Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How Stories Travel!

As a storyteller, I often find old stories from other countries that I tell to audiences here. I also develop stories of my own from traditional material. One of my stories, based on the Child ballad Captain Wedderburn's Courtship, has had an interesting life.

I found a bit of a ballad in a collection of West Virginia folk songs--it was simply called The Riddle Song. I loved it and learned to sing it. Where I got the melody I have no idea; I can't read music but when I read the words, I knew the tune. I must have heard it somewhere and it stayed in my mind in some subterranean cavern.

As I was reading a book of Child ballads, I found The Riddle Song embedded in a longer, more complex ballad called Captain Wedderburn's Courtship. Apparently the ballad had traveled, along with many others, across the ocean from Scotland to America with early settlers, and a portion of it pulled out to stand alone as a lullaby (or so it was listed in my book).

I decided that The Riddle Song could become a story of a riddled courtship, and developed a tale about a brave captain and a young miss who match wits which was the story line in the longer ballad. It became one of my favorites and I recorded it on my first CD. A young storyteller came to America from Hungary and heard my story/ballad on a California radio show that is broadcast by a storytelling friend, Jackie Baldwin.

Csenge, the young teller, emailed me for permission to tell the story because she had fallen in love with it. Of course I said yes; storytelling is an oral art and if we don't share the stories, they die. I sent Csenge a copy of the CD so she would have it to work from.

Apparently she has been telling the story; yesterday I received an email from a storyteller in England who had met Csenge in America and invited her to visit when she came to England. Csenge did visit last Christmas, and told my version of Captain Wedderburn's Courtship. Gail, the English storyteller, heard the story and loved it too. In her email yesterday she asked permission to tell it.

What do you think I said?

What a journey. From England to America's Appalachian mountains, to California and back to Boston (where Csenge was when she heard the story broadcast), and then over the seas and home again to the British Isles. The story of the story is a story in itself.


Kathy said...

"The story of the story is a story in itself". How true, How true. It is amazing how things travel around this big ole world.

The Tile Lady said...

That was really wonderful! Are you familiar with the ballad singer, Sheila Kay...or darn, I can't remember her last name. She is one of only a handful of ballad singers carrying on the old tradition. And she happens to be a distant cousin of my own cousin who lives in E TN.

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