Nanna Kissed Baby Show

Many years ago someone asked my father what I did for work. His reply was ‘I dunno. Playschool or somethin’.’

In Australia it’s the dream of every early childhood educator to get a gig on Playschool- Australia’s longest running and I believe, still the best TV show for young children. But alas and alack I am on the other side of the screen … still. I am no longer waiting for the ABC to include me in their stable of early childhood presenters, I’ve got my own youtube show for little kids and their carers: The Nanna Kissed Baby Show.

A weekly broadcast of songs, rhymes and stories featuring Alby (needed a real baby not a teddy for this gig) thanks to Atlanta and Aaron who kindly provided me with said Grandchild.

This is a family show, and Roman, aka Opi, is camera operator, wardrobe mister, director and production manager. The aim of this project is to share some rhymes and songs that I have written over the years I have been storytelling and playing music with children.

Please note: If you’re looking for a slick, sponsored, capitalist production, this aint it! But if you want to learn some new rhymes and songs in an Australian context, please watch.

 

 

 

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Drumming up Stories

As artists Roman and I have opportunities to work with creative people, many of whom are of short stature i.e. kids. Our latest school holiday programme Drumming Up Stories, a one hour concert of musical folktales followed by the Recycled Orchestra workshop, encouraged kids to actively participate in storytelling, instrument invention and music-making.

All the gang were there; Roman’s kangaroo harp, George the Djembe, Milly Molly Mandolin, and boxes of workshop materials: empty cans, bottles, plastic containers, balloons, bamboo, lentils, rubber bands and packing tape.

What ensued was three hours of jolly good fun. Here are some photos of the workshops. Educators interested in this programme are encouraged to contact us story@schatzblackrose.com

Photos by Roman W. Schatz

Deadly Dogs

How effective is storytelling as a health promotion and education tool? We were about to find out through our work on the Healthy Dogs, Healthy People Project at Lockhart River, a remote Aboriginal Community in Cape York, Australia.

Roman and I have used music, oral literature and visual art in education, health promotion and community strengthening projects, in Australia and overseas. However this project differed to previous ones because the health and welfare of animals was at the heart of it.

The project’s implementation was informed by the evidence-based work of the Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC), a not-for-profit organisation that uses a One Health approach to coordinate veterinary and education programs in Indigenous communities in Australia. The Healthy Dogs, Healthy People Project  aimed to improve human health by improving care and management, and combat diseases relating to animal (particularly dog) health and welfare in Lockhart River.

The work by AMRRIC in the Northern Territory has shown that improving the health and welfare of the dogs in a community directly impacts on the human population. To this end the Lockhart River Council allows the free registration of four dogs per person. With registration, free veterinary care, including desexing and an Ivomec treatment programme for the elimination of ticks, fleas and parasites is available.

We worked with the Animal Management Team, a veterinarian and ‘Dog Champions’ to inform the community of the benefits of registration, desexing and the Ivomec treatment while simultaneously dispelling myths around the care of dogs. We did this in our usual mediums of songs, stories, art and talking. What emerged from our engagement with the community and animal advocates was the creation of a dog mural, the naming of the Kuu’aka Healing Centre and the production of a calendar for 2017 showing happy, healthy dogs and their owners.

We are looking at the next phase of the project, Pups and Bubs, that will take place later in 2017. Here is a selection of photographs of the project.

 

Beyond Storytime

There is no substitute for live storytelling! Please give your children that experience. If you don’t tell stories yourself, or people in your family don’t, then take them to listen to professional storytellers! Where can you do that?  Depends on where you are in the world. Libraries, Schools and Festivals are a good start. The Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival in Wales is one of the World’s best storytelling festivals with a large contingent of Welsh storytellers and guest storytellers from every continent.

The festival will be celebrating its 25th anniversary July 7th – 9th in 2018, so treat yourself to over 100 performances of musicians and from storytellers from different cultures.  However, if you can’t make it to a live event then don’t despair, they have created an online storytelling site where your children can listen to stories in the comfort of their own homes for a yearly subscription of £11.95. You can subscribe for yourself or if you want to, give a subscription as a gift. Throughout the year, more storytellers will be adding their tales to the site, so your purchase will be an ever expanding one… neverending stories!

When I listened to the stories on Beyond Storytime I was transported back in time to  putting my youngest child to bed. After the requisite story I read to her most nights, she would listen to stories on CD’s. She had definite favourites that she played over and over again. They brought her comfort and helped her settle at night. I trusted those stories in the same way I trust the stories on Beyond Storytime.

Most of them are traditional tales or adaptations thereof, and the voices of the tellers are authentic and lyrical. Complete with talking animals, fairies and dragons, plus a generous helping of Welsh folklore, the collection is unique and diverse.

If you are looking for the perfect gift that expresses love and keeps our oral traditions alive, then subscribe today.

Beyond Storytime

Photo by Roman W. Schatz

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Making a Difference… or Not

There comes  a time, and it comes with increasing frequency, to reflect on the purpose of my work. According to Will Durant’s definition, We are what we repeatedly do. (Will Durant 1885-1981) I’m  a storyteller, a writer and a musician and if called for, I can elaborate on the genre, medium and style of my practice. However, the diversity and context  of my work has changed over the years and I find myself opting for a more general and inclusive term to describe my work – artist.

I am an artist. I am no more special than any other human being, and my work is no more important than anyone else’s, or less for that matter. Obviously if your house is burning down you want to have a firefighter on hand, not a storyteller, and if you have a brain tumour you want a neurosurgeon not a ukulele player.

Generally speaking, artists don’t ‘save’ lives, so we don’t fall into the ‘heroic’ category of workers. However many of us in the arts education and health and well-being field believe our work can improve the lives of others, and this is at the heart of what we do. We want to make a difference.

One of the first things many artists are told when working with marginalised people or undertaking community development or health education projects that address ‘big’ issues in communities or sections of them, is ‘don’t think you can make a difference,’ or words to that effect. We are reminded that we are ‘not the first to try and make changes here,’ and that we ‘shouldn’t expect too much.’ Health workers and educators may also be greeted with similar sentiments. Rest assured I have spent many hours reflecting on the impact of my work and whether I and other community artists make a difference.

Evaluating the work of artists in communities is problematic because evidence-based programmes and projects often expect the artist to also be the researcher. The fashion of having everyone do everything does not lead to excellence. It’s not the democratisation of skills (unless people want to learn them).  That, a reliance on quantitative rather than qualitative methodology, (numbers versus stories)  and a lack of sustainable funding has meant that many arts programmes are not ongoing or connected to each other.

So why do I continue to be an artist and not a (substitute what you like)? I have listed a few examples of why I believe my work makes a difference. It may not make a difference to a lot of people but to make a difference in one person’s life is enough for me.

The two year Storytelling for Literacy and Connectedness Programme had many outcomes, from picking up on children’s hearing problems to strengthening their relationships with their carers. However one outcome stood out for me.  A young mother told me she read a book. Seeing the joy her children experienced from being read to and told stories in the storytimes, we brought to the young mothers group, inspired her to want that for herself. She hadn’t read a book since being at school, and then she only read the prescribed texts because she had to. Now she chose to read a book for her own pleasure. Modelling storytelling and story reading is empowering and now she was modelling to her children.

Over my three decades of storytelling I have twice considered the impact of storytelling on people who found it difficult to communicate their responses. In the first instance I would visit a group of people with Alzheimer’s disease and conduct reminiscence sessions, telling stories set in Australia during the 1930’s and 40’s. A worker told me not to worry because half my group went to sleep. She reassured me that  the stories relaxed them and made them content. One woman was often in an anxious state and picking at her clothes, when the sessions began but by the end was showing much calmer behaviour. Another of the ‘awake’ participants told the worker that at the end of a session she felt very happy. She didn’t know why she was happy, she just was. I learnt from this, the power of being in the moment and that the emotions experienced listening to stories are more important than the stories themselves.

At the Support Unit at my local primary school I spent a number of years playing music and storytelling with children who had disabilities, some with severe and life threatening illnesses. While some children were active participants, others, because of their illnesses could listen but it was difficult for me to gauge their responses. Working closely with the teachers and aides helped me to interpret individual responses and interact accordingly.  A child who I mistakenly thought was happy because she was was smiling was in fact, fitting. As I got to know the children over the years and in consultation with the aids, I became familiar enough with their verbalisations and movements to be able to understand when they were engaged in the storytelling. They taught me about being in the present, spontaneity and communication, and I will be forever grateful for their teaching.

As an artist I have learnt the following and much more:

I am not an engineer who can build a bridge across treacherous terrain that will shorten the distance and make it safer for children to walk to school, but I can build a bridge of desire for knowledge, where a child can learn from and care for others.

I am not a surgeon who can restore a limb, remove a cancer or heal a broken body, but I can facilitate the telling of a story to demand justice, heal pain and ease sufffering.

I am not a farmer who grows food to nourish family, friends and community, but I can plant seeds into the minds of young people so that they will grow and mature into productive, resilient and beneficial human beings.

Artists Can Make a Difference

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Photo by Roman W Schatz

The Story of Philosophy: the Lives and Opinions of the Greater Philosophers by Will Durant,(1924) New York: Simon & Schuster

Storyteller: Best Job in the World!

I have the best job in the world! A contentious statement I admit, but I will stand by my words. There are so many reasons why I believe this and chief among them is the people that I work with, primarily children and librarians. Of course there’s also parents, teachers, artists, musicians, healers and advocates for social justice who enhance the mix.
During the past month I have had the pleasure of conducting storytelling and oral literature workshops to staff at an early childhood centre in South Korea and two groups of public librarians in Australia. In each instance I parted with a feeling that the material I shared would in turn be be passed on to the children in their care. And that is my intention; I want to be a conduit for quality stories and rhymes.
There are easily accessible written sources, including my own, for presenting oral literature, however, there is nothing like a live language experience to feel the power of oral storytelling. This is why everyone, babies through to elders enjoy storytelling and oral literature in its many forms. The best evidence for this assertion is on a child’s face when they are experiencing storytelling. Even before children can talk, they can enjoy songs, rhymes, stories and being read to. Here are some pictures from the Baby Bounce sessions I am presenting in June through the Clarence Valley Libraries in NSW.

 

The Three Sillies

There was once a young man who went a courting a young woman. Each night he would visit her house and her parents would welcome him to the fireside and pour him a mug of cider. This night they ran out of cider and the girl’s father sent her down to the cellar to draw some more from the barrel. The girl put her jug underneath the tap and let the cider out. As she did so she looked up at the ceiling and saw an axe blade lodged in the beam.

‘Oh my,’ she thought, ‘what if I were to marry my sweetheart and then we were to have a son and he grew up into a fine young man who came down here to the cellar to draw some cider and that axe head dislodged itself and fell on his head and killed him?’

And she wept, and her weeping soon turned to sobs and there she sat in the middle of a puddle of cider, bawling her eyes out.

After a time, the mother began to worry about where her daughter was, so went down to the cellar, where she found her in a right mess. She sat down beside her and asked the cause of her sorrow. The girl explained and the mother too was upset by what could happen to her future grandson that she joined her daughter and they wept together.

Upstairs the father was wondering where his daughter and wife were, so he came down to the cellar to find them both huddled in a puddle of cider crying their eyes out. When he asked the cause of their distress his wife explained, then he too set up a wailing about what terrible future awaited his grandson.

Meanwhile the young suitor was puzzled by the absence of his sweetheart and her parents and descended the stairs to find the cellar flooded and all three overcome with grief. He went straight to the barrel and turned off the tap then asked the cause of the distress. When his sweetheart explained, he looked up at the ceiling and laughed.

‘I’ve never met three sillier people in all my life,’ he said, ‘but I will go out into the world to see if I can find some, and if I do I will come back and marry you next week.’
With that he set off up the stairs and out into the wide world, in search of  sillier folk than his sweetheart and her parents.

It wasn’t long before he came upon a woman who was pushing her cow up a ladder on to the roof of her house.

‘Why are you doing this?’ he asked.
‘Because there is fresh green grass growing on the roof and I want my cow to have it,’ she answered.
‘But why not cut the grass and toss it down?’ he continued.

The woman gave one mighty shove and the cow was now standing on the roof.

‘Because,’ she answered.
‘So are you going to stay up on the roof with the cow while she eats the grass?’
‘I’ve got better things to do than watch my cow eat grass,’ she replied, ‘I will be inside doing my chores.’
‘But what if your cow falls off the roof?’ he asked.
‘I’ll stop her,’ she muttered. ‘I’m very attached to my cow and won’t let anything like that happen. I’ve tied a rope around her neck and I’ll feed it down the chimney then when I’m inside the house I’ll tie that rope to my wrist and that way I’ll make sure my cow doesn’t fall,’ she said.

The man shook his head as she climbed down the ladder and went inside.

‘I think that is a silly idea,’ he said and walked away. ‘Now I know there’s at least one sillier woman than my sweetheart.’

That night he was approaching an inn when a fellow carrying a rake ran up to him and said, ‘Have you heard the news about the double death?’
‘No,’ he said.
’Silliest thing,’ said the fellow, ‘ a cow got hung from the roof of a house and her owner got suffocated in the chimney. Folks say she was very attached to that cow.’
The young man shook his head and surveyed the older man in front of him.

‘Tell me sir, where are you off to this night with a rake?’
‘It’s that time of the month again, when the moon falls into the river and we all take rakes and brooms and shovels to try and get it out. You can help,’ he said. ‘Follow me.’

The two hurried to a river where the whole village were roaming up and down the banks dipping their implements into the water and shouting. The young man looked up at the full moon rising and said to his companion, ‘ Look up into the sky man. The moon’s still there. That’s just its reflection in the water.’

A chorus of laughter greeted him.
‘You’re looking at the sun my good fellow,’ said his companion. ‘Don’t be looking up there, look in the water, that’s where the moon is, and we have to try and get it out before it drowns.’

After a few more attempts to persuade the moonrakers to give up their senseless quest, the young traveller returned to the inn and passed the night there. He had found a whole village of people sillier than his prospective in-laws.

The following morning he was awakened by the sound of thumping against the wall and upon investigation saw a man jumping off a cupboard in an attempt to get into his trousers which he had slung over a chair. He decided there and then to show the man a simpler way to put his trousers on. The fellow was very grateful to have been shown this simple trick and thanked the traveller profusely. However as the young man left he heard thumping again, and turned to see that the trouserwearer was attempting to leapfrog into his shoes. He shook his head in dismay and left the inn, determined to return home and marry his sweetheart. The following evening he asked permission to marry her.

‘So we are not the silliest people in the world after all,’  said the young bride to be.
‘Not by a long shot,’ he replied. ‘I have encountered many sorts of silliness,’ he replied. ’The silliness of being too attached to something, the silliness of not looking at a situation from different perspectives and the silliness of replacing bad habits with more bad habits.’
‘And what of my silliness?’ she asked.
‘The silliness of not living in the present can bring much needless grief,’ he said, and reached for his sweetheart’s hand. ‘So let us forget the past and not worry about the future but enjoy living now.’

And so they were married in the Spring and the following year they had a son who grew into a fine young man who was a credit to his parents and his grandparents, and he lived to be a wise old man who told silly stories. And this is one of them.

 

axe

Photo: The Zealous Axeman  by Atlanta Clapton