Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review - Elisa Pearmain’s “Forgiveness”

Elisa Pearmain’s “Forgiveness” – Collection of folk tales, workshop, or counseling?

Cover of CD
We all need forgiveness, or to forgive, even ourselves. ElisaPearmain’s double CD set “Forgiveness” is a must-have on many different levels. First there are the stories themselves. But this is not simply a collection of good folk tales, well told.  This is a collection of stories and knowledge which has been put together, very thoughtfully, as a program which uses stories to teach and to heal.

There is the glimpse at Pearmain’s skills, and gifts, as a counselor.  She brings to the front of the CD the forgiveness which is inherent in the stories Elisa has chosen and shares with us on the 2 CDs.  She teaches, through these stories, how we can learn to forgive (ourselves and others), exploring what we need to do first to be able to forgive and/or receive forgiveness.  Pearmain allows us to look at ourselves in a new light through these tales, and from that spring board, how we can grow.  The way the stories and narrative between the tales is presented, is not preachy or cloying.  Pearmain’s voice is guiding, gentle and strong.

“Forgiveness” also gives us the treat to discover, if we have not already done so, Elisa the storyteller, and what a strong storyteller she is.  Her delivery is natural, pacing immaculate, and her voice and style makes it wonderful to listen to.  She invokes sadness and joy in her telling, and each tale is given a power that few can deliver as well as Pearmain; more so, in the context of which she shares the stories.

The 15 tales (and the 8 sections they share) themselves come from many different cultures, traditions and countries. Two are personal stories: one of Pearmain’s own, and one from another primary source, and shared with permission.  These stories add to the power of the program, proving that one is ‘not alone’ in suffering or grief. There are also teachings, ritual, and meditation included to help understand, travel through, and learn.  The eight sections take us from ‘Getting Started’, and ‘Empathy’ through to ‘Letting Go of Anger’ concluding with ‘The Forgiving Stance’. Each section contains at least one story with a reflection or exercise to aid the listener “and those they serve to heal…[to] live more joyfully in the present”.

One could buy the 2 CD set for the tales alone: they are worth ever penny.  One could also buy the CDs for therapy work, or as a gift for those close to us who may be in need of such a program.  15 stories, plus the teachings included on the 2 CD program are very much worth the $22.50.  For more details on the stories, where the stories come from (there are very good sources here), and details on how to purchase Elsia Pearmain’s recorded “Forgiveness” program, please visit:

If Elisa Pearmain ever offered a workshop which is based around this program, or brought out a book, to explore and expand this program, I for one would be on board.

Artwork by Simon Brooks, copyright 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Not the Three Little Pigs! How a fractured fairy tale came to be!

Part of the art of storytelling is working on the fly: improvisation.  Storytellers do it all the time.  As a live performer, especially working with kids, you get people calling out every once in while, making some comment and you have the choice to ignore it, or acknowledge it, or work it into the story.  Sometimes people want to share their own story, and if we did not have time limits and were not being paid to tell stories, we could listen to all the stories people had to offer, all day long but we can't.  Sometimes people jump up to join in (class clown)! Some people have something to offer.
Art by Simon Brooks, Copyright 2014

This weekend I went to perform at a birthday party. I was told the theme was Spiders and having spoken with 'mom' I had a few other stories ready for the party too.  One was the English story of the Three Little Pigs. When I arrived it was a chilly but beautiful evening. The sun was about to set.  The family had made a canvas sheet for the kids to sit on and there was a rocking chair under the tree with some lanterns above it for me. The canvas had a spider web on it. So of course I open with the story of how Ananzi Received Stories. I did another story which I had discussed with mom and was about to start another requested story, The Three Little Pigs.  One of the birthday girls' friends said: "Because it is a spider party, could you tell it a spiders?" And because she asked so nicely, without thinking I immediately said: "Yes." And then started the tale. I left aside the whole notion of spiders building webs, there was no way I could 'write out' or eliminate the three different houses in that moment. Then came the huffing and puffing.  Birds cannot huff. I am not sure wolves really could, but we will let that pass. Birds really can't.  So this bird kind of coughed and then got a passing wolf to help. Birds also cannot smell. Fact. So how can the bird follow the scent of the spider? Ah! The spider left a fine thread for the bird to follow to the next house! No more wolves helping out - wings! It used it's wings to knock the house down. Great! Bird follows the two silver threads to the house of bricks etc etc. Then I followed and ended with Ananzi's Hat Shaking Dance! It was such a great night and I have to say I could have spent the whole evening telling tales to that family and the birthday girls' friends.

For the full story of  The Three Little Spiders go to my website: > Free Stuff, scroll down and click on link to Story and click on the image of the Raven!

There is something very satisfying about being challenged, rising to the challenge, and making it work.  The kids loved it and even helped the story along. Storytelling shows by example that the imagination is a powerful thing, that knowing how to create with storytelling gives strength to the imagination. Without imagination, one could never think out of the box and the Three Little Pigs would be just that - The Three Little Pigs, and we would have no "Little Bad Wolf and Red Riding Hood" or "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" and one of our favourites at home, "The Three Little Wolves and the Big, Bad Pig."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words - or is it?

I read a lot.  I read for pleasure (currently into the fabulous 'Life' by Keith Richards and James Fox), many of which get added to the list of books I have read so far this year here on my blog.  I read many anthologies and collections of folktales and fairy tales and poetry too (which I do not list due to the number!), and also for my audio book work (which can be seen on!  But I am also a photographer.  I studied photography at at the Hereford College of Art on Folly Lane in Hereford and it was my only income for a good number of years as I made a living taking photographs, trying to tell stories with a shot or series of photographs.  I also love artwork of many kinds and have a passion or a love of sorts for graphic design and illustration work.

So, when I go dumpster diving at libraries, or rummage through things left at the transfer station or at yard sales, I often look for book titles either to read, to admire, or yes, strip.  Strip?  Sometimes there are books which are beginning to go moldy but which have great illustrations in them or photographs, or they have great covers.  Some of the old and molding books get stripped of all their pages and I made journals from the covers (I am still trying to perfect these.  It is fun to write in an old book legitimately)!  Sometimes I remove the pictures only and leave the books in the dumpster.  Bringing home books going moldy is not an option.

I have a collection of artwork from many books and one day I will do a project with some of them. Sometimes illustrations get pasted on to or in letters to friends or family, but recently  when I was looking at some illustrations there seemed to be a little disconnect between the caption under the image and the image itself.  Mostly it had to do with the expressions on the character's faces. One struck me in particular from Sir Walter Scott's "Quentin Durward', a book I admit I have never read!  It looks like a love scene.  The heroine, or damsel in distress, has her hands clutched (by Quentin) over her heart.  As she looks at her presumed lover, she is quoted as saying: "Durward!  Is it you? Then there is some hope left." But looking at her face she seems, well, not so convincing. And my 11 year old inner self took over and I thought, 'she's looking up his nose and there is something up there!' I began to look more carefully at the expressions of the characters in the other illustrations and sure enough there were grounds to play and speech and thought bubbles came to my mind.
The above was the first of four I, er, messed around with.  The others will be going up on my Facebook account.  In each I have left the original caption.  Now look closely at our heroine's face.  Does it really say "there's hope" or does it say "I am slightly uncomfortable here" with the look in her eyes and raised shoulders?

And so I ask: if a picture can speak a thousand words, what is it REALLY saying?

To see the other pictures I have re-captioned, visit my Facebook page!  They will be going live over the next few days!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Apple Season

A tisket, a tasket, a blue apple basket!
Apple Basket by Simon Brooks, copyright 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Branding! A story of who we are?

A recent discussion occurred on the Storytellers Facebook page.  It seems may people have different reactions to 'branding'.  My colleague Karen Chace (a professional storyteller and researcher whom I have a huge amount of respect for) and I created a workshop on branding called: "Branding, It Doesn't Have to Hurt!"  Some people do not like the word brand and I can identify with that! Was that pun intentional?

I think what most people don't realize is that everything has a 'brand' of some kind.  Even some people have a 'brand' - who do you know is known for whacky socks, or strange hats, or braces/suspenders, or tie dye shirts, or wears the same type of clothes all the time (other than Tomm Wolf)? That can all be a form of branding.  Even the glasses some of us wear! And brands change over time.  A lot of change has to do with perception, fashion, management, needs, or personal choice!

However, branding usually tells people who we are as a business, product, or organization.  It's about our image, what we do, and how we present ourselves and act in the world.  A brand can incorporate our ethics and sometimes brands change because of our business.  WorldCom (who began as LDDS for Long Distance Discount Services) were a fabulous company that bought MCI and became MCI WorldCom.  The MCI was dropped and the company reverted to WorldCom, but kept the MCI star, although reversed in direction. Certain accounting practices pretty much destroyed the company, which then went back to MCI, trying to hide the WorldCom negative past history, and is now owned by  Verizon! WorldCom crashed from being a major contender rivaling AT&T, almost overnight.

You can look at Jason Mraz and know him by his now almost iconic pork pie hats.  We know Nike by the 'swoosh', and Coke by it's swish!  Although Starbucks has changed its logo over the years, we still recognize it, from the brown, twin-tailed siren, to pretty much just her face and hair (the twin tails looking like something she is holding, almost off camera, as it were) - now in green.  We can see these 'things' and know what they are and where they come from.  There is an app available where you can guess the company from the brand or logo image! Go and try it out.  It's free!

Be aware, though, that Brand and Logo are not the same thing.  A logo is part of the brand.  The brand, as I see it, is the overall image a company, product or person (small business) has. The logo is part of that.  Other things make up a brand: type face, colour schemes, design styles, sometimes a brand includes 'the copy line' or 'by-line', the mission statement or organizations culture etc..  Take for example: "Just Do It" or "Lovin' It"!  Yeah, I know! But all those things come together to make a 'brand'.  My CDs have their own separate 'brand' with the circle image and type face: the style they have.

Originally, my letterhead, which was part of my brand, was a watercolour picture I had painted.  I moved from performing primarily at libraries for kids and families, to also working in colleges and for adult audiences and with businesses; I had to change my letterhead to reflect that additional business focus.

So the watercolour was dropped and I adopted a more serious black panel with my name in white letters (see top).  This is now used across all my stationary, and is part of my 'brand'. Another part of my 'brand' is what I have with me when I show up to perform or teach, whether at a school, college or business - my apple crate!  This became 'part of me' (the storyteller), and fits the 'storytelling image' I have in my mind.  It began as a simple way to cart all my gear around and have something to put my glasses and other 'bits' on:- a small table and carrying tool.  It carries everything I need, so I do not have to bother my host with requests for this and that. My bodhrán and backdrop are also part of my 'brand'! In some ways, I suppose even the little notebook/journal I always have - seen in the picture here - is also part of my 'brand'.  One of my patrons said they loved the apple crate as it felt like I was bringing part of my home with me!

When we look at these things across the board of our business or organization, we might see that we already have a brand without knowing it.  Some storytellers are known for the shoes they wear, or the way they paint their nails, a certain shawl, shirt, or hat they always wear when telling tales, or are known for their harp.  That is all part of their brand, knowingly or otherwise. Karen Chace is known and uses her ladybird (ladybug).

You could say that your brand is your schtick!  Your brand is YOU!  A brand, your brand is telling people the story of who you are, and what you do, and sometimes how you do it!

Some people don't like the word 'brand'. It comes from the tag, or logo, used for identifying livestock, usually burned or painted onto the skin, hair or fleece of the creature.  Some people feel that companies use their brand to present a false image, but those false images are usually found out and uncovered. Some companies use brand to sell things by brainwashing people, but we can only blame ourselves for letting that happen.

Neither the watercolour or the 'name black banner' are or were my my logo,
but are part of my brand! You might recognize my logo, however - it goes everywhere with me!
And that word - Brand!
Is there another word we could use?
Moniker? Not really, a moniker is a nick name.
Identifier? Maybe! The Collins Dictionary describes
an identifier as: "a person or thing that establishes the identity of someone or something." It's a bunch of 'things' which make up a brand!

So take a look at yourself and what you do, look at what others think you do, and see if you have a brand or identifier! And, if you need or want some help, the workshop Karen and I created can help you focus or fine tune your public and/or professional persona.  Contact us!  We are just a click away!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Growing Stories

A friend of mine, Marek Bennett, who is an artist, musician and teacher, wrote a blog about his forthcoming graphic (comic) travelog of his visit to Slovakia.  It gave me pause for thought about stories and how they grow. In his blog, Marek likens his book like transplanting cabbage! Read it, it is interesting.

In the vein of nothing now is truly original, and with Marek's permission, his blog inspired me to think about stories in a similar way.  Personal stories more so, because they are, well - personal.  Something happens to us, we see or hear something and a seed is planted inside us - the seed of a story.  If we ignore it, it will die and be lost.  Some stories we want to lose and forget, but sometimes those are the stories we should keep, nurture and try to explore and find meaning in.  Sometimes our hardest work is our most valuable.

So here are my thoughts on stories beginning as seeds:

1/. Choose a seed

Heirloom seeds could be considered our family stories, or historical stories.  But there are also our personal stories as mentioned above like those heard on The Moth, traditional folk and faerie stories, myths, legends, sacred stories, the list can go on forever.

2/. Seeds need to be planted in fertile soil
Our minds need to hold these stories, collect them, and store them, recall them.  We need to be creative for the stories to become strong.  We need imagination.  We need to be able to place ourselves IN the story to feel and see, hear and touch those things in the story

3/. Seeds need the right nutrients to grow
For a story to grow (and by that I do not mean add lies for embellishment) you need to work on it. Going back to school, you need to make sure that you have all the who's, what's, why's, where's, when's which's and the how's! Without these the listener might get lost, find the story confusing, not understand what is happening.  The who, what, why, when, when, which and how are the nutrients of the story and without these the story will become stilted, awkward or stunted.  Sue Black has a great resource for these nutrients on her website (which has a number of other teacher resources).

4/. Keep the seedlings indoors until chance of frost has gone
Stories can trick you and trip you, and likewise if a story is brought outdoors before it is strong enough, you could damage or kill the story.  Tell the stories; at first to yourself, to a voice recorder, a pet, a stuffy, the mirror, on a car ride!  This is keeping those seedlings safe until they have grown stronger. Then tell to a practice audience to get the real feeling of the story.  This is like bringing the plants out during the day, but back in at night.  In Laura Packer's recent blog "Eight Things I Learned From the Kansas City Fringe Festival" she says of working with a practice audience: "Because I am a storyteller and not confined to a word-for-word script, the story shifted each time. I loved hearing how some bits rose to the surface and others fell away as I danced with the audience." Personally I like to find those bits that rise in case this indicates something else I need to bring to the story, and not be surprised, although that is fun too, and how stories grow!

5/. Once frost has passed, plant outside in a steady light
Many traditional cultures say that stories are living things - something I strongly believe - and that they only live, or become alive, when told.  If you have never told a story and been In The Story you are telling, then try it.  Not reciting a story, but telling it. When you do, you will understand what I mean by stories are living things.  By now the story you have been growing and nurturing is strong enough to go outside and into the light of day.  Telling the story truly gives the story strength to grow more.  It's roots will go down deeper, the shoots will become thicker and longer, the flowers more radiant.

6/. It doesn't hurt to learn more about your plant as it grows
Long after I have been telling a tale, I have uncovered older versions, or variants, and by reading, listening or looking over these I might find things that were missing - maybe there was another who, what, why, when, when, which or how that I was unaware of and has been brought to light.  I can choose to add that nutrient to the story, or make the decision that the story is strong enough and the right shape and form, and has the right type and number of flowers for me to make it without those extra bits.

7/. Take care of your plant and: Enjoy!

The story has become itself. It has grown from a small seed, and you have nurtured it, but it is it's own being - I believe - and it will continue to grow and change.  It will stay strong if you keep telling it, and will grow weak if you leave it alone with no nourishment at all.  Just like a plant the story will need watering, take it out and tell it once in a while as you learn new stories.  You will never forget it; the story will not die if you have tended it well and look after it well.  And over time your mind will contain a beautiful garden filled with tales and stories to share.  Some will be family stories, some will be personal stories, and some will be the folk and faerie tales we all love so well.

To hear some of my stories, visit my website and go to Free Stuff! And if you are looking for other resources on my website you can find them at: Resources and in the Teacher's Room.

Marek's book is called Slovakia, Fall in the Heart of Europe and you can read some of it and see it's growth on one if his many working websites:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dream Tree Haus

Just playing around with ideas!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Who's dropping in for a story?

Balloons! Well, one bloody great big one!

So for the last few years, I have been privileged enough to be invited to a family camp in Vermont to tell tales.  It is a little over an hours drive away (although it was a lot closer before we moved to New London).  The 'patrons' of this camp vary.  The very first time I visited, it was for General Electric power players.  There are some groups I have told to, who are families of the Vermont Guard. Every week during the summer whilst the family camps run, I have gone up on a Sunday evening and told stories, mostly outdoors with the sun setting as I tell.  It is an amazing place.  There is an ambiance about it that is rarely found anywhere else I have gone.  It is almost a spiritual experience going there, for me, and I have heard the same from some of the families there too.

Today I journeyed north there.  I packed my gear in the car, my drum, my Irish Breakfast tea and a litre of water and off I went. I arrived and it was a beautiful evening.  The sky looking calm and dry, and the clouds were already catching some colour as I set up my apple box and tuned my drum.  People seated themselves around me after the bell was rung, with the lodge as my backdrop for the listeners, and the sky as the backdrop for me, behind them! Some people had seen me before, others had not.  This place is so great many families come back year after year. The kids were at the front on blankets, the parents, for the most part, on the Adirondack chairs and camp / lawn chairs behind the blankets.  There was some heckling from the kids, but we got underway and headed into the stories.

I began with a tale I was not planning on telling, but because we began talking about my drum and other musical instruments, I felt a musical story should be told, and it was perfect.  Although I do not tell this story often, I love it.  I first heard it told on Amy Friedman's CD Tell Me A Story 3: Women of Wonder. The story is an English story called The Cleverest Tune I did a few more other stories, ones I had planned on telling, and was into my last tale for the night: one of everyone's favourites, The Goat from the Hills and Mountains!  One of the parents pointed, from my angle, to a tree and I wondered if there was a bear up there.  We were in the woods of Vermont, here! But it turned out to be a balloon.  A hot air balloon.  With this slight distraction, I carried on, but the balloon got closer and closer and we could hear it's dragon's breath over and over and it got louder and louder!  The climax of the story was getting close as I tried to tell it between bursts of hot air.

The balloon was also getting close - very close and very low.  By now it was crashing through the trees and the pilot was calling out for someone to grab the line which he deftly dropped.  My guess was that the weather was not ideal for ballooning, being as hot as it was.  The bottom of the basket looked damp, which informed me that it might have taken a dip in the nearby lake! Although I had been trying to incorporate the balloon into the story, my formerly attentive audience was lost to the excitement of a bloody, big balloon landing on us! Children and adults alike! And the noise was more than dragon-like at this point and no one could hear except between the bursts!

One parent who had not rushed over to see the balloon pulled from the trees and sky asked me if the goat was squashed under a hot air balloon.  I laughed and said 'no'. Once the balloon was stabilized (a chaser van had arrived and the balloon was attached to it), and children were made safe from the descending basket, and bag of hot air, the kids were offered an up-and-down ride.  Whilst some were thrilled about the prospect of a free hot air balloon trip (up and down 50 feet or so), some wanted to hear what happened to the goat. So those who were interested (old and young) came into the hall where I finished the story.

I chatted a while and then packed up.  As I said my farewells to the people there (including the aeronaught), some of the adults who had snagged an elevation ride, asked about the end of the story and what had happened to the family and the Goat From the Hills and Mountains.  I suggested that their children had heard the ending and some of the adults had heard it too, and they could ask for the end to be told by the people who had moved with me, to tell them the story over breakfast.  I told them, however, that the goat, as one had suggested, was not killed by a hot air balloon!

The story, The Goat From the Hills and the Mountains can be found on my CD More Second-hand Tales or in the book where I found the story: Tales Our Abueli­tas Told by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy who gave me permission to tell the story and record it.  The book is published by Atheneum For Young Readers.  I highly recommend this book (it would be interesting too, for those interested to see how a story changes in the telling.  When I recorded the story, I thought I was being very faithful to the original.  Apparently the story took on it's own personality with my help!  (Alma said of my version: "What a wonderful retelling!" which made me very happy!)

Friday, June 21, 2013

A story coming back to life

Last year my Gran died.  This year, my Aunt died. And this could be part of her legacy.

When I tell my stories to families or for family audiences, I try to leave a message about keeping your family stories safe and sharing them so as not to lose them.  There are stories I know about my Grandad which I need to write down; some of my Gran's stories I have written down and told. My Auntie Gwyneth had a story to tell and she told it.  Well, she wrote it.  About 10 years ago she got cancer and wrote a short biography of her life.  One of the most poignant parts for me was her experience of living in Birmingham during World War Two when Birmingham, along with many other British towns such as Glasgow, Liverpool, Coventry and London were being flattened by bombs.  And the same things were happening in towns in Germany, bombs were flattening towns, bombs dropped by the Allied Forces.

When my aunt passed away, my cousin asked me to do the eulogy. All this happened pretty quickly. Gwyneth's passing, my being asked, preparing for it and doing it.  Gwyneth's life story was to be the basis of the eulogy, but there was more to Gwyneth than was written there.  She was a survivor, or many things. I collected stories from family they remembered, fun stories, stories with joy that showed her human side.  My cousin and I came up with a perfect eulogy, but I kept coming back to her self-penned life story.  All of the players of her early life are mostly gone.  My mother, Gwyneth's half sister, is still trucking and had some memories and experiences to share, and also has memories of the bombing even though she was very young.

Two weeks ago, as I was waiting to set up for the Afterschool program, the upper grades of the elementary school were doing their finishing immigration project.  And later, last week, I was at a school and there were photos of World War Two in the classroom and I shared some of the things I had read about Auntie Gwyneth's wartime experiences as a child. I also began talking to the teacher about immigration, prompted by some other photos and the project at my child's school.  I asked my cousin if I could share Aunties Gwyneth's story with the teacher and she was thrilled to share it. Then an idea hit me.  This is a primary source of both immigration to America and Canada, and wartime experiences. So my cousin and I have been writing to one another to make my Auntie Gwyneth's story into a book for school children who can learn from my Aunt's life.  This will be part of her legacy.  We are lucky that my Aunt wrote her stories down.

I encourage everyone reading this to have family members to write down their own stories, record the stories to save them for our younger generations.  Maybe this way a more personal past can help a global future of understanding.

If there are any teachers who might be interested in helping my cousin and I on my aunts book project, please get in touch with me.

Many thanks,

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Untold stories - Elephants, Native Americans and my Grandad

This is my grandfather, Samuel Horrocks Williams in the 1920's.  He took to farming in Canada instead of following the family mill business in Manchester, England.  My great grandfather told him he has to start, like everyone else, at the bottom sweeping the floor. Grandad had schooling and did not want to start at the bottom so took off for fields a new and became a farmer in Ontario, Canada.

My grandmother, his second wife (his first wife Mollie died of T.B.) had most of his photograph albums and some other things of his that were not tossed out or passed on to other members of the family.  Last year, Gran died.  Almost a year after my mum was able to ship over some of Grandad and Gran's things, reminders of them that have no real value, other than sentimental and keepsake memories.  But Mum threw in a photo album from which the photo above is from.  The album has opened a few questions in the family which cannot be answered, but one of my favorites is this photograph.

Grandad is the one with what looks like a tan shirt and silly hat on!  This photo, as with all the photos in the album, are from Ontario, Canada.  Look at the houses in the background.  And here he is, presumably in one of the farm's fields with a small herd of elephants and a Native American.  And we are left with this great question: What on Earth is going on here?  The only thing we have come to is that the elephants and maybe some of the people in the photo are from a traveling circus.  The elephants, I presume, have been let off the trailers, be they pulled, or from a railway locomotive, to eat and stretch.  But I wish I knew the story of this image.

Grandad died in the 1980's and I had never seen this photograph album.  Most of the photos taken pre-Gran were not let out or looked at. And Gran has gone so I cannot ask her.  My one surviving aunt from my grandfather's marriage to Molli also has no idea, as most of the photos in the album are from Grandad's first trip which he made before coming back to get Mollie.

I love the photo and the mystery it has created.  Grandad loved animals and the letters of recommendation we have from this time period state this categorically.  And I love the fact that Grandad could ride a horse sans saddle.


Sunday, March 03, 2013

Recording with PreSonus' Studio One DAW

For those of you who are new to using a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW, I have been using Studio One by PreSonus for over a year now and have found it to be very good indeed.  There is a lot of functionality and free tools on board.  It is very intuitive, and does not cost an absolute fortune.  I have discovered many things on my journey of recording and it's taken me a while to figure out some of the short cuts.  I have put what I have found in a document to share with others who might want to try it.  You can get a free trial from the PreSonus website.  This also includes tips on recording punch and roll, where you can easily fix mistakes. It is a lot faster than keeping on recording and going back to edit and fix later.  There is a learning curve but it is not steep!

My simple set-up

Studio One Quick Start for narration (for Windows XP)

Open Studio One

1/. Starting from scratch
Click on ‘Create new Song’ and a dialogue box opens with Empty Song on left highlighted. On the right enter Song Title.
Choose where you want song to be saved in next box down.
Sample rate: 44.1 kHz
Resolution: 16 bit
Timebase: Seconds
Song Length: leave at default
Tempo: leave at default
Time Signiture: leave at default
Make sure Stretch audio files to Song tempo is unchecked
Click OK

2/. If you want to save a Template
You cannot save a template until you have first created one! Create a song and save it as a Template.  This will automatically create a folder within Studio for Templates.  You cannot make your own folder or save an existing Template until this is done.

3/. Short Cuts
Short cuts are listed in the top bar: Studio One > Keyboard Short cuts…
There are some handy number keypad shortcuts!
Number pad *: Record
Number pad -: wind time bar back
Number pad +: wind time bar forward
Number pad Enter: play
Number pad 0: stop
Spacebar: play and stop
I added Number Keypad 5 to make a new Mono Track

4/. To Start
Once Song is open, make a new track: Top bar - Track> add new mono track
Click on the solid circle to activate record mode, and playback is automatically opened at the same time.  If you want speakers/headphones muted, click the speaker button so it is no longer blue, or ‘M’ for mute.
Position white time bar at beginning if not already there.
Click the Record button on the bottom tool bar.

5/. Snap time bar
When editing you will find the white time bar will snap into place which is not very handy for narration.  On the top tool bar under the shaded ‘Adaptive’ button, you will find a small box with ‘Snap’ next to it.  Click on the box.  If you open up the ‘Editor” (F2) you will find the same button and will need to click there too.

6/. Punch and roll
On the bottom tool bar there are counters and to the right of those are what look like thumb tracks or map pins.  Click on the top ‘Auto Punch’ button for auto punch!  If you want to have some pre-roll, then click the ‘Pre-roll’ button beneath.  Pre-roll can eliminate the click of a keyboard and give you a lead-in.
To select how much pre-roll you have, to the right of these buttons is the Metronome. Click on the ‘Metronome Setup’ button (the spanner/wrench) and under ‘Options’ choose number of bars.  Two bars is usually fine but you might want more if you are just staring to learn this technique.
When punching and rolling with pre-roll, place the white time bar where you want to cut in.  Hit the record button.  The time bar will jump back your set number of bars and play.  Listen along and jump in at you chosen spot and keep going.

7/. Making Corrections
When I have made corrections, I have opened another track below the ‘finished’ track. By cutting the ‘bad section’ so it is separated, you can use the Mute tool to mute that segment, then record on the second track you have opened. By using a separate track you do not record over what you already have that is good.  But if you do go over you hear it when you get to the ‘okay’ and none muted section.

8/. Multiple takes
If you want to try multiple takes for a section this is fairly painless. Using the ‘Loop Active’ button, you can keep re-recording non-stop in that area until happy.
            To create a loop, hover mouse over the very thin light grey line above the time digits so you get a ‘pencil’ icon as the cursor. Clicking once on the thin grey bar will bring two lighter points.  Dragging these to the left and right creates your loop.
            Click on the Active Loop button on the bottom tool bar, immediately to the right of the record button so it is lighten up blue.
Hit record.
Record until happy and stop.
            If you right click on that new recorded section you will see “Select take”.  Beneath that will be a number of ‘takes’, the most current being ‘checked’. Beneath that is “Unpack takes” and if you hover over that, you can select “Unpack Takes to Tracks.” You can then mute each track, listening to each in turn to decide which fits the best.  This is an option, and is okay for small bits, but can take up more time than you want to spend.

9/. Mixdown or create WAV or FLAC file
When you mixdown it will automatically mixdown between the loop and this needs to be set up. (See: 8/.  multiple takes)
Studio One automatically mixes down a mono track to stereo. To this fix this:
Go to Song> Song Setup> Audio I/O Setup.
Go to the Outputs panel and click on 'Add (Mono)’. This will create ‘Sub 1’. Click Okay.
You can now do one of two things. Make it the default, or just click okay to exit.
If you made it default you are all set.

Go to top bar and click on Song > Export Mixdown which opens a dialogue box.

Choose where you want file to be saved.  It will automatically save to a mixdown folder within the song folder.
Filename: FileNumber_BookTitle_Ch_Number_NarratorName
Publishing: (depending on version): Do not publish
Format (depending on version) Wave File, click on arrow to get to FLAC
Resolution: 16 bit
Sample rate: 44.1 kHz

Export Range
Click circle for Between Loop

Output: Sub 1 (for the mono mixdown) should be default if you made is so earlier.  If not:
Click 'Main' with arrow. Click the arrow to 'Sub 1' and highlight/chose it.
Check the ‘Close after export” box.

Then click OK to mixdown.
Once file is mixed down a folder will open with your file in it (for Windows XP).

Have fun!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Music and Story

One of my favourite albums!
I have just finished reading a book by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch and A Long Way Down amongst others) called Songbook.  Although it is primarily about his top favourite pop songs, it talks about the importance of music and in particular pop music.  He defines pop as most things which have a three verses and a chorus and comes in at around 3 or 4 minutes, with the occasional exception.  I also have a friend called Stevens Blanchard who has his very own pop group called Conniption Fits, as many in the Upper Valley of NH and VT will know.  He is also a D.J. (an acronym for disc jockey, someone who jockeys discs - nowadays CDs! I resent the words deejay and emcee.  Is a deejay a type of bird?  I have no idea what an emcee is, but I know that M.C. stands for Master of Ceremonies)! He says that country is the new pop! Anyway! Hornby writes about there was only 'one type of pop', but now there are many sub-divisions of pop - such as heavy metal, hip-hop, death metal, punk, R&B, soul, etc and even country and western (both kinds!), but it got me thinking about storytelling.

So, my thoughts: classical music was the 'pop' of the age, then came along those flappers listening to Gershwin, Armstrong and Bessie Smith and later: Crosby, Sinatra, Connif, and Streisand who shocked everyone at the time.  And ?!  And then they became pop. Then rock & roll came to be and everyone had to lock up their daughters, and ban r 'n' r as devils music.  Then rock & roll turned into pop.  Rock & rock became heavy or hard rock, and then heavy metal and daughters were again locked up. Then punk arrived and all children were kept safely at home, but that too turned into pop. Get the idea?

So here was aural storytelling, which began trying to explain the universe, then along came the legends, stories of real people which merged with other people and became surreal and mixed with magic.  And like the first pop, that stayed around for a long time.  A shake up was overdue, like an old library book, and people (I believe mostly Americans) 'launched' the personal story genre into the arena of public storytelling.  Once personal stories were added to the cache of storytelling genres, a punk movement (which in England was regarded as a political movement) was needed and we got story slams.  Or maybe slams are a story version of a combined punk and rap movement. Big stories made short with great economy of words, but with none of the passion lost.

And another of my faves.
All of this, of course, does not take in account that the original political advisers to the kingdom rulers were the poets and singers of the pre-Christian era.  The first Romans to Britain found schools larger than any today and wrote about these colleges as being filled with budding bards, so were the stories were first sung? In John Matthews' Taliesin, he quotes that a bard had to learn in their first year 'fifty oghams or alphabets. Elementary grammar. Twenty tales.'  In their sixth year, they learned 'the secret language of the poets. Forty-eight poems of the species called Nuath. Seventy or eighty tales.'  In their twelfth, yes I said twelfth year they go on to learn '120 Cetals or orations. The Four Acts of Poetry. During the three years to master 175 tales [in their ninth year!] in all, along with the 175 Anruth, 350 Tales in all.'  As Matthews says: 'R.A.S. Macalister writes: Suppose ... [we] keep them in school 300 working days in a solar year ...they learn no more than ten lines of poetry in a day, they will have acquired a total of 3,000 by the end of the year, and in twenty years they will be masters of 60,000 lines.  This is considerably more than twice the length of the two Homeric epics.'  I am assuming here he is saying that those epics would be memorized word for word!

Can you imagine a pop star doing this?  Granted there are some storytellers who do tell the Odessesy, and Gilgamesh, and other epics, but the rest of us?  I try hard to learn at least ten new stories a year.  It usually ends up being five or six, but still!

Taliesin - my logo
So what is my point?  As Nick Hornby says in his book, he needed the Clash in his teens, and all other music to his ears was sappy, or spineless, but now he looks for more in music than what the Clash has, now, to offer him.  As a huge Clash fan myself I feel a little resentment to his words, but the sentiment I agree with.  He has not 'gone over to jazz' yet, but then I was into jazz in my teens.  As a storyteller I am finding that the tales I tell have become deeper, that they are tales I tell are less for entertainment, but for the stories themselves.  As more and more slams happen, and they loose their punk/rap/hip-hop counter culture status and become pop, will these listeners begin to seek out the storytellers who are the Orffs, Bachs and Elgars, or the Fitzgeralds, Silvers, and Monks?  This was not quite what Hornby was saying, but it is what he inspired in my own mind and made me wonder the reflection of pop songs to storytelling.

Maybe I should look at that course at East Tennessee on storytelling and folk lore!  Maybe I would find my inner Clash storyteller, or might I find that I am now more Mingus or Mozart? Only time will tell!

Monday, February 04, 2013

Diane Wolkstein

Diane Wolkstein, storyteller and folklorist passed away on January 31st while on a trip to Taiwan.

If you have never heard of Diane, then check out this video and learn a little about New York's official storyteller:

A message from Diane's daughter, Rachel:

"It is with profound sadness that I tell you that my mother, Diane Wolkstein, passed away very early this morning in Taiwan. She had had emergency heart surgery but the procedure was not sufficient to allow her heart to work on its own. She was not conscious and she was not alone. She had several of her close friends from Taiwan there with her and at the very end she had a rabbi say kaddish and Buddhist prayers were said as well.

Her death is a terrible shock. Her life overflowed with joy, intensity, friendship, love and spirit. Her love for each of us and the stories she told live inside of us forever." -Rachel Zucker


Diane Wolkstein, world-renowned storyteller, folklorist, mythologist and author of many books for children and adults, died following emergency heart surgery on January 31 while on a trip to Taiwan working on her most recent project, the Chinese epic story of Monkey King or Journey to the West.

Diane was the author of 23 books of folklore and performed to sold-out crowds throughout the world.  What set Diane apart as a storyteller are her performing gifts as well as the depth of knowledge and research she devoted to the stories she told.  Diane's collection, The Magic Orange Tree, was the result of numerous visits to Haiti during which Diane recorded stories told on porches and in late-night gatherings.

In Australia, Diane met Aboriginal storytellers who granted her special permission to tell their stories. Wolkstein spent years working with Samuel Noah Kramer, one of the world's pre-eminent archeologists, to create the definitive telling of the great Sumerian epic, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, which she performed at the United Nations and the British Museum.  Because of Diane's work, Inanna has become an influential text in feminist studies and studies of ancient history.

Diane's belief in story and its potential to transform people's lives propelled her to the forefront of the modern storytelling movement as early as 1967, when she joined the New York City's Department of Parks & Recreation and started a year-round storytelling program for the city's parks and schools. Diane initiated America's first graduate storytelling program at Bank Street College of Education and was a regular visiting teacher of mythology at New York University for 18 years.

She is a founding member of both America's National Storytelling Conference and the Storytelling Center of New York City, and has held hundreds of workshops on the art of storytelling throughout her long career. For thirteen years Diane's radio show, Stories from Many Lands, was broadcast on WNYC-AM/FM bi-weekly, and in 2007 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg named June 22nd of that year "Diane Wolkstein Day" in honor of Diane's 40 years of storytelling for the people of New York City.

New York City's children gathered at the foot of the statue of Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park to hear Diane tell stories every Saturday for more than forty summers.  The culminating event of the storytelling season was her telling of Elsie Piddock Skips in her Sleep and the skip rope competition that followed.


Diane is survived by her daughter, Rachel Zucker, her son-in-law Josh Goren, her three grandsons Moses Goren, Abram Goren and Judah Goren, her mother Ruth Wolkstein, her brothers Martin Wolkstein and Gary Wolkstein, her sister-in-law Elizabeth Borsodi, nieces and nephews and a grandniece. She also leaves behind many dearly loved friends in New York and around the world.

In lieu of flowers please consider making a donation in Diane's name to Partners in Health, or Tzu Chi Foundation.

A public memorial service will be held this Sunday, February 3rd, at 3PM at the New York Insight Meditation Center, located at 28 West 27th Street, 10th floor (b/w 5th and 6th Avenue). (A second memorial, celebrating Diane's life is being planned for the summer/fall)

Much of this is taken from Robin Bady.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Fight for the Arts!

From the website of Citizens for the Arts -

HB 561: to Abolish the Department of Cultural Resources: Public Hearing:  Tuesday, February 5, 2:30 pm, Room 306

For the 3rd year in a row, Representative Steve Vaillancourt (R, Hillsborough 15) has put forward a bill that would eliminate the Department of Cultural Resources. Each year, we’ve successfully brought in 100+ citizens to speak to the ways in which the Department of Cultural Resources strengthens the Arts in New Hampshire.
We ask you to come out again.
Please attend this Committee Hearing Tuesday, 2/5/13.   We’ve identified several members of the Business and Arts community to speak against this bill and to speak to the effects of the legislation if passed. We encourage others to attend and weigh in via the ”blue clipboard sheets” located in Room 306 in opposition to this bill so that the size and importance of our community’s opposition to this Bill is clearly understood by Committee members.
WE ALSO HOPE YOU’LL WRITE A LETTER TO YOUR REPRESENTATIVE ON THE Executive Departments &Administration COMMITTEE (or a letter to the Committee as a whole, if you don’t have a Rep on the Committee)  Below is a sample letter and a list of contact emails for ED&A Committee members.


PLEASE REMEMBER:  USE THIS LETTER ONLY AS A TEMPLATE.  Do not cut and paste, but tailor it so that your message is personal.  Again, if you don’t have a Representative on the Committee, please email your letter to the Committee as a Whole.
Feb 2013
The Honorable [Insert your Rep]
NH House ED&A Committee
Dear Representative [XX]:
I write you to express my concern regarding passage of House Bill 561, a bill that would abolish the NH Department of Cultural Affairs. I ask that you vote against passage of this legislation.If the department is dismantled, there will no longer be a qualified state entity to administer state- and federally-funded arts grants and services. NH needs the infrastructure in place to provide equal access to the arts to students, families, artists and consumers in every region across the state. Abolishing the Department and de-funding the Arts Council also means that NH will lose access to federal matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, which could amount to between $600,000 and $1,000,000 in 2013. The Department of Cultural Affairs is good for NH and it helps keep the arts strong in our State. For instance: 1) the arts create jobs and produce tax revenue-a strong arts sector is an economic asset that stimulates business activity, attracts tourism, retains a high-quality work force and stabilized property values. 2) The arts foster young imaginations and develop creative minds, important for a productive 21st century workforce. 3) The arts are a civic catalyst, supporting strong democracy and a desirable quality of life, engaging citizens in civic discourse, and encouraging collective problem-solving. 4) The arts embody our cultural legacy, preserving the heritage, traditions and culture of NH. 5) Access to all: The State Arts Council administers funds and provides services to support activities in all of these areas, without bias and focused on access for all citizens regardless of income, region, abilities or ethnicity. Because it uses public revenue, the State can invest in arts initiatives that the private sector may not think has direct and expedient economic returns. It is in our enlightened self-interest to keep a strong state infrastructure for investing in the arts and leveraging private-sector and federal support for state-supported arts programs.Again, I hope you will vote against the passage of HB 561. Thank you for all the work you do as my representative in Concord and for your interest in this important issue.
Sincerely, Your name and address
To send your letter to the ED&A Committee, cut and paste this address into your email:
Use the link below to find Members of the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee (and to see if you’ve got a Representative on the Committee):

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Forgotten Community

Back in 1998 I wrote a piece called a "Dialogue on a Forgotten Community."  I tried re-writing it a while back from memory, but did not do a good job.  I thought it lost forever, but yesterday, whilst playing with the kids and talking about stories, I found it!  Here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

A Dialogue on a Forgotten Community.
A community, as defined by the American College Dictionary, is a "social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality." In this day and age we talk about the "global community", and although my reflection is not global, it is neither limited to local. I will be reflecting on a mobile community; a community I feel that is not always recognized as such and one that rarely involves itself in dialogue. This community is an aggressive and sometimes, violent community that would rather kill itself than communicate in a responsible fashion, often resorting to mindless, thoughtless, selfish and dangerous behavior. It is a rare occasion when a collaborative flow of meaningful dialogue occurs, and an exploration for truth happens.
On the road, copyright Simon Brooks, 2012
Each morning we rise and breakfast and make statements to ourselves about bettering our lot in life, about how we can improve ourselves as human beings and what we should be doing (even if we do not) to help the planet and fellow human beings. Then we get into our cars or trucks. The engine fires up, the coffee maybe in the mug holder and the radio is turned on. Here the conversations begin on the Community of the Road. This was the thought that came to me as I drove home from class, pondering on the reflections we had discussed.
Like much of life, we get some early instruction and head out on our own, making it up as we go, learning from mistakes and, therefore, experience. There are guides that we are given to read on how to use the Community of the Road, but it seems that we forget most of ft only after a few years. Our conversations begin with flashing lights at other vehicles that are in our way, we lean on our horns and yell at people and if all else fails we cut them up, if we can, at a later point. None of these techniques are in the instruction book other than as a list of things not-to-do.
I think that some of the problem is that within the cocoons of our vehicles we believe we are invincible and it would be inconceivable that we would be in the wrong, but we are. By opening a dialogue with our fellow community members we would find that life could be so much less stressful and more enjoyable. When folks need to merge onto freeways we can merge by allowing those entering the freeway to join us. Being one car behind will not kill us and it may even make us feel good helping someone else on their way. We are all going to the same place, further down the road. Vehicles have their own language that we, as the drivers, add to. By opening dialogue, using our indicators (or blinkers), we are letting people know where we want to go. There are no surprises if we communicate with our fellow travelers, no assumptions. When we know the person in front is taking a left, we know they are going to slow down and we can allow for that, but when someone slows down without letting us know why, we become frustrated. We see such actions as arrogance or stupidity and if you are like me, you will find stupidity intolerable. Just by waving people on, breaking early, making sure that your lights are working and blinking only when you want them to blink, displaying self mastery, we can create a better community using dialogue. Indicators are so easy to use and make life so much simpler.

 It is only laziness and greed that prevent us from being more courteous. Lazy, because we cannot be bothered to use the tools given to us to create a dialogue. Greedy, because we want to own the roads, or have them to ourselves. We cannot expect others to do what we ourselves do not. By mastering our own actions and reactions, we can show others how much better life can be in our Community of the Road. Lead by example. If people are let in when the traffic is heavy, they may start to do the same, creating a shared vision, one that would become stronger and more prolific. If more people were to use dialogue and not aggression to travel within the community, slowly our mental models would change, causing a chain reaction, albeit slow, around us. We could make better decisions, effecting our immediate environment, creating a balanced alignment within the community. If this is something we want, by setting examples, it can be made to happen. As a result, our community would become a pleasant and much safer place. By becoming a group, working as a team, we can strive for that same goal. Watching teams play in individualistic ways is not as satisfying as watching a team play. The soccer match between England and Argentina is a good example of that. England had some world class players performing really well as individuals, but Argentina, playing as a team, performed better and won (although on penalty goals). Had England used their individual skills as a team they may have won. By opening a dialogue of where we are going, and how we want to get there, we create awareness about us, allowing us to focus on reaching our goals in an efficient and conscientious way.

By using the dialogue available to vehicles, we can eliminate assumptions and disturbance; we can become aware of the necessities of our fellow community members, use energy in a more efficient manner and reach our goals in a safer and friendlier manner.
The writer at the time of writing!
Text copyright Simon Brooks, 2012.  Do not copy, duplicate, replicate in any manner or form.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Understanding History and what it means to be British!

Before the holidays took off I began a quest to find more Holiday stories from cultures other than my own.  I mulled over stories from faiths other than Christian.  I was raised with Grandparents who were mostly Christian Scientists, but in late Elementary School years attended Church of England for a while.  In my teens I explored other religions and faiths and I have kept reading about different cultures and their beliefs since then.  I have also been lucky enough to have known people whose faith has been tested beyond 'normal' circumstances and have retained their faith, or had it made all the stronger.  Religion can be a bit of a sticky wicket.  Some people proclaim their faith is the only right one and all others are corrupt, or heathen beliefs.  I once shared a flat in London with a born-again Baptist. He was told me the Catholics had it wrong and would burn in hell for what they thought was right. That was his belief.  The truth is that until we die, none of us will really know - have the solid  fact before us (a fire pit beneath our feet, wings on our backs, or fighting in Valhalla with other great warriors) - if there is indeed anything after death other than nothing!  Reading old myths, legends and folk stories I have seen many religious (and other) bigotries appear, sometimes because of who was transposing, or translating the story, or because of the 'norms' of the day - what was acceptable then and not now.

Being British has some drawbacks.  Hard to imagine, but it is true!  The biggest for me is that as a Nation, Britain colonized the world.  The sun never sets on Britain, or at one time in history it did not.  It was a while back and I should move on, but that history comes with a lot of baggage and for me a heightened awareness of what Britannia did - England even.  England ripped apart Scotland. England caused some major problems in Ireland which may have taken over 350 years to 'fix'.  Britain did serious damage on the African continent, and in India, and what we did to the indigenous people of America was appalling. I know other countries did similar things, but.  With all of this came exploitation, and... and the suppression of indigenous beliefs.

So when I come to tell tales from other cultures I carry that sack on my back. Especially around the Winter Holidays.  We could begin hte winter Holidays with the Eid Al Adha on the 14th and 15th of October and run until the Chinese New Year which is the Year of the Snake and is celebrated on the 10th and 11th of February. Somewhere I wanted to find some great stories I could be faithful to and tell from deep inside. And not be too down - I was going to be performing for kids as well as grown ups.  I looked at some Jewish tales, mainly the story of Hanukkah and the folklore of the driedel.  But I did not feel right telling this story as a non-Jew. Then I remembered a wonderful story written by Eric Kimmel called  Zigazak!: A Magical Hanukkah Night.    Well, because this was an original story I could not with good conscience tell it without Eric's permission. So I emailed him via his website and he said: YES.  A firned of mine Tim Van Egmond told me (and others) about a Japanese story. And I had my own stories to draw from.  So over the Holiday period, I was able to tell a story about a couple of Hanukkah goblins (thanks so much Eric), the story of King Wenceslaus from Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), a Japanese story about New Year and why the seas are filled with salt (thanks Tim), the Winter Cherries (a great Welsh tale set in the Arthurian 'romances' pantheon), and a true story about the truce the soldiers created on the Western Front of World War I, 1914.  (Over the holidays I found another true story about a German pilot who escorted a British bomber to safety!)  It was a nice mix of tales and religions and all of them contained the best part of humankind - our humanity!  Every story I read and told contained our humanity, our ability to make the right things happen, to help others. And every story has it's own little miracle in it.

Oh we ain't got a barrel of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny
But we'll travel along singin' our song side by side

Don't know what's comin' tomorrow
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow
But we'll travel the road sharin' our load side by side

So with all of that said, I wish that you all have a great New Year, and that every day you find a little miracle and that you can share it with our fellow human beings, no matter what race, colour, creed, faith, or non-faith they are.