Friday, July 24, 2009


What's your story, morning glory? Can you spot the kitty?
(Back to storytelling soon!)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer Reading for Grownups

Libraries are busy in this financial climate. As the ALA poster in the Springfield Town Library said in the late 70s and early 80s, when I worked there, "Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries."

I spend my summers traveling from library to library, telling stories for summer reading programs. I love seeing kids get excited about reading and coming to the library. This summer for the first time, I joined the adult reading program at my library. The theme is "Master the Art of Reading." The challenge was to read four books that were about art.

Here's what I read:

I blogged about The Music Teaching Artist's Bible last week. Lots to chew on.

The Venetian's Wife is by Nick Bantock, who does a charming combination of correspondence, illustration, collage and diary entries to create a compelling story. I'd say more but I don't want to ruin it for you. Fun!

I listened to The Vanished Smile on CD. I probably should have borrowed the book, as I found myself annoyed by the reader. For me, the success of a recorded book depends greatly on the reader. The topic was interesting, if the delivery was not--it's the account of the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911.

I began with part II of Manu Larcenet's graphic novel Ordinary Victories, and then went back to read part I (that's why I have five books on my list). It's a very French bande dessinée (loosely, comic book) for grownups, about a photographer and his life struggles. I enjoyed it very much.

Today I took my completed form to the library and was given a bag of swag: a note cube, a pencil, a small Be creative @ your library notepad, and coupons for several arts-related events, stores and restaurants in town. Now my name will be entered for the Big Prize (I forget what it is).

I don't need incentives to read. It's what I do. Still, it's nice that the library encourages grownups as much as kids.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Music Teaching Artist's Bible

I'm a storyteller and a puppeteer. I'm comfortable saying that. Here's what I'm learning to say: I'm also a teaching artist.

It's not an automatic fit. I find it a challenge to approach my work differently, to focus on teaching as much as I focus on performance, to make detailed plans, to mesh with school curricula and learn the language of standards. Thanks in large part to the Lied Center of Kansas, and specifically Anthea Scouffas, who brought in Kennedy Center training for two groups of artists last year and the year before, I'm learning how to do this.

Another step in my education is reading and rereading The Music Teaching Artist's Bible: Becoming a Virtuoso Educator by Eric Booth. Even though it's for musicians, the book extends to teaching artists of all kinds.

I love this book. It's rich, complex, interesting, well-written and above all, useful to my work and my life. The author is one of the country's foremost teachers of teaching artists. Here's a bit about what a teaching artist is, from the first chapter (storyteller easily substitutes for musician):
One clunky definition of the term I use is an artist who chooses to include artfully educating others, beyond teaching the technique of the art form, as an active part of a career. Yes, this could and should include just about all artists, all musicians, because we all find ourselves teaching in bits and pieces throughout our lives. We teach when we talk to family, friends, strangers and colleagues about music. We teach by example. As you will read in these essays, I believe that 80% of what we teach is who we are, and like it or not, our example in the world teaches people what it means to be a musician. And for the sake of our artform, I hope you teach as artfully as you perform. (p.3-4)
Booth weaves that law of 80% throughout the book. Think about that: 80% of what you teach is who you are. That bears repeating and long reflection.

Booth leads readers through ideas of what a teaching artist is (and isn't), what is necessary to be an effective teaching artist, how to work in educational settings, what the challenges are, how to expand the way we think about teaching and the arts, and what's going on in the rest of the world in the field (this list loosely taken from the table of contents).

It's clear that Booth is deeply invested in the arts in general and in fostering teaching artists. Here's what he says at the end of the book:
I have set high goals in these pages. I'm sure that at times they have seemed unrealistic, quixotic, perhaps even annoying. I have asked that you never ask a question with a single correct answer because to do so even once violates the respectful inquiring world we seek to invite learners' spirits inside. I have urged you to do homework, to spend time with ten-year-olds if you don't have a gut feeling for their minds and hearts. I have urged you to plan thoroughly for each opportunity in order to have every aspect of it embody the best of what we love about the arts. I have even asked that you dedicate time to add reflection, and to structure in self-assessment and documentation because they help affirm, help realize and give place in the heart to the feel of the arts. I have urged your vigilance as witness with learners because only you can recognize that wordless moment when the artist awakes in someone's spirit, when a person feels that surge of power, that spiritual blip of potential to make a world arise. Only you can confirm its truth and importance, perhaps just with a nod that says yes, perhaps with just a few words that say, "You are on the right track. Keep going." And let your subtext say, "Keep going. For the rest of your life. As I have done."
I've dogeared my copy of the book. I know my first readings of it are far from my last. I'll dip in for ideas, for resources and most of all for inspiration. If you're an artist, I hope you'll do the same.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Kids connecting with puppets

Donna, one of the stellar teachers at East Heights Early Childhood Family Center, sent me this picture the other day. She told me that this child is autistic, so it was especially meaningful that he interacted with Billy Turtle.

Puppets are magic. When used effectively, they connect with children in ways we can't anticipate or expect. My friend Suzanne's daughter had a long conversation with a turtle puppet like Billy--she told the puppet things she wouldn't tell her mother, though her mother was in fact manipulating the puppet. When my nephew was small, his puppet Fred had a conversation with my puppet Nigel on the phone. At one point he said, "Wait a minute, Fred, I want to say something." He took Fred off his hand and said what he needed to.

One of my favorite memories of puppet connection happened at a small festival at Haskell Indian Nations University about ten years ago. I was between performances (no, not Native American stories), walking around with Trixie on my hand. She said hello, shook hands, made small talk. She held hands with a little girl who was about four. The band on the stage began to play, so Trixie started to dance. She and the little girl held hands and swayed to the music, looking each other in the eye, not speaking, for about five minutes. Magic.