Unconventional melodies: When words and music collide

An introduction to music made up of storytelling

More stories from Ryan Huling


Photo by Ryan Huling

Huling takes a break from class to enjoy a unique genre of music.

Spotify is home to over 1,300 different genres of music. Their Top 50 chart is continually filled with pop and hip hop, which are streamed by millions of listeners every day. But as often as people listen to Ariana Grande, Post Malone, Drake and Imagine Dragons, one under-appreciated style of music exists in the form of speaking, not singing.

While the genre has no simple name, it can best be explained as spoken word poetry or monologues on top of flowing instrumentals. Music is meant to tell a story, but that story doesn’t have to hit a high C to send chills down the backs of listeners. Sometimes, lyrics are enough to create dynamic imagery and spark the most colorful of thoughts.

The first encounter I had with this style of music was because of my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist, a collection generated by Spotify that was full of songs the app thought I might like.

One song that stood out to me was “A Kind Invitation” by Tyson Motsenbocker. The song’s unexpected demeanor is created by a soothing electric guitar while Motsenbocker tells the story of a boy as he grows up and encounters death and love, each represented by “a tall man” and “a beautiful woman.” As the boy grows up, he repeatedly declines love and death’s invitation to take a walk with them out of fear that he may become susceptible to death’s evil ways or miss out on what life has to offer him.

By the end of his life, however, the boy — now an old man — encounters death alone on his walk. Death tells him that “he always comes alone in the end,” leaving the listener to reflect on the risks they’ve taken in their own romantic relationships.

Already, this new style of music caught my attention as something quite unique.

Not long after finding “A Kind Invitation,” I came across “Keep Forgiving” by Levi the Poet, a spoken word poet from New Mexico. Similar to Motsenbocker’s song, “Keep Forgiving” is a seven minute, provocative vociferate stretched over a soft piano that grows into a swelling orchestra.

In many of his songs, Levi recalls his struggles to be perfect for the person he loves, memories from his past and dreams for a better world. Spoken word poems specialize in provoking emotional moments in audience members and Levi’s style of music goes beyond that.

Songs that tell a detailed story draw the raw emotions out of the audience and coerce them to think for themselves. Spoken word and monologues allow an immense amount of words to be packed inside one song, which pushes the artist’s message to have more depth and character.

For the drama geek or the intellectual, spoken word and monologues provide a gateway to intense imagery and adventurous thinking.

Huling can be reached at [email protected]