Saturday, July 11, 2009

From the Islands to the Mountains in One Evening

Last night's performance at Prickett's Fort State Park was the first presentation of a new program developed with my musician friends Andrea and Odie Parkins. We were after-dinner entertainment for a fundraising event for the Prickett's Fort Memorial Foundation. How did it go? Oh my.

The first sign that it was going to go well was when the organizer let us know she'd had to cut off ticket sales because the seats were filled. The next sign was at our practice sessions when the pieces we'd chosen really began to come together.

I've performed often with other storytellers, and occasionally as a tw0-person tandem presentation, but this was my first experience working with musicians.

There were some interesting discoveries. For example, I come at storytelling from a research perspective. I find or hear a story I like, and go off in search of other versions of the story, usually also researching its background, ethnicity, and relationship to other stories/versions. I have piles and piles of books and tons of online sites on file for reference. I approach ballads in the same way--I want to know how old they are, their history, other versions, etc.

Andrea comes at music from a different perspective. She wants to know who sang the ballad and when and how they arranged it. She has scores of CDs and other recordings and a thorough knowledge of Irish singers. Me--I don't know the singers or bands at all; I listen to the melody and the story within the ballad. To me, ballads are another way of telling a good story.

So it's an interesting combination. Andrea sings with a beautiful trained voice, while I sing in the traditional unaccompanied Appalachian style, and have had no voice training except as a storyteller.

Our presentation wove together stories and songs that traveled with the immigrants who came from the British Isles to the Appalachian region. There is a wealth of material to work with; the trick was deciding what to use and how to make it work together to create a good flow for the program.

I liked the end product and I can see ways we can build on the base we developed to make a longer program, or to mix and match other ballads and stories to create different versions of the same program. We blended instrumental music with ballads and stories, creating a flow between pieces with transitional comments and a little background information on the material we were presenting. For one story, Odie provided background banjo music and that added another dimension to the telling.

It was a good evening, and I think I enjoyed it as much as the audience. Normally when performing I'm "on" for the entire set. Being able to sit back and enjoy the performances of my friends was an unexpected bonus.

Now it's off to Tygart Lake State Park for more storytelling; tonight's program is an Appalachian theme. Have I ever mentioned how much I love this work?


DGranna said...

I would travel a long way to see/hear this program. Tell us when you are scheduled next.

Cathy said...

It sounds wonderful and how could you not enjoy it?

Susan at Stony River said...

That sounds like SUCH an evening! We're planning on joining you some story-evening soon---and also learning how to use this new cell phone. *sigh*

Can't wait!

Country Whispers said...

This sounds like so much fun. I love to read & listen to old Appalachian tales and ballads.

Granny Sue said...

I will certainly post when we're scheduled again. right now, we don't have anything booked, but I'm hopeful, DGranna.

Granny Sue said...

Susan, if you go to Grafton be sure to stop at the 1-2-3 Coffee Shop. Good coffee and a neat old town (needs more TLC and $$$ but it's beginning to get its breath again). MK Stover, the owner, is also a writer. You can visit her blog at

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