Living Delicious with Jeff Gere, Master Story Teller from Helena Summer Medena on Vimeo
Appears in ‘Storytelling Duets’ Book, due in January 2010
By Jonah & Harold Wright
My name is Jeff Gere. I’m a storyteller in Hawaii who runs it’s biggest storytelling festival (Talk Story Festival) each fall. As Oahu’s Drama Specialist in the Parks Department, I talk to humans of every age and income all year long, usually alone. I look upon these as ‘warm ups’ for the REAL storytelling event: tandem telling with musicians. I've done LOTS of these in lots of configurations for lots of years. My master’s degree is in ‘Inter-Relating the Arts’, an inter-disciplinary performance and discussion curriculum exploring the languages and idioms of the various arts. HearSayThe Two Sisters (Wind ‘n Rain) (shadow puppets, music and telling.) I toured one summer with a symphonic quintet. I told Arabian Night tales for 18 months of Saturdays to sold-out shows in a swank Chinatown bar with a belly dancer and two musicians- THAT was fun! was a story/band trio, which morphed into a duet which built an evening show around the ballad,
OK, but let’s talk about WHY I love telling with tunes.
As a painting student at the University of California, Davis, I painted all night until, nodding into sleep, I’d suddenly jerk awake with a command ringing in my ear: ‘paint that out’. I’d rise, paint, sit and nod; Jerk and paint again. The mornings revealed paintings I had not intended to paint! Painting was my initial method of having a dialogue with the subconscious. In my storytelling, I seek this same authentic dialogue and resonance. Music can trigger that.
OK, so that’s the WHY, but HOW do you do that?
Let’s face it: It’s easy to recite your precious clever story patter while a musician plunks along behind. I’ve done it- nothing sensational emerges. Creative musicians get frustrated and quit. Little is risked, little gained. That’s no 'event', that’s not what grips me. Remember, I want the subconscious dialogue, want a revelation.
What GRIPS, THRILLS, and MOTIVATES me in recording and performing with improvising musicians, my MAIN EVENT, is this: If I can split myself open, keeping one ear on the music while speaking, taking audio directions while leading, I myself get lead. Music helps me to let go, to step over the cliff, to dare to walk onto the water, to dwell in the creative moment of NOW. I stop knowing what will happen next.
Huh? Say what?
If talented, attentive, inventive, bold musician(s) are really INVITED to PARTICIPATE with me in the tell, I start to get distracted by the rhythm, the percussion, and the cadence of notes. Yes, I get deliciously confused within the story I know well, and it becomes new again, fresh as the first time I spoke it. Whole new things come up! The STORY begins speaking ME! REALLY! Speaking while listening to playing to your speaking... it is all happening so fast that I’m tellin’ by instinct! Spiritual (in essence), collaborative (surprising), fun (PLENTY!), infectious. You can FEEL the LIFE of such a tell with your EARS! You can hear it in the recordings, the audience can feel it in the room. The stories come ALIVE!
What's your PROCESS in this equation?
I tell by watching the story unfold in my mind. There’s no script, there’s just the movie in my mind’s eye. When one tells in this way, and we drop in the musical score, I can only talk it out as it unfolds. However, I’ve seen this ‘tune-telling’ work well with ‘reciters’ too, especially when the teller's cadence leaves spaces between sentence clusters (thoughts) for the musician to respond. I remind myself to use this technique because my tendency is to plunge forward and talk right on top of the music, in overlays, which is exciting but not always appropriate. It also means the musicians have to be more aggressive with me. Diversity and variety enrich artistic creations.