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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Are Ballads "Really" Storytelling?

Every year when the Summer Reading Program ends, whether as a storyteller or a librarian, I start thinking about the next summer's theme.  For 2013 it's Dig Into Reading .  That made me think

During the Dog Days of the summer of 2013 Dig into Reading with LoiSand her puppy puppet, Buzz, as they DIG for TREASURE in the 398s!

Buzz can already Dog Paddle, but he is trying to learn to talk like a pirate, but ARF! is not quite the same as AARGH!
Try also saying "Puppy Puppet, Buzz the Pirate" five times fast!

I know there's treasure in the 398s easily found by librarians.  Limited money for programs requires something beyond promoting a library's collection. While storytelling's important -- how could I think otherwise! -- librarians know variety brings people to programs: puppets, music, magic, juggling, anything beyond the usual.  Even if a librarian has those skills, it takes time to develop programs using them.  Puppetry and music, with storytelling, will help me DIG for the TREASURE of the 398s.   I will include a rousing pirate ballad telling a great classic story.  That reminded me of a discussion on Professional Storyteller network asking if singing a story is storytelling.  With permission from my fellow participants comes this discussion, "Songs as stories" asking exactly that.
Posted by Richelle Putnam on September 26, 2010
I was disheartened by another storyteller who said singing stories, such as ballads, was not "really" storytelling. I bit my lip and went on without a battle, but was, of course, reminded of the earliest known storytellers who, while playing their instrument of choice, "sang" stories for a meal, room, and board. Some of the greatest stories ever told, historical, mythological, and folklore, were done so through singing ballads. "Big John," "Ringo," "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," "Delta Dawn," "The Gambler," "The City of New Orleans," and the list goes on.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject.
Richelle Putnam
A writer/singer of ballads

Replies to This Discussion:
Reply by George Allen Williams on September 27, 2010
Harry Chapin was one of my favorite "song-tellers," and Stan Rogers' work still knocks me cold. For what it's worth, I've often noticed that people who comment that anything other than what they are doing isn't "really" whatever they think it should be, tend to be rather narrow in scope, thought, and ability. Go right on singing your tales. Tell Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, or Woodie (and Arlo) Guthrie that they aren't (or weren't) great storytellers. Fie upon the person who says otherwise. Keep singing your tales. (I'd still be doing it, too, except an old injury to my right arm doesn't allow me to play any more. I still do the occasional a-cappella piece, though.)

Reply by Richelle Putnam on September 27, 2010
Thank you! You named some of my all time favorites and they still move my heart after all these years.

Hey, nothing better than A-cappella.
Reply by Christi U. on September 27, 2010
I agree. I'm definitely a words person and tend to hear the "stories" within music sooner than I hear the beat. And yes, all of those songs and songtellers are perfect examples of just another expression of the same Truth we are all telling. I wonder how many festivals your critic had been to. I have quite a few tellers who use music well and have a wonderful following because of the fact they are following their own talents rather someone else's super-imposed perceptions.
Reply by Daniel Bishop, the Storyteller on September 30, 2010
Storytelling: The use of the voice to convey a narrative. Some of my favorite storytellers use music to tell their stories. I will say I'm a bit of a purest, as I believe that an author is a writer of story, not a teller. A dancer is a Dancer of Story not a teller, and a filmmaker is a conveyor of story not a teller. But when you use your voice to tell a story, then you are a storyteller. I have heard singer sing a ballad but did not tell a story. They sang words to music. They could have use any words. But if you tell a story using music to help, you are a storyteller.

There is my $0.02
Daniel Bishop, the Storyteller

Reply by Richelle Putnam on October 5, 2010
Good point. Voice is used in both. I have also heard story tellers who did not tell a story....but we won't go there. : )

Reply by Daniel Bishop, the Storyteller on October 5, 2010
Ohh so true. Stringing two words together does not a story make. I have heard two people give the same story, one was painful, the other was magic.

Reply by Richelle Putnam on October 5, 2010
Reply by Lois Sprengnether Keel (LoiS) on October 5, 2010
Similarly some probably would say telling in poetry or verse isn't storytelling. Yet it's communication & it does have the ability to be varied to match its listeners within the context of the fixed words. That's how the great epic tales began.

I've been working at adding music to my storytelling for the variety it provides. Today's audiences sometimes need a change of pace & this is 1 of many ways. Often a ballad can be the perfect lead into a story continuing a theme touched in a song. You mention writing ballads, so this is especially possible, more for you than for those who simply sing something they find.

To add to the names of balladeers who told stories in song: early in my storytelling life I heard Gamble Rogers. He is singing & telling his tales in the Great Beyond, but exposure to him helped me understand & broaden my definition of storytelling before it became etched in stone.

In the case of existing ballads, I've seen them used as an introduction to a story that was told. I'm thinking of Leanne Johnson's telling of The Singing Bone. She & her harp also are no longer with us, but, like that story of an instrument that tells a tale of murder, this still plays in my mind. Whether retelling the story an old ballad provides or giving us your own ballad, it is oral storytelling & that is the stated purpose of this network.

Keep on telling...whatever way communicates in a live, direct manner between you & your listeners. It IS real storytelling to a great many of us.

Reply by Richelle Putnam on October 5, 2010
Thank you so much for sharing. Storytelling in whatever capacity keeps our heritage alive and lives from becoming mundane!
Reply by Scott and Johanna Hongell-Darsee on October 17, 2010
I totally agree that singing and storytelling belong together. I often perform medieval ballads and weave a story around them. It gives another dimension to the narrative and I like the feeling of repeating something that has been handed down through generations, giving it my own touch. Ballads are not just music to be performed in concerts. They are crazy stories to be performed for their stories.
Reply by Neckinger Nell on October 24, 2010
Richelle, Thanks for this, I *absolutely* agree, in fact I was just pondering the same thing a couple of days ago...
"So many ways"...
There are so many wonderful ways to tell a story. I hope I get to hear some of your story ballads one day.
best wishes,

So you've had a chance to listen in on this discussion.   My Puppet Puppy Pirate Buzz wants to know:
What do you think...Are Ballads "Really" Storytelling?