Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Augusta, Day 4: Ballads and Stories, Poems and People

Today was a little more low-key than yesterday. I slept well last night and that was a blessing. I was up and out early to get to breakfast because mealtimes at Augusta are a great time to meet people. And I've met some great people. Like the couple in the Road Scholar program who have only been married 2 1/2 years and are traveling all over the place together, having a wonderful time; a librarian at the University of Maryland who talked with me about our mutual concern about the future of libraries as reference services fade and the e-books gain popularity; the dance instructor who, at 84, is as fit as anyone I know and dances all the time; the young girl who came to an impromptu poetry group and turned out to be a double major (English and Biology) as well as editor of her college literary journal; Sean who at 11 years old is as comfortable on this campus as a college student and equally at ease talking to adults or kids, the people from New England who were so curious about our culture and geography that we spent all of lunch talking and I almost forgot to eat...and so many others.

It would seem that Augusta is about taking classes and learning or developing skills and it is certainly that, but it is also about making connections and getting to know people from all over the country and all agers and backgrounds.

One of the most fascinating and nice people I've met this week is Bobby McCormick, a ballad singer and storyteller from North Carolina. He's plain folks, a man raised in the mountains who recognized the uniqueness of his heritage at a young age and has studied and preserved it as his life's work. Comparing ballads with him has been a joy. I took my class to a special session he held today so they could hear his stories and singing. He told a version of a story many storytellers know as The Great Hairy Toe, but told it in such a lively way, with details, colloquialisms, asides and droll expressions that the story was completely his own, a crafted and exceptional telling. His singing of Sweet Williams Ghost had about 34 stanzas! What a memory. What a treasure he is.

Another outstanding presenter is Elizabeth LaPrelle, who is coordinating many of the vocal activities and teaching a mini-course in ballads as well as holding a nightly song swap. Hmeat er voice is beautiful and again she also sings many ballads that are variations of ones I know.

Today my class worked on a story to tell. I selected stories for them short stories that I thought had enough meat in them to be easily visualized and learned. My students studied their stories, made notes and after about 30 minutes gave telling them a try. Their presentations were very good; we then discussed how to deepen the stories, what might need clarification, tweaking of presentations re more active language, using dialogue, adding description, and strengthening beginnings and endings, and identifying key points to give special emphasis in the telling. When the Road Scholars joined us, one of my students told her story to them and got an excellent response. We talked then about how to prepare a story for telling, what is different between telling and reading a piece, and then I told a story that is one I wrote and don't often tell, and we further discussed elements of telling that audiences often are unaware of. It was a good, relaxed afternoon, a conversation and sharing time, very like being on the porch and just talking. And yet, we covered so many interesting and important aspects of storytelling.

The poetry group today was a spur-of-the-moment idea. Several of us (about 6, I think), gathered to read poems and talk about poetry. As any poet knows, opportunities to read are rare and we tend to grab hold of them!

This evening I am resting; I may wander out later to listen or to find a singing group to share songs. Or I may just sleep! Tomorrow is our road trip to explore a historic little town and follow up with discussion of a story connected to that place. It will be my last afternoon hour with the Road Scholars and I am sorry to see it end. It's been a pleasure for me, and I hope for them as well.

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

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