175. Storytelling and Songwriting

I have lots of friends who are professional storytellers and/or singer/songwriters. I dabble in both myself, and enjoy both. When you see adults who make up great songs or stories, and perform them in ways that make audiences show up, buy tickets, and want to hear more, it’s easy to forget that everybody starts out making up songs and stories, and the art does not belong solely to the ones who get paid for it.
Yesterday, I spent some time entertaining two children (in the back seat of a car, not in Carnegie Hall). I started out by telling a story I’d already made up, then retold “The Ugly
Duckling,” and then finally used a technique I’d learned from a friend of mine who is a totally amateur storyteller, and may not even consider herself a storyteller: rather than make up the whole story myself, I’d say “Once upon a time there were two….”, and then I’d pause, waiting for one of the children to fill in the blank. I’d leave blanks at significant points in the story, and one of the children eventually took over the telling of the whole story.
And I’ve heard children’s songs. They start out life as natural singer/songwriters, and they take joy in making up their songs. There usually comes a point when they learn that their songs aren’t very “good,” and it doesn’t take long for them to stop creating the songs. You may or may not remember that time in your own life, or even in your child’s life. It’s very easy to forget in our culture.
But I haven’t forgotten, and I know many other adults who haven’t. And when I hear adults say “I’m not creative,” I know it’s not true. I don’t try to bully these adults into showing their creativity; the events that have resulted in their (and sometimes children’s) belief that they haven’t been touched by any Muses are quite formidable.
But I’ve listened to many children, and they all start out making up stories and songs. It’s a very natural part of life – one that prevails in some cultures, and in some, like ours, is subtly (or not so subtly) discouraged. I’m not going to ask you to make up songs and stories for your children. If you’ve already learned that you can’t, I’m not going to try, in one little article, to get you to unlearn that untruth. But I hope you can hear your children’s creations, and avoid passing on the myth of non-creativity to your children.

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