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Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the Storycorps Projectby Dave Isay
FROM STORYCORPS: THE CONVERSATION OF A LIFETIME
Recording your own interviews:
We encourage you to participate in StoryCorps. Please visit our website, www.storycorps.net, to learn about the locations of our StoryBooths across the country. We also have two permanent facilities open year-round in Manhattan. Come visit New York City, make an appointment and record your loved one’s voice for history. If you want to record an interview but are not able to visit one of our StoryBooths, we encourage you to do-it-yourself. Conduct your own interview and ask the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. You may well be surprised by the power of the experience. Here’s how:
1. Pick a Storyteller
Start the process by figuring out whom you want to interview. A grandparent? An old friend? Your mom? The person you invite might be hesitant. “I don’t have much to talk about,” he’ll say, or, “You already know everything about my life.” Remind your friend, your mother—whoever it is—how important you think their story is and how valuable it will be to future generations. Let that person know you would be honored to record his story.
2. Create a Question List
No matter how well you know your storyteller, a little preparation will improve the quality of your interview enormously. What would you like to learn from that person? We’ve designed a question generator to make preparing questions a little easier. You can find it at www.storycorps.net.
Here are some questions that have yielded great responses:
· What have you learned in life?
We’ve also found that at the end of a session it can be powerful to turn the tables and tell the person you’re interviewing what they mean to you.
3. Purchase or Borrow Recording Equipment (and Get Comfortable with It)
It is not difficult to make a terrific and clear recording of someone’s voice. We strongly suggest that you create a recording with the best sound quality possible—it’s much more enjoyable and easy to listen to and will be appreciated by future generations. You will need three pieces of equipment: a recording device, a microphone and headphones. (You can learn more about equipment options at our website.) The recording equipment can be as simple as a micro cassette recorder or basic digital voice recorder, a pair of headphones and an inexpensive microphone (handheld, not clip-on). You can find both basic and more sophisticated recording equipment at your local electronics store. (StoryCorps also has a small equipment loan program called StoryKits, which you can also learn about at our website.)
Whatever equipment you choose, we strongly suggest that you practice using your equipment before you sit down for your interview.
A few things to remember:
· It’s best to always wear headphones when recording. Your headphones are your “ears” for the interview; they tell you exactly what you’ll hear on your finished recording. Use them to adjust the microphone position so the sound is as clear as possible.
You may want to get together a group of friends and purchase recording equipment together. Someone from the group can act as the “engineer” during your interview and operate the equipment so you can focus on asking the questions. You can also share and talk about the stories you’ve recorded with the group.
4. Choose an Interview Location
Pick the quietest place possible. A carpeted living room or bedroom is often best. Avoid large empty rooms and kitchens, which are filled with reflective surfaces and appliance noise. We try to make the inside of each StoryCorps booth something of a sacred space, as peaceful and serene as possible. You may want to do the same: turn the lights low. Do whatever you can to make you and your subject as comfortable as possible.
Prevent noisy distractions. Close the door; unplug the phone; turn off your cell phone. Turn off anything that is making noise: buzzing fluorescent lights, air conditioners, fans. Listen for noise during the interview as well. If your storyteller fiddles with her necklace, for example, feel free to let her know it’s making noise. Never record interviews with a radio or television on in the background.
5. Set Up and Test the Equipment
Set up your equipment as early as possible and make sure you’re comfortable with it. This way you’ll be able to focus on the person you are interviewing and not the equipment. Before you begin your interview, record your storyteller answering a few warm-up questions such as “Can you describe what this room looks like?” or, “Tell me what you had for breakfast.” Stop, rewind and listen to the recording you just made to make sure everything is working. Remember to press RECORD again when you start the interview for real.
6. Begin the Conversation
Start your interview by stating your name, your age, the date and the location of the interview. For example, “My name is Annie Smith. I’m forty-one years old. The date is November 23, 2008, and I’m sitting with my grandfather Mark Smith in his living room in Hannibal, Missouri.” Now ask your storyteller to state the same information. Use your question list. Remember, the questions you write in advance are just suggestions. Trust your instincts. If something interests you or merits further exploration, ask more questions. Sometimes your storyteller will need “permission” to talk about a certain topic. Granting that permission might be as easy as saying, “Tell me more.” Don’t let the question list constrain you. Feel free to ask questions in whatever order feels right. Take breaks if your storyteller needs them. Try not to say “uh huh” or interrupt when something interesting or important is being said. You can always use visual cues like nodding your head when you want to encourage the storyteller to keep going.
7. Get Great Stories
Here are some tips for helping the conversation flow:
Listen closely. Look at your storyteller’s eyes, not the mic. Nod your head. Smile. Stay interested and engaged.
Be yourself. You can laugh with the person you are interviewing or even cry with him. Real moments are the best moments.
Stick with the good stuff. When you hear something that moves you, feel free to talk about it more. If the current topic isn’t what you wanted to put on tape, gently steer the conversation back on course.
Ask emotional questions. Questions such as “How does this make you feel?” often elicit interesting responses. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Respect your subject. If there’s a topic she just doesn’t want to talk about, respect her wishes and move on.
Take notes during the interview. Write down any questions or stories you might want to return to later in your interview.
Be curious and honest and keep an open heart. Great things will happen.
8. Wrap It Up
Before you turn off your recorder, do two things: ask the storyteller if there is anything else that she wants to talk about and thank her. Sharing a story can be difficult for some people. It’s a privilege to have someone share her story with you. Express your gratitude. If you have a digital camera, take a picture of your interviewee against a plain background (or, if there’s someone else around, have him take a picture of the two of you) in the style of the StoryCorps pictures you find in this book.
Make sure to label your recordings properly, make copies for relatives and friends and store them in a safe place so they’ll be available for generations to come. (Unfortunately, StoryCorps does not have the capacity at the present time to enter these do-it-yourself interviews into our archives.)
9. Share the Conversation
The conversation doesn’t have to end once you turn off your recorder. In fact, it may just be the beginning. With the permission of your storyteller, you might share the interview by making copies of your recording to give to family and friends. You might also host a listening party. Invite others to your home to listen to your recording and share a conversation afterward. You could also listen to StoryCorps stories on our website.
10. Plant a Seed
Storytelling can be a powerful tool, and your imagination is really the limit of what you can do with it. If you are a teacher, for instance, you might consider playing clips in your classroom as part of a history or writing unit. If you are part of a mentoring program, you could interview your mentor or mentee about their life experiences. Use the checklist and questions that follow to make sharing stories a part of your family, community or working life. Congratulations! You have just joined the StoryCorps revolution!
Things to Bring to the Interview
· Your question list
Before You Begin Your Interview
· Find the quietest place possible to record.
During Your Interview
· Double-check that the recorder is actually recording (not on PAUSE).
When You Finish
· If you recorded the interview on tape, label it. Store the tapes in a cool place out of direct sunlight.
FAVORITE STORYCORPS QUESTIONS
· What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
Childhood and Family
· When and where were you born?
· What are your best memories of grade school/high school/college/graduate school? Worst memories?
Love and Romance
· Do you have a love of your life?
Marriage and Commitment
· How did you meet your husband/wife?
· When did you first find out that you’d be a parent? How did you feel?
· What do you do for a living?
Religion and Spirituality
· Can you tell me about your religious beliefs/spiritual beliefs?
Ethnicity and Family Heritage
· What is your ethnic background?
War and Service
· Were you in the military?
· Can you tell me about your illness?
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