Breaking into Song

Sometimes, the only way to voice our feelings is to break into song. We’re not just talking about singing, we’re talking about that surprising moment – when melody, lyrics, and pure emotion swell inside us. When we have no choice but to open our mouths and let our voices soar. In that moment, our own voice escapes us and ventures into the world with what seems like a mind of its own. We hear ourselves like we never have. Others hear us too, and the results can be life-changing – for the better and for the worse. In our first story, we find out what really happens when you open your heart and break into song for the girl who may (or may not be) the one. In our second story, we explore what it takes to lend your voice to others, and break into song for them, whatever the consequences may be. In our third story, we go to France, to find out what happens when two lifelong enemies break into song together.

Host: Victoria Hurst

Producers: Natacha Ruck and Victoria Hurst

Featuring: Lecturer Wendy Goldberg, Danny Smith, Chris Worth, Andi Harrington, Jared Muirhead and Natacha Ruck

Release Date: 22 May 2013

Image via flickr



Intro Story: Zipping into Song

Find out what happens when Stanford Lecturer Wendy Goldberg straps herself to a pulley and goes flying over the jungle of Honduras.

Featuring: Wendy Goldberg

Producer: Victoria Hurst

Music: Sweet Thang by Shuggie Otis , The Concubine by Beirut

Image via wikimedia



Story 1: The Fire

Sometimes, breaking into song has the power to reveal suppressed feelings or thoughts. What happens after you open your mouth and tell people how you really feel? Danny Smith interviews independent musician, Chris Worth, to find out what happened when he improvised a song for a girl he calls “Mrs. Rosie.”

Featuring: Chris Worth, The Red Couch Project

Producers: Danny Smith and Victoria Hurst

Image via wikimedia



Story 2: The Part of Me in You

Everybody can break into song, but very few can create a deep and powerful song on the spot. Stanford Alumnus Andi Harrington can, and she can also break into song for you. If you just give her a few words and a mood, she will improvise something to match your feelings. But once, Andi received a very strange request; when she decided to honor it, she discovered how far breaking into song could take you– and the people around you.

Featuring: Andi Harrington and Jared Muirhead

Producers: Natacha Ruck, Bonnie Swift, and Charlie Mintz

Music: Andi Harrington, Sam Grinsell

Image courtesy of Rachel Hamburg



Story 3: La Vie En Rose

Sometimes, songs are used as weapons, but when you dare to break into song with your enemies, you get to see the world in a new way.

Producer/Featuring: Natacha Ruck

Original Music Composition: Eoin Callery
“La Vie en Rose” Montage created using tracks from Audrey HepburnMadeleine Leaper, Dean Martin, and Cindy Lauper
Additional music: Annie Cordy

Image via wikimedia


Hello Space, Goodbye Time

There’s a strong impulse right now to organize stories by space, rather than time. Check out This American Life’s Story Globe, or the various wings of Localore. It seems a natural extension of our communication technologies to map our environments with stories, and (attempt) to chronicle the fantastic volume of human experience that takes place all around us, all the time.

I think this trend in storytelling is also part of a broader cultural move towards organizing our lives according to space (eating local foods, supporting local economies). But the impulse to put a story on a map can be taken one step further; it can be applied to the structure of a story itself. You can organize a story by the space in which it took place, rather than by the order in which it unfolded in time. Careful, though: when space becomes the supporting structure of your story, you’re unlikely to end up with a traditional narrative arc. And if you don’t have that, then you might have to find something else to keep your listeners in their seats.

Out of the Blocks does a great job finding that something else. As a tour of the 3300 Greenmount Avenue block in Baltimore, it’s an experiment in spatial story structure and employs some innovative modes of capturing listener interest. Host Aaron Henkin literally walks us down the block. We visit a hair salon, a restaurant, tattoo parlor, pawn shop, check cashing business, licensing office, and meet a passel of characters on the street. Through these interactions, we develop a regard for the diversity that’s present in this tiny plot of urban space. But there’s not a lot of action or suspense in this story, and it risks becoming a list-like parade of character portraits. A promise of another kind keeps our attention through the hour:

Wendell Patrick’s luxuriant use of sound.

This story holds our attention not by the usual hook of plot suspense, but by sonic variation. Sound, either through intensive editing, manipulation of voices, or wonderfully immersive music, places emphasis on certain passages, provides chapter markers, and cultivates the continual promise of surprise. Through this assemblage of sounds, we develop greater insight to and greater appreciation for each person we meet.

A shining example of this is a phone conversation starting at 14:35. A woman at the licensing office answers the phone and quickly tires of her customer’s questions. We hear her become frustrated as the conversation escalates, and she hangs up the phone. “Thirty-one minutes and thirty-seven seconds with this chick on the phone!” she says (at 15:35). This cues us into the kind of editing that Patrick put into this piece: that thirty-one minute conversation took only one minute for us to listen to. He literally cut 97% of the original tape, and yet through the snippets that remain, we get a great sense of this woman and her day-to-day frustrations at work. And portraits of such microcosms keep coming, and keep expanding, and always with as much of a sonic twist.

The expansive quality of each vignette keeps us curious, and we come out of the story with a real appreciation for this single Baltimore block. This is not to say that you can’t create a story that is organized by space rather than time, and have your traditional narrative arc too (I’d love to hear it!). But this is to say that if you want to investigate a particular space, and you find yourself creating a story without an arc, then there are other modes of generating promise.

Out of the Blocks
Aaron Henkin with music by Wendell Patrick
Hearing Voices, July 2012
52 min

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