Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Young Storytellers at The Lantern: A Concert of Young Voices Telling Tales

The provincial ICH strategy recognizes, as a guiding principle, that the inclusion of multiple voices, including those of youth, is important in all work relating to Intangible Cultural Heritage. Intangible Cultural Heritage is kept alive and is relevant to a culture only if it is regularly practiced and handed down from one generation to the next. One of the key areas we must address as our work with ICH continues is the inclusion of youth in our thinking, planning, and celebration of our living traditions.

Over the past two years, storyteller Mary Fearon and I have been working on a youth storytelling project at Holy Cross Elementary in St. John’s. In 2008, Mary worked with grades K-3, while I worked with grade 4-6. Students in the younger grades worked with Mary on rhymes, stories and story songs, and then also worked with puppetry intern Darka Erdelji to develop shadow puppet plays based on nursery rhymes.

Students in grades 4-6 worked on traditional folktales and local legends, learning the basics of how to tell a story. For the second year in a row, the usual public speaking competition was replaced with storytelling, as kids competed at the classroom level in their telling of traditional material, from memory.

This past weekend, I gave a workshop on Intangible Cultural Heritage at the annual meeting the Museum Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (MANL) in St. Paul’s, Gros Morne. Concerns were raised about including youth, and what some participants saw as threats posed by new technology.

My response was to talk about the Holy Cross Storytelling project, where kids were introduced to traditional storytelling, but which also made sure that new technologies were embraced. At the end of the project, many of the stories were collected in digital MP3 format, and podcasted on the web. They are available for download at

Programs to share traditional knowledge, art and craft with the youth of Newfoundland and Labrador could truly help some of our youth find their passion and make it work for them, and for the good of our communities. Incorporating public performance, digital technology, and new media helps to maintain traditional ways of doing things while keeping it current and more meaningful to youth.

Tomorrow night (Thursday, October 23, 2008), ten youth from Newfoundland, all under 17, will take part in the St. John’s Storytelling Festival, including five of my students from Holy Cross. The young storytellers also include Tamsyn & Naomi Russell, daughters of Newfoundland fiddler Kelly Russell, and granddaughters of the late Ted Russell of Pigeon Inlet fame. They will take the main stage at The Lantern on Barnes Road, and show that while traditions may change and evolve, storytelling is far from a dying art.

Young Storytellers at The Lantern: A Concert of Young Voices Telling Tales
Thursday Oct. 23
The Lantern
35 Barnes Road, St. John's
7:00 p.m.
Tickets $5 regular / $2 student

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