Friday, December 12, 2014

Storytelling Road Trip: Maryland and West Virginia

In St. Peter's Catholic Church on Sunday
The reason for my trip last weekend was storytelling, with a healthy side of friend and family visits mixed in.

We started Thursday, traveling to Ellouise Schoettler's house where we would spend the night. I was so happy to see her again, and her hospitality was really appreciated. We talked and talked and talked! Then we were off to Takoma Park for The Grapevine Storytelling Series. This night I was featured, along with Renee Brachfeld and Mark Novak.  I thoroughly enjoyed Renee and Mark's skillful blending of stories, music, song, and even juggling. They are truly masters of their craft, and they invited the audience into their stories that came from their Jewish heritage. Wise tales, tales of fools, surprising tales all woven with voice, a few costume props and guitar.

Now imagine following that performance with my mountain ballads and stories--talk about a cultural contrast! And it was one that worked well, giving the audience a textured fabric of stories from two diverse but equally rich traditions. I began with he haunting ballad Railroad Boy, then followed with a tale I collected from a lady in an assisted living center, and then transitioned to the recent story of  Larry's reunion with his friend Reyn, then on to a coal mining ballad and a story from Larry's childhood, and wrapping up with a humorous ballad with audience singalong. Kudos to Noa Baum, Tim Livengood and Jane Dorfman who plan and shepherd this series, and to the Takoma Park Community Center for hosting it. No photos, unfortunately--my camera was out of Larry's reach and Tim's batteries died just before I got onstage.

 On Saturday I was joined by Jeff Seager at storyteller Susan Gordon's home to present our program of carols and the stories behind the songs. We'd been to Susan's last year and knew we'd have some repeat attendees so we wanted to change up the program a bit. The joy of carols is that there are so many, and that there are intriguing stories, history and folklore attached to quite a few. Jeff brought his new addition, In The Bleak Mid-Winter, an evocative poem written by Christina Rossetti and set to music by Gustav Holst.

I shared the story of Saint Nicholas since we were performing on St. Nicolas Day, and Jeff led us in Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, a jaunty tune written, most likely, by Benjamin Russell Hanby, who was the author of Up on the Housetop and a staunch abolitionist in his day. I brought along two new songs, The Holly and the Ivy and Down in Yon Forest, an eerie song with strong imagery. The version I sang was collected by John Jacob Niles in the Appalachian region of southwest North Carolina around 1933. I ended the program with memories of my childhood during this season, when my English mother followed many traditions she brought with her to America when she came here as a World War II bride in 1946. And of course we had to wrap it all up with We Wish You a Merry Christmas!

We repeated our program on Sunday in Harper's Ferry, at the beautiful Saint Peter's Church, which sits high on a hill overlooking the town. I did not get photos of the outside--it was cold and windy and I just wanted to get in to the warmth!

But inside, oh my.

Harper's Ferry, site of John Brown's infamous raid in Civil War times, is a steep little village perched above the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers--picturesque does not begin to describe it. Stone houses line the steep, narrow streets, and many craft and artisan shops offer goods of all kinds.

We did not have much time for exploring, unfortunately, but I did get an opportunity to shop for some Christmas gifts--and to sit on Santa's knee (at his invitation!).

With my friend Lisa Kovatch, a fine potter whose work can be found at Westwood Potters in Harper's Ferry.

One day I will return to Harper's Ferry when we have more time to really explore the area and visit the many museums and historic sites.

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


John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

That's a very beautiful church, Sue. Interesting to see the old tradition of a gallery at the west end of the church. In times gone by these used to house the choir and musicians. With the increasing popularity of organs these galleries often disappeared, though at Grantchester the organ is small enough to still occupy the gallery. I suspect from the look of your church that the gallery, while influenced by the old design, has always been an organ loft.

Mac n' Janet said...

They sound like wonderful programs, it would be a treat to see you in action.

Granny Sue said...

John, I will need to return and get better photos for you. The church is usually only open on Sunday so it's not easy to get in there. I wish we had had more time, but there was a group just before us and one following immediately after so it wasn't a good time to look at it carefully anyway. I glimpsed some interesting things though, well worth going back to see.

Granny Sue said...

Maybe one day, Janet! I do travel so you never know when I might be in your area :)

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