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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The Koala Went Cooee

I teach through story and song. Not only are these effective mediums for passing on information and inspiring an interest in the pursuit of knowledge, they are in and of themselves fun, even joyous experiences. That is reason enough for my vocation as a storyteller and musician. And why I have decided to focus on performing The Koala Went Cooee concerts to preschools, playgroups and storytimes in 2016.

In collaboration with Roman (my companion in arts education, philosophising and food gathering) we will be presenting 30-45 minute music and storytelling concerts featuring songs from our CD of the same name. 

I began writing the songs a decade ago during my artist residency at Sea Acres Rainforest Centre in Port Macquarie, NSW. I was engaged to collect the stories of the people, flora and fauna in this national park. Songs like Goanna about the relationship between the brush turkeys and the lace monitor lizards were the result of studying the reptiles and birds indigenous to that area. However I included songs about other Australian fauna, not native to the region, such as wombats, emus and crocodiles and produced the CD with 24 songs and a downloadable booklet of activities.

The most important component of storytelling and music is listening. This can be undertaken in private or within a group. Every child has their listening preferences. I am a firm believer in the notion that familiarity breeds confidence,  in regard to listening. That’s why children often ask to be read the same story over and over again. They love repetition because their anticipation is successfully rewarded. “I know that!” They will often retell a story they are being read or join in reciting a rhyme if they have heard it enough times. Their expressive language skills are developed as a result of their developing listening confidence.

I love being able to work ‘live’ with children, but also have the resources available for them to deepen and build on their listening experience. I see arguing what is a better children’s literature experience;  reading out loud to them or storytelling, in the same light as comparing the merits of live music listening experiences to  recorded ones. In each case they are complementary and individuals may have personal preferences. I am happy to be able to offer a range of choices through both performances and cds.

Photo taken by Roman Schatz at a concert at Sea Acres Rainforest Centre, Port Macquarie, Australia 

 

Storytellers Journey

The journey metaphor is a common one in storytelling discourse. Many storytellers view themselves as guides; expansive, informative, nurturing or laconic, each teller possessing their own unique presentation style, and the story itself is a journey that the listener embarks upon. A traveller may traverse the same track many times or a listener hear the same story told by different tellers, but this does not mean that their experience of the journey will be the same each time.  The Greek philosopher Heraclitus succinctly puts the view that ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.’

Like the hiking guide, a storyteller has a duty of care to those who consent to be taken on the journey. This includes preparing their listeners for the story and then bringing them to the end of the tale. If, along the way, the listener chooses to leave the storyteller’s company, then that is their prerogative.  In the same way a hiker may turn back, reasoning that they cannot complete their trek, the story listener can also leave off listening, and if they want, leave the storytelling space altogether. But how far is the storyteller accountable for their listener’s departure?

It is only the storyteller’s responsibility for a listener leaving a concert if the teller has not informed or has misinformed the audience as to the content or length of the performance. Generally speaking, the storyteller aims to create a moving experience for the listener. Storytelling may evoke an emotional response, an illumination of meaning or forge a connectivity in the listener. However for storytelling to occur, it is mandatory to have a listener!  Ensuring that the audience knows what to expect helps achieve satisfaction for both the teller and the audience. However the storyteller is not responsible for an informed listener’s interpretation or response to a story.

While it is not usual for a listener to run screaming from the room or a particular section of an audience to leave en masse in my storytelling concerts, I have experienced both of these responses. In the first, a child with special needs was frightened by a balloon I was using to tell a visual story and in the second, a private party with a request by the organisers for strong women stories proved to be a challenge for the anti-feminist men present, who left in protest. Both instances taught me a valuable lesson. It is not enough to know thyself, I also need to know thy audience! Not that this is always possible, but my experience of telling to a wide range of people has given me an insight into the power of storytelling to effect a strong response in a listener. This is one of the reasons I am a storyteller, and I want the power of story to be shared with everyone.

Photo by Roman W. Schatz

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The Three Dolls

The following Indian story is one of my favourites. It is the story that guides my life as a listener.
The Three Dolls
There was once a King who received an anonymous gift. He servants brought him a box deposited on the steps of the castle. He opened the box and found inside a note and three dolls. The note read, ‘Are you wise enough to discern the difference between each doll?’
The king removed each doll in turn and laid it out upon a table. For the rest of the morning he set about discovering how the dolls differed from each other. He examined them closely, bringing all his senses to bear, and by mid morning concluded that there was no difference at all between them. However, he was dissatisfied with his verdict and decided to call on a certified ‘wise man’ to inspect the dolls. 
The next day the chosen advisor sat before the King and listened to his request. He then closeted himself in the King’s chamber and carried out his investigation. By evening he emerged and presented his findings to the King.
‘I am unable to tell you anything about these dolls. There is no difference between them. Thank you.’ And with that he left.
The King was stunned. All day the wise man had spent with the dolls, only to come up with the same conclusion that he himself had reached. In frustration he thumped the table and blurted, ‘I may as well have asked a fool to look at them!’
As if on cue the door burst open and the court jester  cart-wheeled across the floor.
‘You called your Highness,’ he announced, ‘how can I be of assistance?’
The king looked at the jester and replied, ‘Well as a matter of fact you can’t be any more useless than the wise man. Can you find any difference between these three dolls?’
The fool took the dolls with an exclamation of pleasure and began to juggle them.
The king watched the performance and at the end of the performance the jester replaced the dolls and bowed before the King.
‘Your majesty I can say with all the certainty of a fool that there is no difference at all between these three dollies.’
‘Dismissed,’ grumbled the King, and the court jester left the room.
As the days passed, the King grew more obsessed with the dolls and finding their differences. Finally he called all of his advisors for a conference and one of them timidly but forward the possibility of a storyteller being called in.
The King was willing to try anything and so the local teller of tales was brought forth. A woman of a certain age and experience she listened to the King’s story of the dolls and who had already tried and failed in their attempts to find the differences.
‘She was,’ he stated, ‘a last resort.’ 
He rose to leave the room so she could go about her business, but the storyteller bade him stay.
‘Storytelling requires both a listener and a teller. ‘
Unused to being told what to do the King was a little taken aback.
‘Now,’ she continued, ‘listen while I tell you a story.’
She picked up the first doll and looked at it. 
‘I will need your assistance, your Highness,’ she said, ‘could you offer me your head?’
The king jumped up.
‘You seek my crown?’ he bellowed.
‘No dear King,’ she said, ‘I have enough hats. What I want is this.’
So saying she plucked a solitary hair from his head and then proceeded to feed it into the ear of the first doll, until it disappeared.
‘This is the doll of the wise man,’ she declared. ‘He listens, taking in every word and keeping it deep within his heart.’
She then requested the King to offer his head once more and subsequently plucked another hair. She then proceeded to feed it through the ear of the second doll and pull it out through the other ear.
‘This doll,’ she declared, ‘belongs to the fool. What he hears goes in one ear and out the other.’
She then picked up the third doll and the King, anticipating her request lowered his head. She pulled out one final hair and proceeded to feed it into the ear of the third doll and then pull it out again through the doll’s mouth.
‘This doll is the storyteller’s doll,’ she said. ‘What she hears she passes on to others.’
The King was thrilled with the storyteller’s appraisal of the dolls.
‘Which doll is the most valuable then?’ he asked.
The storyteller smiled and addressed the King.
‘There are times when you will be like the wise man and privy to stories that must be kept in the strictest confidence. Not shared with another person, but kept in silence in your heart. And there are times when you will hear tales that are not worthy of retaining or repeating but must be treated like the foolish words they are; going in one ear and out the other. And finally there are stories that you are beholden to pass on to others. Stories that must be kept alive through their retelling. Each of the dolls teaches us that everything has a value. Wisdom is knowing which doll to employ when we listen to another.’
And with that the storyteller bid the King farewell, and the King resumed his business, a wiser and happier man.

Sources:

This Indian story is also known as The Three Statues and a source for it can be found online 
However in this version it is the wise man’s statue is valued the most. In David Novak’s version in Ready-To-Tell Tales edited by David Holt and Bill Mooney August House 1995, the storyteller is presented with unraveling the difference between them all and concludes with an explanation with an interesting twist, which I won’t spoil for you but encourage you to read his version. 
As I mostly tell this story in a workshop situation I have chose to show the value of each method of listening, depending on its context.

 

headspace (2009),  wire sculpture, Roman W. Schatz
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