Rob Kapilow makes Mozart meaningful through metaphor
I don’t know an adagio from an allegro. (Although I have been told that my andante needs to accelerando if I want to keep up with my husband in the airport.)
But composer-cum-comedian Rob Kapilow helps even musical illiterates like me appreciate classical music. He does so in his “What Makes It Great?” concerts by using metaphor and other creative techniques that make complex information easier to understand.
Metaphor helps people comprehend a new concept by comparing it to a familiar one. That makes metaphor the perfect tool for translating unfamiliar, technical or complex information into easy-to-understand, down-to-earth terms.
Are you trying to get technical ideas across to lay people? Here are some of Kapilow’s techniques to steal:
1. ‘Brand’ concepts with memorable metaphors.
Instead of using the technical language of musical insiders, Kapilow uses metaphor to create memorable tags for musical concepts. In one recent concert, he labeled a leisurely cello melody “Happy Peasant” and an agitated accompaniment “Nervous Viola.”
These tags make technical concepts easier for lay people to understand and remember.
For the rest of the concert, every time I heard the accompaniment, I’d think, “It’s Nervous Viola!” The next morning, when our restless cat, Mimi, fidgeted on the bed at 5 a.m., my husband said:
How can you use metaphor to “brand” your concepts with memorable tags?
2. Define terms through comparison.
To people in the know, a “hemiola” is “a rhythmic pattern where two notes are played in the time allotted to three or where three notes are played in the time allotted to two,” according to the Classical Guitar Dictionary.
That’s clear as a cello to someone like me.
So Kapilow compared the concept to a song the Jets sang in “West Side Story”: “It’s an ‘I want to be in America’-type thing,” he said.
3. Layer insights with extended metaphor.
Kapilow also builds his insights through extended similes like this one:
- Pop music is like a first date; it rarely develops beyond what you can see on the surface.
- Classical music is like a long-term relationship; we gradually discover new things about the person we thought we knew.
- Classical music is like double dating; it creates new combinations by bringing in new ideas.
How can you layer your messages with an extended metaphor?
Make messages meaningful.
Next time you’re stuck explaining technical information to a lay audience, take a tip from Kapilow: Clarify complex concepts through comparison.