Monday, December 12, 2011

Storytelling Review: Two CDs, One Storyteller--Mary Grace Ketner

If you're still struggling to find gifts for those hard-to-shop-for people on your list, consider this: give them two hours of spellbinding, haunting, hilarious, touching, and memorable listening with two CDs by storyteller Mary Grace Ketner. 

I know many storytellers. I hear many storytellers, and I listen to many storytelling CDs. But rarely do I come upon recordings that engage me as these two have. Teller Mary Grace Ketner hails from San Antonio, Texas, a region rich in history and legends, and she taps those stories as well the large vein of world folklore to create stories rich with color, character and depth. 

I first met Mary Grace online in a storytelling listserve in 1997 and then later that year at a storytelling conference in Kansas City, MO. Two things struck me about this tall Texas lady: her memorable voice and her lively sense of humor. Both come through in excellent form on her two CDs. The recordings include traditional and not-so-traditional folktales and stories, all well-told in Mary Grace's compelling style.

Ghostly Gals and Spirited Women: Tales Old and New of Women who Transgress, Transform, or Transfix--and Transcend! by Texas storyteller Mary Grace Ketner  c 2009

I love ghost stories so this collection was right on target for me. The tales are gathered from around the world, from Ketner's own beloved Southwest to China, Scandinavia and points between. Pretty Maid Ibronka sounds like a pretty little story but the malevolent force in the tale is anything but pretty--and yet who can stop listening as Ibronka seeks to be free of the dreadful acquaintance she made? The repetitive chant becomes more and more sinister as the story progresses and had the listener bending forward to listen intensely to this driving tale. La Llorona, a story from the Southwest US that has several variations, reminds us that promises may not always be kept, and the even death may not end the suffering of some poor souls.

Ketner does not leave us in dark places to dwell, however. The CD offers a ghostly riddle story from China as well as a love story and a humorous yet thoughtful personal story that explores Ketner's own journey of transformation.This is a well-balanced collection of stories attractively packaged and professionally performed by Mary Grace Ketner, a lady who knows how to transcend distance so that the listener feels her presence as the stories unfold.

1001 Years of 1001 Nights: Tales from Scheherazade retold by Mary Grace Ketner, c2011

It has been centuries since Scheherazade wove her magical tales to prevent the loss of her head. Yet these tales continue to captivate us with their mystery, humor and underlying messages. We meet Scheherazade as she makes her proposal that she tell a new story each night to the King in exchange for her life--if he enjoys the story, he will not behead her, allowing her to live yet one more day and weave yet one more tale. For 1001 nights Scheherazade spun her stories; Ketner includes the story of Scheherazade and one of her tales, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, on this recording along with two other classic tales from world folklore that have their roots in stories from the 1001 Nights.

Many people only know Ali Baba through the Disney version of the story, but of course there is so much more to it than that! Ketner unravels this long, intricate story layer by layer and we follow Ali Baba's fortunes and misfortunes through bloodshed, mischief, love and cleverness for almost forty minutes of this CD, and yet never does the tale become stale, confusing or boring. It's a spellbinder of the first order, filled with characters both lovable and laughable, clever and conniving.

The Peddler of Swaffham is both funny and poignant as a poor man follows his dream, to the derision of his neighbor. Ketner gives the tale what it needs: humor, pathos and celebration in a fine telling. She follows this with a romping rendition of one of my favorite American folktales, Old Dry Frye; I was surprised to read on her liner notes that this tale too has roots in one of Scheherazade's stories--a sign of the kind of attention to detail Ketner gives her research and her stories.

I listened to both CD's while on a road trip with my 13-year-old granddaughter Hannah. Hannah was as spellbound as I was; these CD's scored big time with her, and if a storyteller can win the praise of a teenager,  that's high praise indeed.

The CDs are $12.95 each and can be ordered through Ketner's website, or through CDBaby.


Ronda said...

Just this morning, I was saying there were only two things I wanted: one was a fire in the fireplace and the other one is an adorable vintage wingback chair that I found in a second-hand shop. Now, all of a sudden, I picture myself in the chair in front of the cozy fire, listening to Ketner's tales of long ago.

Granny Sue said...

That's a good picture, Ronda :) Perfect, actually.

JJM said...

Susanna, I second your recommendation of Ketner's Ghostly Gals. Her rendition of "La Llorona" is wonderful. Right now, there is apparently only one (used) copy on Amazon (I plead guilty to snagging the last Amazon copy back in November), and 1001 Years of 1001 Nights is only available on CD Baby. On the strength of the first CD, I have just ordered the second.

But, you know, if there's one thing I would dearly, dearly wish, is that there was some sort of central ordering site for storytellers. Some tellers have some CDs on Amazon, some on CD Baby, some available only through their site (and who knows how secure their ordering process actually is?), and some accept orders through snail mail, only, which has become a huge disincentive for a lot of people. Do you have any idea how hard it is for a story-telling fan to chase down CDs or, for that matter, storytellers? If I hadn't stumbled upon the Storytelling list yonks ago, I'd have been plumb out of luck, and not every storyteller is on that list -- although, luckily, many of them are at least mentioned. I'm surprised that, say, the NSN doesn't offer such a service -- or, if they do, it isn't prominently linked on their website.

Yes, I know, kvetch kvetch kvetd ... [grin]


Granny Sue said...

I hear you, Mario. If I had the time, I'd try to put up such a site myself. It's certainly a need for the storytelling community and even more so for our listeners.

JJM said...

It's what I kept thinking when the list started talking about the benefit (or not) of social networks and the sale of CDs. Alas, as it is, storytellers seem to network mostly among themselves, and make CDs conveniently available only to their own audiences. A lot of mystery writers, for example, especially the "emerging" ones, network heavily and befriend potential readers on Facebook. They hold "blog tours" where they visit each other's blogs for interviews and guest posts. And that's for a genre that's already "out there" and readily available via, say, Amazon, and even has specialized book stores ...

Granny Sue said...

I've seen the same thing, Mario, among vintage collectors, flea marketers, etc. Storytellers need a "hub" site, one place to go to find many storytellers' blogs, webpages, and stores.

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