To Tell or Not to Tell

NaNoBlogWhatever 10 of 30:

A long time ago, I was at a professional conference, and I heard a performance and lecture from a teacher and a group of children. The children were in a chorus, a multi-age chorus of the sort that doesn’t usually exist, because the human voice changes so rapidly during youth (not to mention that there are other factors in mixed-age groups, from levels of knowledge to maturity). I remember that their sound was harsh and strange, and not what I understood a chorus to strive to sound like. The teacher dismissed the students and spoke at length about them. Nearly all were of Native American ancestry, and she ran the district’s entire music program, which didn’t take the shape of any you’d see in a larger district; it couldn’t, in a place as remote and sparsely populated as the one from which this group came. And teaching in a small district is very different from teaching in a larger one–so different that I’ve never seen any media approach covering it, unless you count the occasional portrayal of a one-room schoolhouse, usually in ye grande olden days.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

The teacher spoke quite a bit about how she had to become a teacher in the middle: she needed to–was required by law to–teach about music in traditional ways. Her students also had traditional ways. They were each foreign to the other. She came from a culture that cherished handing down songs through generations. Her students conceived of songs as something belonging solely to their creator, and not for the use of the listener. Her approach to sound was distinctly Western/European/classical, whereas her students’ approach was distinctly of their own culture. They had to work together, messing up quite a bit along the way, negotiating how to communicate, and trying to understand each other as best they could.

Probably they all got something beautiful out of the sharing. I don’t know that, though. But I hope so.

One of my professors was at the presentation, and I remember discussing it with them. The professor thought that the teacher should have still required a classical choral sound from the students when they were singing music that was meant to sound that way. I wasn’t so sure, but didn’t know how to articulate that at the time. I think there is a lot of space to explore.

And that’s also not what I wanted to say.

What I took away from that hour was the idea–one I’d never run across before–that there are two big and very different approaches to story. One approach places a high value on reuse, repurposing, retelling, no matter who the creator of the original story was. The other end of the spectrum is placing a high value on the creator of the story having the sole say in who else may have access to it, and when, and how; the storyteller’s story is theirs, not anyone else’s, and no one else may tell that story.

Though there are contextual reasons why people can come down in the middle, if you distill this idea to just story, I think that most people stand somewhere close to one edge or the other of the spectrum: the story belongs to the world/the story belongs to the teller. And I very often chew on the middle, because when you start from those places, I’m not sure there is a middle. I sometimes wonder if that’s the root of society’s struggles–all, or one? I don’t see how those can be reconciled into “some” without asking one culture or the other to give up its beliefs, and I don’t know how you can objectively say that one or the other should. And that’s not even considering power differences, histories, old wounds, new technologies.

I ramble, really, and I have no conclusions, only a full head and an empty stomach.

And this article is an interesting one that touches on some of what I keep thinking about, all these years later: The people who want their language to disappear.


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