Thursday, October 27, 2011

The day in the life of a storyteller

Well maybe not a day, maybe an extended day ending on Sunday morning! 

I had three performances on Saturday, and all were outdoors.  I left the house on Saturday morning at 8.15 am for the first performance in Lebanon, NH at the Food Coop in Centerra Place.  I set everything up, did a sound check, got a little shopping in and then walked around telling families I was about to begin, trying to pull an audience together.  As I told my tales the audience grew, and I shared, over the almost two hours, quite a few stories!  Some were requested by fans who knew my work, others I told were new to them.  I looked at the faces and saw enjoyment, but then as I began packing up, a couple of families arrived saying they thought I started later, so we sat down and I told a couple of other tales which I enjoyed. It is funny, but as I had been packing up I had felt like something was not quite right in me ending, so telling more with those folks just arriving, seemed to put things right.

I packed up my gear and headed north to Lyme NH for their town's 250 year celebration.  Again it was outdoors and the humidity, which had begun high was getting higher.  The place which had been set up was next to a banqueting tent where a band were playing.   They were very good, but I would not be heard over the music, and I did not have any intention of starting a volume war with my PA system!  That would help no one.  We looked at other spots and then discovered that the band were were ending when I was due to begin!  This was a very large event and different people were in charge of different things so organizers were not aware of all the logistics - the event was so big with a lot going on throughout the day and evening.  Once I was set up and put on a fresh (and by this I mean clean!) shirt I waited for the band to end at 1 pm.  They did another song and then started another.  I explained to the organizer that I had to leave at 2 pm as I had a gig in southern Vermont later that afternoon; the longer they played, the less I could tell.  I began about 15 minutes late, but it was a good group and a real mix of people.  I had children wearing diapers, an elderly couple sitting holding hands, teens, young families and a guy covered with tattoos.  Some sat down and listened, some hovered listening to a tale or two and then leaving, others stood thinking they would leave after 'this tale' but staying for the next and listening to the entire 55 minute set.  The band played late because they and their audience were enjoying themselves.

The band in Lyme were not the only band I was to hear that day as later, when I was in Wilmington, Vermont I got to listen to a blues band.  I arrived in time to set everything up again for the third time, PA system included, and changed into another shirt!  The humidity had not lessened and I had come prepared!

In Wilmington there was a street party going on which was another day-and-into-the-evening event.  My contact,  was wonderful and helped set everything and as it began to spot with light rain, she found a tent to put the audience under.  I sat outside of the tent enjoying the lady-rain, the drizzle, that lightly fell.  Some of the stories I told that day were duplicated but some were not.  One thing about performing a lot in one day is that you can tell a larger family of stories.  It keeps me fresh and I not have think - did I tell that bit yet, or was that at the last performance?  A fear that haunts busy days, but one that did not play that Saturday.  It was a similar event in the  way that some folks came and went to explore other activities that were going on, but some stayed for the long haul despite the damp, some even stood with umbrellas.  Although I was mainly telling to those in the tent, when I looked up at those around I amazing and thrilled at the number of people standing, listening.  The power of story is incredible and not to be under estimated.  It was great to see people smiling in the wet.

After I was packed away, I wandered around looking at everything that was going on and stood in the rain listening to a really good blues band complete with sax.  They sounded great and appreciation was shown by a couple of young kids and grown-ups dancing along to the fabulous music, on the road in the rain.

I got home at around 9.15 pm. and brought myself, my drum and the mail indoors, unpacked some of my stuff, read the mail and went to bed.

On Sunday morning I got up late, fed the animals, got myself some breakfast, made a cup of tea and listened to the CD which had arrived the day before in the post.  It was, of course, a storytelling CD!  It started my day off well.  I wrote a blog review of the CD that you can find here on A World of Stories -CD Love Story Review.

My ego likes to think it is me people are watching and listening to, but in reality it is not me at all.  When I am doing my job properly I am not even there.  It is the stories that draw people in and keep them listening.  I find myself constantly amazed at how powerful stories are.  Why else would someone stand in the rain with or without an umbrella and watch me?  There was a street full of activities and the smell of good food was everywhere.  It is the stories, and I am blessed to be able to tell a good story and be able to try to make this my living.

Also see Laura Packer's blog: on a different day in a life of a storyteller!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

True Stories, Honest Lies: Storytelling in a suit: the art and craft of business storytelling

True Stories, Honest Lies: Storytelling in a suit: the art and craft of business storytelling
This post by Laura Packer is well worth a read.  In fact many, if not all the posts on Laura's blog are worth reading.  More companies these days are looking to better themselves in the market place where things are very tough right now.  Storytelling can help and storytellers have the skills to help.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Recording Family Stories

My grandfather on his own milk wagon with milk from his own farm.
When I was growing up I loved visiting with my Grandad.  Even in my late teens and early twenties I would ride my push bike over to their house to be with my Grandad.  I loved talking with him and finding out what he had done in his life, although just being in his presence was good enough for me.  He died in 1981.  One thing I miss is the sound of his voice.  Sometimes I hear it loud and clear and sometimes I forget what he sounds like.  My mum has a tape of him but I need to get it digitized so I can listen to it again!  When I last visited my grandmother this year at a rocking 91 years of age, I took a voice recorder with me.  I will now never lose the sound of her voice and hope that I can covert it to whatever the next form of storage will be be next along, so my children can hear it too, long into the future!

These days more and more people come from far-away places.  Not only are people moving from India or China, Europe or Japan to work in the States, but people simply find they have to move to do what they do, or do what they love.  And as a result our loved ones are not seen as often as we might like.  I met a family from India over the summer and asked if the kids' grandmother was in America, or back in India.  She was far away.  I asked if she ever told the kids stories.  Yes on the phone.  Does she visit?  Yes she does.  Do you record her stories?  No, haven't thought about that.  So here are some thoughts that you might want to use, or share with others.

Although it is always nice hearing the voice of a loved one who has passed away, if the sound of their voice is covered with hiss and static it does not make for easy listening.  What I use is a higher end voice recorder but you can pick up very good voice recorders for a fairly reachable price.  A voice recorder that is worth it's salt will start at around $90.00, a lot less than an iPod or iTouch.  And less than going out for a nice meal somewhere.

Brands I know that have good quality products are: Zoom, Tascam and Edirol.  Zoom is the cheapest and does a great job.  The Edirol are at the higher end and Tascam falls in between.  All are comparable.  All have an on and off, record, stop and pause switch, all have high quality built-in microphones.  Almost all of them take SD cards which are easy to find.  They all record at or above CD quality which means you can play around and edit with no detectable loss of quality.  I record at 24 bits, although CDs are 16 bits.  Some of the higher end machines can take external microphones.  But adding a cheap external mic might give a much lower sound quality than the built-in mics.

You want the microphone as close to the person speaking as possible.  Sometime people get self-conscious when they see a shining, flashing object they know is recording them.  It might help to cover it up with a light weight open weave material so they can forget about it.  The open weave will allow the sound through, but try out different materials before hand so you don't end up muffling the person's voice that is so important to you.

Make sure the voice recorder is plugged in to the mains if you want to sit and record for a long time.  If you use only battery power, you never know if the batteries might die, or the machine (my Edirol does this) might turn itself off after a while.  Hit the record button and let it run.  Ask leading questions and not hard questions.  Sometimes if you ask a person what their school was like, they may say 'Just like any school' but if you ask 'what colour it was inside, what did it smell and sound like walking down the corridors,' they are more likely  to tell you more than you expected.  "Where did you hide if you had to," might get some interesting answers!  Follow a question like 'who was your best friend' with, something like: "I bet you got into all sorts of trouble" and wait for the tales to start rolling.  Show them something from the past and ask them about it.  My Gran told me the story of a tea cosy made by a lost aunt, when I saw her in January. Old photographs also make good triggers.  And then, of course, you have to ask what their favourite story was growing up and see if they can tell it.  "Remind me - what's that story about?" is much more likely to get them telling, than, "Can you tell me the story?" which might get a healthy "NO!"

You can edit the recording down using free share-ware such as Audacity - a great product with a great following, which  also happens to be easy to use!  You can cut out the long silences.  If it is too quiet you can amplify it.  But bare in mind that when you amplify their voice you will also amplify all the background noises too.  This is why you want the mic to be as close to the speaker as possible.

When you go to my own website - - and go to the FREE STUFF pages you will find audio files you can stream of stories I have recorded just this way - a simple voice recorder and a Digital Audio Workstation like Audacity. Remember that none of us live forever and to capture the voice of those close to you is a treasure indeed.

If you would like to listen to the Teller to Teller Conference call I did with League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling on Producing and Promoting a CD, one track at a time, it contains more tips and advise for recording and can be obtained by contacting Yvonne Therese Zinicola at lanesdirector@GMAIL.COM or by going to the LANES website at: