I grew up as the kid who spent several hours every day practicing guitar alone in my room. I was not gregarious at all, and probably spent more time playing music than conversing, so you might say that language is a second language. I would never have gotten involved in storytelling if I hadn’t been drawn in by my wife Sarah’s performances as a storyteller and children’s librarian, and the welcoming encouragement of the members of River And Prairie Storyweavers (RAPS.)
Away back in the 1990s, when Sarah and I had already started doing some children’s music performances, I dropped her off at a RAPS gathering and hung about waiting to be picked up by a co- worker on the way to a computer tech job. It was the first time I’d been around so many people pursuing an art as a group, trading ideas and techniques and collaborating on creating new things. When RAPS asked Sarah and me to do a children’s music presentation the next year, I felt like I’d gotten a promotion. It was wonderful to be taken in by the group, and Joyce Slater, Gary Kuntz, Priscilla Howe and Jim Wallen and many others have all been great friends and huge influences, artistically and in terms of the business end of being a performer. Collaborating musically with Jim on his “Never Lost” CD was a wonderful time. It was an honor to ultimately be part of the effort that turned MO-Tell into a statewide organization, and Larry Brown and Perrin Stifel add to the group of people I’ve learned a great deal from and enjoyed working with. The second wave of MO-Tell leadership has done a fabulous job, growing its significance and activity well beyond what we had managed in the first wave.
The challenges of 2020 have played out unusually for Sarah and me – we’ve been lucky to keep our jobs and even to safely continue to actually go to work at our offices. The complexity has gone way up though, and our already dwindling performing activity is pretty much at a halt at this time. The lessons live on though. Studying, gathering and performing storytelling has made me a better communicator, a better socializer, a better leader when necessary, even a better songwriter. Tom McDermott and Beth Horner’s lessons about how conflict and resolution drive a story changed the way I think about melodic progression, let alone lyrics and stories. And Beth’s performances at Jonesboro and other festivals of a few of the songs/stories we wrote together is very satisfying. It’s the closest I could ever get to being up there myself.
Years ago, I read an article about a study that analyzed what balance of repetition and change people generally desired in music. Too much of either and people lose interest – overbearing repetition gets dull, and constant change destroys continuity. The study landed at right about 50/50 balance as optimal. It’s fascinating how much this seems to bear out in storytelling too, where repeated phrases, traditional plots and characters, and the “rule of threes” itself balance against plot twists, surprise endings and “jumps.” Theme and variation, tension and resolution, yin and yang. (Watch the original “Wicker Man” or listen to the structure and progression of The Carpenters’ “Close to You” for a masterclass. There’s even a surprise ending in both!)