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):