As human beings we have an essential need to tell and listen to stories from the minute we’re born: from reading stories to our children, to describing our day to family and friends, from listening to music, especially songs, to writing letters, or the modern day equivalent of using social media. Storytelling is integral to who we are.
I was thinking about this when I went to a Fado evening with my husband last month in London. We’ve always loved Fado, the traditional Portuguese folk singing, since we first heard it on a holiday to Ericeira, north of Lisbon in the 1990s. Characterised by often melancholic singing accompanied by guitar, it has a soulful nature all of its own and is well worth a listen to if you ever get the chance. It’s not all melancholic though. This is one of the classics and one of my favourites too: uma casa portuguesa sung by Amália Rodrigues.
We’ve always loved listening to folk music and we’ve been lucky to see some great singers performing it over the years, including Kate Rusby and Cara Dillon. I even used to sing folk music myself when I was younger and some of those songs are still among my favourites even now. Through Bushes and Through Briars sung here by Isla Cameron and made famous in the Julie Christie version of Far from the Madding Crowd, is just one of several folk songs I used to sing many years ago!
So why do we love folk songs, and other songs that tell stories so much? I think it’s another way of passing something on of ourselves to the generations to come, which is why every country has its own form. Before education was available to all, singing was a way of telling stories without writing them down and folk songs filled that gap. Thankfully, many folk songs have now been written down to make sure that the legacy is protected for future generations.
Similarly, some of us write down recipes to pass on to our children. I know I have recipes that my grandparents used to make, although sadly, they’re not written down. But now my daughters are asking me how to make things they’ve loved from their childhood so we’re passing it on through the generations. It’s all part of our culture and our family history.
I’ve recently been clearing out our loft and apart from finding out that my obsession with keeping cards from family members is now maybe getting a bit out of hand(!), it has also been a poignant experience to find cards given to me by my grandparents when I was a child, and to see what they used to say to me. I also found all our wedding day cards threaded together with a piece of the material used to make my bridesmaids’ dresses. Reading through those cards was very emotional especially as we’ve been married for 30 years! I’m very glad that I kept them so that my daughters can see them and we can talk about what a wonderful day it was with both of them.
And writing stories is such an important part of this tradition as well. By writing about our experiences, we’re sharing our culture as well, and describing what our lives have been like in this time and place. Long may we continue to tell our stories to each other, however we choose to do it, whether through music, food, writing or another creative endeavour. It’s all important.