song). So this is a post to help you think outside the box, to embrace the different forms of narrative, and begin to see stories where we never believed they existed before. Share the story that is not written in words.

9 thoughts on “Telling stories with music

  1. I’ve composed my own soundtrack for a novel I am working on, many tracks work really well when writing. I really like telling stories through music, but it is so difficult.

    I agree with what you said about lyrics, music should work beyond them, but it so rarely does these days, that’s why I love the music of Pink Floyd, it is poetry set to music.

    Movie soundtracks are probably the closest thing we get to telling stories through music these days, I love soundtracks. Movie soundtracks are almost essential to my writing. I listen to certain pieces whenever I want to evoke a certain emotion, the soundtrack that works best for those reflective scenes is The Shawshank Redemption. Others include (as you and Glendon mentioned) the Lord of the Rings and the Dark Knight Rises, the soundtrack for ‘The Mission’ is fantastic to write to also. lol I could go on all day about it.

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  2. That (along with Jesus Christ Superstar) is my all time favorite record. Haunting and musically compelling. None of the films or even original live radio broadcast match the effect it had on me growing up. Another great piece Zeeee!

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    1. That’s another good one, definitely. I’d like to get the Le Misrables soundtrack, too, sometime.

      I can’t believe I missed out on it growing up, but it’s made a pretty big impact even now 🙂

      How much of the sound stuff do you have a part in creating for your films?

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  3. What’s interesting, Zee, is the use of music in movies. The two are so married a person can see the entire movie by listening to the score.

    Glen

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    1. Good point, Glen – the music at any point can change the whole impact of a scene.

      My brother just gave me the whole LOTR soundtrack, so I will keep your comment in mind when I listen to it 🙂

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