A Pneumatic Drill, an ‘Immaculate’ Soprano, and the Narrative Arc

A Stone Carver During Morning Rush Hour Gets Me Thinking

Tim Johnston uses a pneumatic drill to carve intricate patterns in stone.

The work is LOUD, but important. He’s been engraving stars in the Central Intelligence Agency’s version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for almost four decades.

His company, Manassas Granite and Stone, recently carved the words “The Star Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem” outside the newly re-opened exhibit for the original banner at the National Museum of American History.

I introduced myself to Tim recently on my way to work. As I reached the top of a subway escalator, he was carving the name of a DC law firm in to a granite wall.

He was nearly done with the job. Only a portion of an “n” remained to be drilled out.

Tim paused to refill his power generator with gas. Tiny pieces of stone dust flittered this way and that.

“How did you get in to this kind of work?” I asked him.

“I used to install stone,” Tim told me. “This carving work got me off my knees.”

A Song of Praise

I usually commute with Spotify music in my ears. On the morning I met Tim, I happened to be listening to a recording of Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum.”

Yeah, I know, it sounds super pretentious — but the song has deep personal meaning.

Years earlier, I’d been in a high school singing group that performed it in Salzburg Cathedral.

Mozart composed “Laudate Dominum” for the cathedral’s archbishop in the 1780s. In Latin, the title means “Praise the Lord.”

Acoustically, the Salzburg performance was unforgettable. The song opens with a delicate soprano solo trading slight crescendos with a string section in 6:8 time. My classmate’s voice soared through the Cathedral’s stone spaces that day, paired only with another classmate’s violin.

Spotify’s commute version of the song featured a soloist named Donna Brown. The Edmonton Journal described her voice as “immaculate” after a performance earlier this year.

Musically, the Salzburg performance was also unforgettable. I waited with my other classmates for our entrance. Mozart concludes the opening solo with a quick series of low notes … and the chorus enters, surrounding those low notes with a perfect harmonic chord that comes in brilliant, blended, and deliberate form.

I always loved that chorus entrance to “Laudate Dominum” — and Spotify’s delivery of the song in my ears neared that exact spot … as I climbed the subway escalator on my way to work.

Mozart’s brilliant harmonics were quickly drowned out by the pounding grind of a pneumatic drill.

One Story at a Time: Seeking Resonance with the Narrative Arc

I think it would be too easy to write about the jarring experience that morning of elegant music in my ears interrupted by the industrial annoyance of city sounds.

What’s got me fascinated this morning is the realization that ALL PARTS of the rush hour moment stay with me. The ‘immaculate’ solo. Waiting for Mozart to bring in the chorus. Climbing the subway escalator stairs. The drill. The yellow tape around Tim’s workspace. The law firm’s expense to put its name in marble.

I wasn’t bothered by the interruption. I was, at the same time, captivated as much by the beauty of Mozart’s music as I was captivated by my curiousity about a man and his crazy noisy drill.

Not to make this experience in to something that it’s not, but I think this scene can be an important lesson for storytellers and content creators seeking resonance with audiences.

Too often, we fixate on the impact of one story. How is it performing? Is it contributing substantively to a thought leadership campaign?

We forget that one story fits in to a wider narrative arc.

A content-heavy thought leadership campaign, in simple terms, is won or lost over time — story by story, with each campaign narrative contributing together with every other campaign narrative to whether a reader finds resonance with a message.

On a Journey With Our Audiences

Resonance is tough to measure, of course. But how compatible is the delicate harmony of a Mozart choral masterpiece with the industrial din of a pneumatic drill?

They aren’t — but PUT TOGETHER — these two experiences contributed to a morning that captivated this “reader.” All of it was resonant. All of it still sticks with me.

Individual stories do matter for storytellers and content creators. So do delivery platforms. And promotion. And analytics.

But let’s not lose sight of how we’re on a journey with our audience, crafting a series of resonant — and, possibly, incompatible — experiences along the way.

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